When can you have too much of a good thing? I’ve been pondering the concept of the optimum length of the Cheltenham Festival today.
It’s ten years or so since they added the fourth day to the race meeting and there’s more than a whisper that the commercial teams, sponsors and TV executives fancy a fifth! It’s an intriguing idea: extending the Festival to take in Saturday will give hitherto unknown access to the mid-week workers and would surely be a sell-out, driving revenues for the betting, boozing and TV industries.
But the livers and limbs would suffer, and less can often be more. The fifth day at Royal Ascot hasn’t been an unanimous success – the Friday has suffered from a bit of a lull – and a 5th day at Cheltenham might suffer a similar fate.
Thursday at Cheltenham has sometimes struggled to find its feet as punters take a bit of a pull to reflect on the opening two days and reload their ammunition ahead of Gold Cup Friday. Today feels different. Not only have the forecasters once again got it wrong (yes, I’ve brought my mackintosh and brolly, when I just need my sunglasses) but the sense that this really could be the year when the annual battle between the bookies and the punters goes in favour of the massed ranks of the latter.
It certainly begins that way. In Vautour, I don’t think I have ever seen a novice jump as immaculately and effortlessly as he did in running away with the opening race. There were no secrets in the form book. Twelve months ago Vautour had scorched to victory in the Supreme Novices Hurdle but the transition to the bigger fences seems to have brought out the best in him. He’s already the 2016 Gold Cup favourite, ahead of yesterday’s impressive winner Don Poli and we’ve not even had this year’s race yet. Vautour’s owner, Rich Ricci, is wearing his trademark shades again is interviewed in the winner’s enclosure after yet another success.
Surely I am not alone in finding it slightly incongruous to see a rakish tweed suit set off with a traditional trilby, futuristic shades and a soft American accent? I can’t work out what grates the most – but I think it’s the glasses. Or maybe the tweed. I daresay he’ll be able to afford to freshen up his wardrobe.
But the day belongs to one man. In AP McCoy, jump racing is saying a long goodbye to the most prolific rider the sport has ever seen and, most likely, will ever see. The champion jockey doesn’t like losing and although he has worn a less stony countenance this week as his fancied mounts have faded and fizzled out, it was evidently getting to him this morning as he conducted his seemingly endless tour of boxes and media interviews.
So when he went from the front aboard Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase, jumping his rivals into submission and shovelling on the coals at the front of the field, we realised me might be watching history in the making. McCoy booted and coaxed, urged and pushed, and Uxizandre galloped on for his famous jockey with the chasing pack flailing in the distance. At 16/1 the punters could hardly claim to have been on in their masses, but such was the reception for this outgoing champion you’d have thought he was the best backed horse of the week.
In the Winner’s Enclosure, wife Chanelle showered her man with kisses, and patron JP McManus suggested that they’d have to clone him before they retired him.
But the racing wheel never stops turning and as one man prepares to bow out, the emergence of a new name on the blocks, that of trainer Warren Greatrex, lurches into prominence. His horse Cole Harden took the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in tremendous fashion to hand his trainer his first ever Cheltenham winner. Warren cried his eyes out and nearly swore on the telly.
It’s been one of those weeks where emotions have struggled to stay in check. Thank goodness for the so-called quiet day.