The Festival wrap

The comedown. Like an uncoiled slinky dog, lying limp and tension-free at the bottom of the stairs. All latent energy consumed and potential now dissipated in the headlong cascade just completed. 

But, hey. Back to life, back to reality, as Soul II Soul one accurately observed. Crumpled here in the shadow of the bottom step, I’ve found a moment for reflection.

What to make of the Festival 2014? Some indicators of pleasure and pain, joy and grief, stimulation and banality are randomly gathered here.

Feel the quality
Interesting to see the ratings published the other day for the Gold Cup. It seems that both Bob’s Worth and Silviniaco Conti ran at about a stone below their best. The quickish ground a contributing factor, no doubt, but the way Conti struggled up the hill was alarming. Not a high class renewal, but quite a spectacle.

Many judges, both sound and otherwise, have questioned the form of the Champion Hurdle too.  The New One being the recipient of favourable analyses because of the ground he lost avoiding the ill-fated Our Conor. To the naked eye (me, Bacchy, Si and Nev were there to witness), I’m not so sure. He lost a few lengths after the third flight but was back on the heels of the leading group at the top of the hill. He then seemed to get outpaced, something he has a tendency to do in his races. Twiston Davies galvanised him eye-catchingly well up the hill, of course, to prompt the unlucky epithets.

No doubts about the World Hurdle as the race of the meeting for me. More Of That storming away from Annie Power after a right old ding-dong in a deep renewal of the race was a defining moment of the Festival. And happy retirement Big Buck’s.

Jockeys in focus
Injuries took high profile, encapsulated by Daryl Jacob’s crazy week. Despair when nosed out of the Pertemps Final to elation winning the County Hurdle, swiftly  followed by smashed bones and a hospital bed. His fall from Port Melon was a freak. Jockeys are used to landing on turf. Catapulted into the concrete via a camera crew is a different matter. Ruby’s broken arm suffered in the Triumph was also a horrible fall. Other injuries were suffered by Bryan Cooper and Paul Townend. McCoy typically rode through his injury and stood himself down after the Festival had closed.

Ruby Walsh found plenty of telly and press coverage. Not all of it as sympathetic as his Channel 4 three-part cosy chat with Mick FitzGerald. Walsh’s remarks about Our Conor were seized upon with frenzy by certain sections of the media peddling an ill thought through line from PETA.  Walsh said “It's sad, but horses are animals, outside your back door. Humans are humans. They are inside your back door. You can replace a horse. You can't replace a human being”. Far from a callous, ruthless dismissal of the beasts he bonds with day-in, day-out, this was simply a reasonable, if clumsily expressed, reminder that people matter too.

Vindication for Davey Russell. Having lost the top job at Gigginstown to Bryan Cooper, Russell claimed the ultimate compensation with a short-headed, steward-queried victory on 20-1 shot Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere. “For Davy Russell this has been a redemptive week and he wouldn’t have expected more personal miracles if they had transferred the Cheltenham Festival to Lourdes." Alastair Down in the Racing Post.  

Textual torment
Whilst sinking a Guinness or two in the Desert Orchid Bar with Bacchy, Mrs A texted me to say that union leader Bob Crowe had died. The same moment, Nev texted me to say he and Si were nearly at the track and to get a double round in. “Jesus”, I replied. “What a shock”.  And then, “Sorry Nev – meant that for my wife. Bob Crowe has died.” Nev didn’t bat an eyelid. Back he came with “Yeah. Charlton’s Chris Powell has just been sacked as well.” Bacchy remarked it was fortuitous that I cocked up the response that way round. A “naff off and get your own drinks” text to Mrs A would have bordered on inappropriateness. 

After Western Warhorse nicked the Arkle at 33-1 by no more than a curled lip, my Bruv texted “Well that makes the 40 to follow interesting, doesn’t it?” I had been storming our family tri-lateral competition by a good 25 points. Western Warhorse was in his list and this did indeed change things. My instantaneous response, ‘Pies Off’, was the result of a sanctimonious spellchecker intervention. A correctly syntaxed ‘Piss Off’ followed a good two minutes later.

This didn’t help my mood. I had descended into grumpy bastard mode after a complete blow out in the Supreme and then the Arkle. I'd backed Jezki in the Champion Hurdle, which he landed by an archetypal flared nostril (how many desperately close finishes at this festival?). Bacchy texted, ‘Happy Now? Guiness Bar’. But sent it to the wrong Dave. Dave Briscoe, a million miles away, replied ‘Trust you are at the Festival! Go girl!’

War horses
I was desperately sorry to see the demise of Raya Star in the Grand Annual. A high class horse and one I’ve followed for a couple of years. Our Conor is a big loss.

Briar Hill broke his cheekbone after a crunching smackdown. It looked like he may have fared worse.

Last Instalment has been retired after injuring a tendon for a third time. He’s already done two and recovered magnificently. At least this way he avoids the full house. Sensible decision.

Big day for Gigginstown Stud
£1 risked on their eventual 82,653-1 final day four-timer would have seen a reasonable return. Apparently this is just what happened to someone in O’Leary’s box. Tiger Roll 10-1, Very Wood 33-1, Don Poli 10-1 and Savello 16-1. Four different trainers and three different jockeys. 

False steps
“Two false starts in the Gold Cup. It isn't only the Grand National whose starts can make us look silly to the watching world.” From Twittersphere.

The bottom line
A hard cash profit of £147 and a return on investment of 35%. Solid enough. The portfolio whimpered a little on days 3 & 4 after roaring magnificently in the first half of this epic punting marathon. But I’m certainly happy with that. Nine profitable Festivals from 13 grafting years. And ante-posts are most definitely back in favour. O’Faolains Boy, I love you.

Fantasy Festival
Always an absolute scream. This year the lead changed hands about 10 times over the four days, including three on the final day. After Adam somehow found the winner of the Gold Cup he overtook Bryn to occupy the box seat at the start of the last leg. I tried to reassure Ad that the compo was very rarely won on the back of the murky lottery that is the Grand Annual – knowing that’s exactly what had happened to me a few years before. And it happened again. Much respect to Paddy. Backing outsiders had been his hard-and-fast strategy all week. So it was fitting that Savello was produced like an ace from the massing pack and won comfortably at 16-1. Top competition once again.

The Barley Mow
Scene of betting bedlam and beery bullshit from noon until midnight. A glorious, raggedy, indulgent celebration.

"Who is that poor girl?" said Mrs A
Highlights too hazy to capture crisply, but the more sublime moments certainly included:
  • Drinking the Butts Mott whip to a dusty and dry emptiness. Famous dreams of Cheltenham doubles and value thievery slid away on days 1 & 2. Finally, there was no appetite for more punting in the Gold Cup; only for more beer. We supped off the float and toasted the slippery greyhound’s good health.
  • Colin down on his knees at the feet of grown men, blowing… dirty big raspberries on anybody’s belly he could access. Paddy was at least one recipient and, though touched by this endearing act, decided enough was enough and took Col home.
  • Arm wrestling. Yes, arm wrestling. Si and Steve seemed to sweep all before them. Shame about my dodgy shoulder, otherwise…
  • The wreckage pieced together over the next few days. Bryn’s sentimental text about camaraderie of the gang; Si getting stranded in London after the pub shut; Steve left to taxi all the way home from Upminster. Rinsed.

And finally
A couple of choice pieces from David Ashforth’s insanely brilliant column in Saturday’s RP, ‘Your Cheltenham questions answered…’

Dear Sir
On Tuesday I backed Champagne Fever, My Tent Or Yours and Shotgun Paddy. On Wednesday I backed Smad Place, Get Me Out Of Here and Any Currency. On Thursday it was Southfield Theatre. I am thinking of killing myself. What can I do?
Dear Ernest
Your own suggestion seems a reasonable one. Did you back them each way?

Dear Sir
Would you believe it? I’m from Rochdale and in 1996 I went to their home game against Cardiff City. Cardiff’s in south Wales and Fingal Bay’s in New South Wales but I didn’t think of it until after Fingal Bay won the Pertemps final. How unlucky can you be? I hate racing.
Dear Stephen
I sympathise with you because, only last week, I commented on how many hawks you see nowadays and, lo and behold, Hawk High wins the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle  at 33-1. So you don’t need to tell me about bad luck.

Time to recoil the spring.

Until next year.


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