A thrilling, exhausting foray into Prestbury's green acres yesterday, with enough highs, lows and twists to give a Cold War fighter test pilot a nosebleed.
Jezki was the star turn. In the boozer the night before with Bacchy I had been attempting to formulate a theory that Jessie Harrington was less effective as a trainer these days. As evidence I cited arguably poor handling of Grade 1 performers Boston's Angel and Oscars Well. Sitting on a 12-1 ante-post voucher for Jezki, this was clearly a case of getting my excuses in early.
Come the big day, she made no mistakes. The hood was, of course, a stroke of genius. Giving Barry Geraghty the leg up was reuniting a successful partnership of deep trust and respect between jockey and trainer. Putting in a pace maker who was to be ridden with restraint and tact was the final piece in the jigsaw. The race went according to the plan and at one stage owner JP McManus was looking at a 1-2-3. (What a race Caprain Cee Bee ran!) Jezki's well known stamina ultimately came in to play to hold off My Tent Or Yours in the final strides.
This franked the other half-baked theory I had been touting in the boozer.
"Bacchy, we are looking in to this too deeply. The names of my winners of the Champion Hurdle all end in a phonetic 'I' - Sublimity, Punjabi, Rock On Ruby.
And tomorrow, Je-ZKI!"
Without breaking stride or glance, he retorted,
At the track, the four of us - Si, Nev, Bacchy and me - had been talking up the Champion Hurdle all afternoon. We'd discussed the best to see the race in terms of sight lines, commentary and atmosphere. Come the appointed time and place, only Bacchy and Si made it. Nev was in the bogs and rang Si.
"Where are you mate" hollers Si above the din. "You're where?... You're having a shit?! Oh thanks for that mate!"
Meanwhile I was demolishing the largest and sweetest Old English sausage baguette I'd ever tasted. I had an eye on the big screen and was walking backwards to the rendezvous point, skittering all those behind me. Until stopped by the line of high viz jackets.
"Sorry sir, you can't take food in this section."
I jammed the remnants into my gob, gave the steward and chutney-laced grin and continued backing in to the enclosure. I screamed Jezki home but didn't catch the boys to celebrate until outside the Guinness bar a few minutes later. (I hardly ever drink Guiness, but at the Festival I drink nothing else, save the contents of the hip flask.)
At that point I had to apologise to Si. I'd been mullered in the Supreme again. Again. I was so confident this year. Irving had looked the complete package. He was struggling with a circuit to go here, though. My other shout, Wicklow Brave, emptied on the hill. I'd had a long shot dabble with The Liquidator. He'd emptied on the hill the first time round.
I was desolate and miserable. The Arkle made things worse. Trifolium and Valdez ran with credit without bringing home any wedge.
Things improved a touch with a place return in the Bayliss & Harding. And of course after the champion I was screaming the place down.
"I'm sorry Si. It's the peaks and troughs. I take it all to heart. The emotions take me over. This is what it's like. If you think I'm a pain, just think what it's like to be me!"
I didn't apologise to Nev and Bacchy. They know the score.
Vautour was immense in the Supreme. All those earlier nouns still apply: machine, aeroplane, monster. Stunning. Bacchy was on him. And later he picked up on Holywell. Si put in a max bet on queen of the park, Quevega and suffered a long heart in the mouth moment before Ruby Walsh galvanised her up the hill. Nev had a few bits and pieces.
Received wisdom is to start the four-day marathon punting with restraint. I can't do this. I spend so long looking at those first grade 1s and am so keen to get off to a great start that dizzy-headed scatter-punting takes over. I spend the rest of the festival playing catch up. But not this time. All in all day 1 was a 'top, top' day.
So for Wednesday, traditionally my strongest session, these are the 'top, top' selections:
I'm sticking with Red Sherlock at the ante-post price of 6-1.
Mob handed with ante-posts on Annacotty at 25-1 e-w, Many Clouds at 25-1 e-w and O'Faolains Boy at 33-1 e-w. I see the latter is shortening up. He's a great jumper, but am surprised because his best form is with give underfoot. Nevertheless, all three have good place chances or possibly better. However, they have it all to do against the Irish battalions at the head of the market. A strong, deep renewal this year.
Small e-w bets on Far West and Vendor.
A poor renewal. I've gone round the houses in this one. I was looking to oppose Sire De Grugy (11-4) because of his obvious dislike for the track. Then I couldn't see anything here that I really fancied to give him a race. I concluded that it is so poor he will still win! Hinterland is very interesting and I'm on at 12-1 e-w. The talking horse this morning seems to be Captain Conan, but I'm not convinced by what he's done over fences yet. I may be wrong...
Sire Collonges, 8-1
Neck Or Nothing, 25-1 e-w on the basis of a shrewd observation from Bacchy on his last run; Value At Risk, 12-1.