I’m writing on the day of my birthday (a not unsubtle hint, dear readers) and was feeling a bit sorry for myself as one often does until I remembered that we found a winner in last week’s column courtesy of Silviniaco Conti (pictured above) in the Ascot Chase.
Ascot last Saturday was cold and wet and very un-spring like but Silviniaco Conti jumped like a fresh spring horse and gave us a beautiful reminder that not all roads lead to Cheltenham. Here was a rattling good horse who simply hates the Prestboury Park undulations. Is it fair on horses like Silviniaco Conti that we tend to hand out awards of greatness only to horses who excel at either Cheltenham or Aintree?
Connections of Paul Nicholls’ star chaser would certainly not think so for this was his seventh Grade One success and the sight of him bounding clear over the last was every bit as impressive as a Rich Ricci-owned powerhouse coming up that famous Festival hill.
We’re likely to see Silviniaco Conti in the Grand National for which he now disputes favouritism. He has the class, but I’m not sure he’ll relish a huge field over the extended trip and I’d prefer to see him go and win the Bowl again at the same meeting. There’s more to life than just the world’s biggest races!
Last week, I wrote about the Aintree Media Centre being renamed in honour of the late, great Alan Lee.
Hats off also to Haydock Park who, last Saturday, renamed their press room in honour of Ray Gilpin whose sad passing was chronicled in this blog before Christmas.
His wife was at Haydock, wearing Gilpin’s famous red scarf. He loved the track and it’s great to be in a sport which honours its stalwarts — from every aspect of the game — in such classy ways.
My irritability isn’t solely down to my birthday (did I mention it’s my birthday? It’s my birthday) but I’m feeling a bit fed up with the schadenfreude which appears to have accompanied a downturn in the fortunes of Victoria Pendleton.
Last Friday, she fell off a horse at Fakenham. Not since Annie Power’s final hurdle tumble at Cheltenham last year has a slip-up been so analysed and deconstructed.
Let’s remember that this time last year, the Olympic cyclist had barely sat on a horse and since then her project — namely to embark on a crash-course of high-intensity training in race-riding ahead of a possible tilt at the Foxhunters next month — has been a breath of fresh air for pretty much everyone in the sport. She has taken racing out of its parish.
On Friday night, I understand, her Fakenham ride was the fifth most read story on the entire Guardian website, streaks ahead of the FA Cup and up there with our Prime Minister’s japes in Europe.
Let me be clear: I think the Cheltenham Festival will come too soon for Pendleton. That gives me no pleasure, no satisfaction but, frankly, it doesn’t care a jot what I think. It doesn’t care a jot what any of the armchair jockeys think, either; experts will determine her suitability to ride and that will be that.
She didn’t fall at Fakenham on purpose and I suspect deep down she is absolutely gutted that her extraordinarily happy story might be nearing its end. If it ends, she has lost nothing whatsoever and given plenty to many of us who still love it when our friends show an interest in our sport every now and again.
Our capacity to relish in the misfortunes of others is an ugly blot on racing — not just racing, perhaps — and we ought to do better. Good luck to Pendleton over the coming weeks, and beyond.
This Saturday, I’m giving the racecourse a swerve as I make my annual appearance in an old boys football match in Oxford. It’s likely to be even messier than my tipping, but if I make it through to half-time I’ll tune in to Kempton to watch Viva Steve run what I hope will be a big race in the Betbright Chase.
Mick Channon’s novice chaser hasn’t been seen since running a bit disappointingly at Cheltenham on Trial Day behind King’s Odyssey but is worth another try on a flatter track and at 20/1 is still the kind of price for an each-way play that might make my likely hospitalisation on Saturday night that little bit more bearable. Good luck.