18 Feb ‘Everybody is obsessed about the Cheltenham Festival except us. We’re not that fussed’
I LOVE the Cheltenham Festival. The roar. The craic. The Guinness. And, most of all, the racing. But, personally, I don’t enjoy the run-up to the four-day event. The hype. The hyperbole. The endless preview nights. The sometimes brainless bar-room philosophy of pundits and punters. Nah, not for me. The roar that greets the start of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the most welcome noise in horse racing as it means that the Cheltenham Festival is actually under way and the phoney war is over. No more talking. No more shite coming from the mouths of so-called experts. That particular gravy train has come to a halt. Let the horses do the talking around that famous natural amphitheatre (Cheltenham cliché alert).
The hype around the Cheltenham Festival has moved up a notch in recent years. Whether it’s podcasts. Horsecasts. Sportscasts. Knobcasts. Whatever. I understand the anticipation. I’m excited about it too. But, for some, and this might be anathema to Cheltenham diehards, it really isn’t the be all and end all. I enjoy Aintree just as much. But there is only a short window between Cheltenham and Aintree and I always feel Aintree’s three-day meeting is slightly overshadowed and under-sold.
But I’m noticing a slight shift in the Cheltenham obsession. I think a growing number of people are beginning to get equally bored with the hype. Bored with wondering if Douvan will run, what Ruby will ride, what Henderson will run where. Cheltenham doesn’t need to sell itself. It’s the best meeting of the year. Granted. But what about the here and now? Ascot produced the race of the season on Saturday. That deserved a bigger build-up. Kempton has a great card next weekend. There’s the Eider Chase at Newcastle. Big days. Big races.
Aintree deserves as much hype as the Cheltenham Festival
Ruth Jefferson, the trainer of the brilliant Ascot Chase winner Waiting Patiently, summed things up perfectly when asked about the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham for her stable star and possibly reflected a growing feeling among members of the racing bubble.
“There are more races than Cheltenham. Everybody is obsessed except us. We’re not that fussed.”
Her late father Malcolm was equally ambivalent about Cheltenham. He had winners there but probably enjoyed a winner at Aintree just as much. I hope Waiting Patiently goes straight to Aintree, soft ground permitting, and is then aimed at the King George VI Chase at Kempton in December. I don’t think it would bother the Jefferson yard if he didn’t run again this season. Ascot was probably his Cheltenham. They will do right by the horse, for sure.
Saying all that, some of the Cheltenham Festival preview coverage is excellent. Lydia Hislop’s Road to Cheltenham series on Sportinglife.com is terrific, funny and factual. No hype. Although you’ll need the stamina of Yala Enki to get through it! Maybe a similar Road to Aintree series would have similar resonance. Kevin Blake’s columns on At The Races are also a top read.
If Sam Spinner scoots home in the Stayers’ Hurdle or Definitly Red, whose Cheltenham Gold Cup betting odds are insultingly high, defies the doubters then I’ll be misty-eyed, jumping for joy and tweeting excitable nonsense. Equally, I’ll be doing exactly the same if Seeyouatmidnight wins the National or Waiting Patiently wins the Melling Chase hard on the steel.
What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below…