National Hunt racing can be a beautiful sport to watch but also it can be so bloody heartbreaking at times and this years Cheltenham Festival certainly brought so many emotions through it that you could be forgiven for thinking the gods were doing their best to send you running to the nearest asylum and beg to be locked up for your own sanity.
Racing wise it was what the doctor ordered after months of suffering this awful weather that cancelled meetings up and down the country with a few Saturdays being meaningless as it meant that the only viable betting option was to be on that non green surface they race on at Kempton and Lingfield when we are devoid of jumpers, it got so bad at one point that the only good jumpers I was seeing were in shops when I saw boxed sets of The Killing with the photo of character Sarah Lund even though I have never watched a single episode in my life.
Thankfully though the festival arrived albeit just but special praise had to go to the officials for covering the course up with black frost covers that made it look like a motor racing circuit from the air but this ensued that the most important four days of the year went ahead even though it meant a later start on the first day and the Cross Country Chase went off two days later on Thursday.
I have been to Cheltenham before but never to the Festival,even on the non festival days when you go you can sense the history of the place and your memory reminds you of all the brilliant races seen over the years from the gritty determination of Desert Orchid to Wednesday and the brilliant and dominating performance of Sprinter Sacre the new kid on the block.
From the confines of work I was wired up to 5 Live with strict instructions for nobody to talk to me in the afternoon and from the first Roar that starts the Festival like the Olympic flame lighting the start it was Go Go Go as a certain Murray Walker used to say.
The races came and the mighty horses and their brave jockeys took to the track to find out who would be the best of the best at this most iconic of sporting venues,much like Lords,Twickenham,Wimbledon,Aintree and Silverstone it is where you get remembered for what you won and into the Cheltenham history books went Quevega,Hurricane Fly,Simonsig,Sprinter Sacre,Solwhit,Cue Card and on Friday it was Bobs Worth who took the biggest prize in jumps racing,Yes the Grand National may be the most valuable in money alone but that is a Grade Three Handicap wheres the Gold Cup is level weights and it may have a much smaller field but they are the best of a generation and sadly only one is what it takes to go into the converted number one section of the winners enclosure marked “1st”.
But for all the great their is also the bad and the unlucky,straight after the Gold Cup it was the Foxhunters Chase and in a crowd of 63,000 jockey Jane Mangan felt like the loneliest person in the world,victory is in the bag as Oscar Delta leading over the last of the twenty two fences was leading and being kept upto his work and as the sight of the winning post was slowly looming it was taken away from her in a cruel way as the horse jinked and unshipped her to the floor as last years winner Salsify took the crown again for the second year on the bounce.
No doubt the media hounded the poor lady with the obvious questions such as “How does that feel” and “What must you be thinking” but who would want to talk to anyone after that happening to them.
Thursday though was the day when everyone connected with racing got brought down to earth with a shuddering halt.
In the Byrne Group Plate a horse called Mathui who I saw win at Haydock one Easter a few years ago take a crashing fall at the last fence, the vets spent around an hour on him but sadly it was all in vain as he sadly had to be euthanised and make that solitary trip up to Horsey Heaven to meet ex racers in the big paddock in the sky.
The race after that was their was an even more awful event as the runners set off for the Kim Muir Chase and they approached the first fence Galaxy Rock took a fall which sent his amateur rider JT McNamara crashing to the floor, the on course doctors were immediately and attending to him such is the high quality of medical and veterinary services that racing has on course.
JT had to be air lifted by the Air Ambulance services which shockingly does not receive any government funding and in this day and age it is still a crime that this is still happening and has been placed in an induced coma and operated on in a Bristol hospital.
Friday all the riders thoughts were with JT and celebrations were kept to a minimum as somehow it felt wrong such is the togetherness of the weighing room and the dangers known by them which sets them apart from the namby pambyism of footballers who can fall down at slightest of touches when on the pitch.
So with JT in the thought of all in racing we leave the Cheltenham Festival for another year but soon in a few weeks we will have the Grand National thrust upon us and as a North West born and bred person for me this is the main event of the season but more about that when it gets closer.
As I said before horse racing like many things in life has its ups and downs but its the sheer love of the sport that keeps us all following it from the summer meetings with a nice glass of something cool to having a welcoming hot chocolate in the cold winter months seeing horses flying over birch and timber.
For this racegoer I shall be back on course this week with trips to my local Haydock Park then on Saturday it will be Bangor on Dee just over the Welsh Border, the quality may not be the same as Cheltenham but hopefully it will be easier to find winners.
Keep the faith and thanks as always for reading.