It’s a race to the start
THIS time last year, a local hero, Alfie, was on his way to amateur jump-racing’s Holy Grail, the Cheltenham Foxhunters’, a race shown on national television and which illuminates country sports and Corinthian spirit. Cue feverish anticipation and sausage roll-baking. Could the last person out of the village please turn the lights off.
Full of picnic, in we pile to the pre-parade ring, where only the horses are relaxed, then the theatre of dreams that is the Cheltenham paddock (page 78) and, finally, like wittering sardines, into the owners and trainers’ stand—the racecourse looks after all owners, whether of an Irish airline and the Gold Cup favourite or a few tail hairs apiece, with equal courtesy.
At 66–1, dear, rewarding Alfie is a front-runner, hogging the television cameras and leaping like a deer—until a slightly botched shot at the third last. For the second time, he finished in the top 10 (out of 24), a massive thrill.
This winter, Alfie’s sulking on the subs bench and the yard has had a slow start, although we know spring is coming. This is how precious—and how difficult and elusive—it is to have a Cheltenham runner. Enjoy it when you do. KG