Friday, March 25, 2011

Tuesday's Cheltenham Festival

I was at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday for the opener, which perennially offers a taste of the new Spring, of Guinness and the (often false) promise of financial gain. This week, all you can hope for as you approach the brooding Cleeve Hill that overlooks the hallowed arena is that the Gold Cup favourite you have 20-1 about ante-post doesn’t spontaneously combust or get kicked at the start, but nothing is a given here. At first sight, the tweed count remained relatively high although I had a double-take at one guy matching this customary racing apparel with a pair of pillar box red trousers, the like of which even Vivienne Westwood would back away from.

Champion Hurdle Winner's Enclosure - (c) Tom Frary
Hurricane Fly - (c) Tom Frary
Tuesday was about the Champion Hurdle and the big Irish hope Hurricane Fly, who was bound to be nervous coming here for the first time. It certainly looked that way beforehand, but he is a Montjeu (who was 0-44 at the meeting up to then) and this place takes some knowing. By the time of the feature race, I was suffering from a severe case of seconditis. I’d rather have laryngitis during this particular week, when it can seem that everyone else is pulling off remarkable feats of punting. I stuck with the unbeaten Peddlers Cross, whose trainer Donald McCain is the son of the famous Ginger, responsible for the three-times Grand National hero Red Rum. Peddlers Cross looked like he had more than a share of the heart of that jumping legend, but at the end of his near four-minute stab at immortality it was that extra piece of Montjeu power that got Hurricane Fly past him. Still full of electricity in the winner’s enclosure afterwards, the new Champion Hurdler was struggling to get to grips with the Cheltenham hooplah. Well, it was his maiden visit after all.

Guiness Village - (c) Tom Frary
Time for a breather and some of the black stuff, as the barmy army tackled the banks, rails and ditches of the Cross-Country Chase before the incomparable Ruby Walsh steered Quevega to a third (Arazi-style) win in the Mares’ Hurdle. With some fire back in the belly, there was time to attempt some salvaging in the last race courtesy of the Alec and Ghislaine Head-bred Divers ridden by Cheltenham’s answer to Calvin Borel, Graham Lee. Sports Personality of the Year and general legend A P McCoy had hit the front before the last fence on the topically-named Quantitativeeasing and the crowd went mad, but they hadn’t banked on Lee and the gutsy grey squeezing up the rail and surging past on that climb to the line. A small victory to (slightly) reduce the deficit, but a sweet one nonetheless. The alchemy was complete.

-- Tom Frary

1 comment:

Gavin Dobson said...

Great post Tom,
The atmosphere at the Cheltenham Festival is like no other I have ever witnessed, in any sport, and any winner during the week is one to saviour.
For what it's worth I think Binocular would have struggled to go with those two in the Champion Hurdle in any case, scant consolation for his army of ante-post backers.