Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I know it is a very serious week, and I should be thinking of grave world events, but I am afraid to report that it has been a day of reckless gambling, shouting at the television ('Come ON, my son'), and the drinking of Guinness Stout.
It is, you may have guessed, the first day of the glorious festival of horseflesh, hopes, and dreams that is Cheltenham. I woke at seven this morning as excited as a child on Christmas day. The thought of the greatest chasers and hurdlers in Britain and Ireland, and France too, gathered together in the magnificent natural bowl that is Prestbury Park was almost too much for me.
There was, as is tradition, a serious, strength-giving breakfast, of eggs brought in warm from the hens (there are laying hens in the Undisclosed Location) and sourdough toast. There was coffee as black as pitch. There was then a long and serious perusal of the form. On account of being brought up in a racing stable, I cannot just stick a pin in the paper, or choose something I like the look of, or whimsically pick something with a name I like. It must be a forensic enterprise. My father has been doing this for years, and I cannot tell you the hundreds of pounds that have been lost; sometimes I think the sticking of a pin might lead to more successful results.
As is customary, my first two choices got stuffed. I was stoical, memories of last year's disastrous Cheltenham dancing before my eyes. Then came the big race. I had chosen a lovely, fast Irish horse. I wanted him to win for many reasons. I needed to 'get out', as the saying goes, to win some cash to cover my losses. I wanted the Irish to have a fine win, because they need a bit of cheering up since their economy tanked. The jockey was the great Ruby Walsh, who has been off for five months with a hideous broken leg, and I longed for him to return in triumph. The only problem was that my choice, Hurricane Fly, had never raced outside of Ireland.
Cheltenham is a particularly tricky course. It has hills and undulations; it can unbalance a horse not used to its curves. Some animals never take to it. Hurricane Fly would either arrive and take one look and think: this is not Punchestown, I'm not having this. Or, he would adjust and let his natural talent take wing. There was no way of knowing.
My friend the Three-Year-Old came to join me as the horses were in the paddock. She gazed gravely at the lovely Ruby, as he was given a leg-up onto his ride. She pointed. 'I LIKE that man,' she said, seriously. I took this as an excellent omen.
Sure enough, the mighty Hurricane Fly roared through the pack, stormed up the hill, hit the front, and ran on to the line, the winner by a length. I was shouting: COME ON RUBY at the top of my voice. The dogs started barking wildly. The Three Year Old nodded her small head. 'I LIKE that horse,' she said. 'Gallopy, gallopy.'
So that was my day. A hundred pounds to the good, and joy for the Irish. Tomorrow, I start all over again. Keep your fingers crossed for the great Master Minded to come back to his crest and peak.
A small postscript: due to the logistical and technical limitations, I am rudely not replying to comments this week. Please forgive the lack of courtesy. You know I read and love them all. Very, very soon, everything shall be back to normal.