It’s barely 8 o’ clock but I reckon there’s more than a thousand people here on the racecourse. The gates don’t open for another couple of hours but the first Cheltenham Festival ritual is well under way: the temporary catering staff are cold, lost and bored.
Perhaps they’ve never been here before? Perhaps they’re not aware of what lies in store in barely a few hours? Perhaps the roar which signals the start of the Supreme Novices Hurdle at 1.30pm this afternoon doesn’t send tingles down their spine? Maybe they’ve not been longing for this day for what seems like an eternity. It certainly looks that way and I reckon their hearts beat to a different rhythm to ours, or to mine at least. And I pity them.
Cheltenham Festival week is the greatest week of all. The Grand National at Aintree is a one-race bonanza, but for sustained, relentless brilliance this week is off the charts. And as I type, all the dreams are still alive, all the slips are being tenderly nurtured, and hope fills the air. Only the foolish few (that would be me) have managed to lose money on antepost runners who won’t even turn up. For the rest of the 60,000 who will shortly flock through these gates, joyous expectation reigns supreme.
Each morning this week I will chronicle my losing bets of the day before, bring you the gossip, try to set the scene and share with you the madness of this utterly intoxicating week.
Let’s get today’s losing tips out of the way: I’ve backed Buveur D’Air in the Supreme on account of the price. I can’t fathom why Nicky Henderson’s supposed second string is so big, given the rock solid credentials of his performances this term. I’ll watch Douvan turn the Arkle into a procession and marvel at a wonder horse. Out Sam in the first handicap and Aloomomo in the last handicap will give Warren Greatrex a day to remember. Vroum Vroum Mag ought to be invincible in the Mares race but the feature, of course, is the Champion Hurdle.
Last year, Annie Power fell at the final hurdle in her race and saved the bookies an estimated £50 million in Rich Ricci-inspired accumulator bets. The year before she bombed out in the World Hurdle.
This year she is — by default — the favourite in today’s big race. And I’m more than happy to take her on. I am fully aware of the risk of egg all over my face but The New One is my selection with an uninterrupted preparation for a race he could have won a few years ago. It would be a wonderful story for the Twiston-Davies team and in what looks like a non-vintage renewal, The New One has the unfortunate penalty of carrying the Williams Millions.
It’s time to sign off for the day; the press have arrived, the coffee bars are open, the Guinness Village is glistening and the gates are about to open. Whatever you’re backing, whoever you’re cheering, however you’re watching, take a moment to recognise the importance of this week — the greatest show on turf and a week to be grateful for just being a small part of it.