What a week it was.
Although I’m still in sulk that I didn’t get to go racing, I did however manage to watch most of the big races mostly thanks, and to an extent the patience, of my classmates who let me put the races up on the big screen while we trying to pump out an 18 page publication about news in Islington. They had to put up with my grumpy demeanour when it dawned on me on Tuesday night, with a feature still unfinished, that a trip to the festival was looking highly unlikely.
Even though I wasn’t there I thought I would give my Top 5 Festival Highlights:
5. The New One: That was an incredible performance and is an example of when class and heart just collide. The way he found more and more when he reached the hill was just so impressive. There was a funny moment in an interview after the race when trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies admitted to his son Sam that he almost missed the race because he was in the bathroom. You would not be alone if you had missed the final furlongs because this horse just shot out of nowhere, up the hill and into the abyss. I cannot wait to see this horse next season, you can only imagine he will come back bigger and stronger.
4. Hurricane Fly: What a moment. There is a reason that when horses tend to lose their crown they very rarely get it back. It is hard. But Hurricane Fly did this with such ease it was just an absolute joy to watch. Rock on Ruby did himself and his connections proud. Now people can stop going on about how last year was fluke because after that run it can safely be assumed that it was no such thing.
3. Solwhit: Although the festival was without one of its biggest stars for the first time in many years and it was sad. Of course the absence of Big Buck’s left a big whole and it was a disappointment not to see him there. But Solwhit’s win was a true crowd pleaser. It was fantastic to watch a horse that maybe had been on the outskirts of greatness his whole career and not quite made it there, until this moment. It was amazing for him and everyone connected with the horse. People will forever go on about how Big Buck’s wasn’t there and he would have won if he had been. Perhaps this is true, but at the end of the day when all is said and done you can only beat what is put in front of you. Solwhit deserved this win and I’m glad he got it.
Also we should not forget the run by another horse that has been a pillar of consistency right through his career. Celestial Halo’s run is one that make’s you realise why people love this game. Coming a close second in a champion hurdle and a second in a world hurdle is some feat that should not be forgotten.
2. Quevega: This was a highlight not just for the festival but racing in general. This was an unbelievable achievement and I bet there was not a dry eye in the house and there shouldn’t have been. Winning five times at the Cheltenham Festival is the hardest thing. We should stand up and salute this mare who oozes class and ability. Well done and hopefully see her next year for number six.
1. This is hard and a tie was necessary. When you watch these two horses there should be an emotion that seeps through your body: “Wow, aren’t they both immense.” But no it’s jealousy because the same man, the Cheltenham specialist who enjoyed his 50th Cheltenham winner this season, trains them both. Nicky Henderson must think himself the luckiest man in the world not just racing to have horses like Bobs Worth and Sprinter Sacre in his yard at the same time. Some people wait a lifetime for a horse even half as good as these two to come along and Henderson has them both now. What are the chances?
Although they are both brilliant what makes them capture the imagination the most is they are completely different. You have Sprinter Sacre the “James Bond” as Nicky puts it and Bobs Worth the “Head Boy” maybe not so cool, maybe doesn’t get as many girls but is good at everything- The Overachiever.
Bobs Worth’s Gold cup was incredible. Again like the New One it was an example of the collision of heart and class to make up one perfect animal. The hill only seems to help him and he keeps going and going it was truly amazing. I don’t doubt this will not be his only Gold Cup- there will be more for sure. Fairytales can come true, Barry Geraghty had “Bob” as youngster and then seven years later won the Gold Cup on him. It’s a story Hollywood would be proud of.
And what more can you say about Sprinter Sacre? Here is a horse that just does everything with such immense ease. His jumping is out of this world and he goes from A to B with speed and agility. We are lucky to have had Frankel last season and now we have him. We are truly in a Golden Era of horse racing.
This year was the best, until a dark cloud was cast over Prestbury Park on Thursday when Amateur jockey JT McNamara was taken to hospital with serious spinal damage.
I know this might seem strange but it as at times like this you see racing the for what it really is, a community where people look out for one another. All people could think about on Friday was not whether their horse was going to come up the hill in front, it was whether their friend was going to be OK. I say friend because this is what all these boys are to each other. Friends. Yes on the track they are competitors but when all is said and done they look out for each other.
AP, Barry’s and JP McManus’ interviews after their races were not ones of elation, but of compassion and perspective. It was truly emotional and heart warming.