I made it back in one piece. Kind of. A part of me will live with Cheltenham forever, but we can fast-track that romantic notion and just say that a small portion of my salary now rests with on-site bookies. But still – what a thrill.
To set the scene, I stayed over in Dublin Monday night, and headed to the airport Tuesday morning. If you were also there and are wondering which one I was, I was the fella who laughed out loud at the American madam who insisted she get on a Ryanair flight with an Aer Lingus boarding pass.
“But it says Birmingham! You mean to say I’m at the wrong gate?”
She was in the wrong terminal, and her flight was due to leave in 15 minutes. I’m unsure whether she got to Birmingham that day, but she still got further than my allocated bankroll managed on Tuesday.
Anyway. We landed at Birmingham, dropped our bags in a cube – or as the Ibis Budget called it – a “room”. The train to Cheltenham was a colourful mix of Brexit Barrys, likely lads and overly optimistic flat cap-wearing shrewdies. I sat next to three blokes from Leicester who told me they knew nothing of the Irish form before stating their NAP of The Festival was Laurina.
As we got on our shuttle bus from Cheltenham Spa to the actual racecourse – a process that took over an hour in the p*ssing rain – we realised after a further hour of sitting on it and having gone about 500 yards that we’d probably need to leg it through a quaint Gloucestershire village with 70,000 other hopefuls in order to see the Supreme.
After my heartache of losing Elixir Du Nutz the night before, I decided to follow that form and back Grand Sancy, but he never really settled. Klassical Dream was met with a lukewarm reception.
Fair play to W P Mullins, too. He managed to come to Cheltenham with his weakest hand in some time and still go on to win the opening two races. Some things never change.
My best mate got his lone win on Beware the Bear because he lives around the corner from Jeremiah McGrath, and I went in on Apple’s Jade to win the Champion Hurdle.
To say I didn’t have the best day’s punting might be understating it. To make matters worse, there appeared to be a crazy old woman chasing me with some herb on the way out – telling me it would bring me luck for the coming days. She did the same on the way in and looked equally as aggravated.
All in all, a tragic day’s punting, but what an experience. The best thing about Tuesday, I’ve been reliably informed, is that it’s more genuine racing people than day-trippers and event junkies. That much was obvious as I continued to get soaked but refused to give up my spot next to the winning post.
I’m writing this just after the Kim Muir and in all honesty, Thursday’s results have probably shifted some weight back in favour of the punter, as a lot of favourites went in – none more popular than Paisley Park for Andrew Gemmell. What a story.
I feel like this Cheltenham, and the Thursday in particular has been a real showcase of just what jumps racing is all about – the people. From Bryony Frost’s interview to Gemmell’s delight, it’s simply been an emotional few hours. And I look forward to it all again on Friday.
It opens up with the Triumph – a race that should be falling into the lap of Joseph O’Brien’s son of Camelot Sir Erec. He’s the classiest sort in the contest and is probably the Irish banker of the entire meeting, as many have been saying. I really like Lisp in the County Hurdle, while Belshill is my idea of a Gold Cup winner.
The Festival is almost over, but my own personal memories and the memories now belonging to connections of winners will live on.
I suppose that’s the beauty of Cheltenham – it’s eternal – on both micro and macro levels. I’m already dreaming of next year.
Until then, folks – it’s been a pleasure. Up the Irish.