Coun­try Mouse

It’s a race to the start

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

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

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