Tuesday, 13 March 2012

First day of Cheltenham, interrupted

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I was sitting down to write the blog after an extraordinary first day at Cheltenham, when – smack, shudder, sizzle, flash – all the lights went off, with a very scary flickering effect. The speakers attached to the computer made the most terrible wailing noise. I went outside. There was a fire in the beech avenue. A tree branch had come down, scythed through our power line, which was severed and slithering free on the ground. One of the cows was electrocuted. It was awful.

So, no computer, no lights, no nothing. I pulled myself together, lit all the candles, and gathered the family around. The Younger Niece is here, with the Man in the Hat, and the Landlord and The International Traveller drove down, and we drank Guinness and built up the fire and mourned the poor old cow.

The amazing men from the Scottish Hydro Electric drove out like princes to the rescue, and put up arc lights, and worked all night to fix the thing. So, suddenly, the power is back on, and I must give you a blog.

I wanted to tell you the whole story of the day, but I am too tired now.

There were many extraordinary moments. Perhaps the greatest was watching the young novice, Sprinter Sacre, saunter round the difficult course at Cheltenham as if he were out for a training gallop.

Some people said he would not go up the hill. He made the hill look like it was for amateurs. He never came off the bridle. He is a big, bonny, old-fashioned looking sort of horse, dark bay, with big ears and an honest head. He is the great, shining star of the future. When the mighty Kauto retires, we have another champion to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. He has so much raw talent that it is like watching an elemental force of nature.

Perhaps the happiest story was in the last. There is a lovely horse called Hunt Ball, who started off the season at a very low rating, in the sixties. To give you a comparison, Kauto Star is rated at 180. Hunt Ball is trained by a young trainer, in a small yard. His owner is not a storied aristocrat or a moneyed plutocrat; he is a dairy farmer from Dorset, who gets up at four every morning to see to the cows. He is famous for whooping and crying in the winning enclosure; once, he even leapt on the horse himself, and rode him back to the winner’s circle. (The stewards crossly fined him one hundred pounds. He didn’t care. The crowd didn’t care. The horse appeared to love it.)

Since the autumn the lovely, honest Hunt Ball has gone up 73 points. This is almost unprecedented; that much improvement is quite stellar. The thought today was that the handicapper had caught up with him; he was going over the two and half miles with twelve stone on his back. I had a heart over head bet of a tenner, at 8-1. That is a hell of a top weight, to lug over those huge fences, and up that unforgiving incline. I backed him through a sheer want for him to win.

The horse jumped like a stag all the way round, eased into the lead at the second last, and galloped home, ears pricked, to the absolute delight of everyone watching.

It was not one of the championship races; it was the final contest on the card, when some people have gone home. But the exhilaration of the connections was so infectious, and  everyone there seemed to know this rags to riches story, so that he got the biggest cheer of the day by far. The good Cheltenham crowds recognised true loveliness when they saw it. They rose as one; the farmer threw his arms in the air with sheer joy; the horse lifted his head in salute. It was one of the finest things I ever saw.

Hunt Ball, by Tom Jenkins for the Guardian. Very happy owner on the right:

13 March Hunt Ball by Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

Glorious picture by Edward Whitaker:


Sprinter Sacre, on his way to dominate the Arkle:

13 March Sprinter Sacre ARkle

Red the Mare is on the road. Arrives Thursday. Can hardly believe it. It is all equines with me, just now.


  1. Sorry to hear about the cow and the fright but the picture of you and your loved ones sitting around the fire drinking Guinness by candlelight is rather heavenly.

    1. Jane - it really WAS rather heavenly. :)

  2. What a day. So sorry about the cow and the injured beech tree, but glad that you are safe and got to see the races. Sad about the losses there too, but oh my, the highs. . . Saw Hunt Ball's race---what a tenacious fellow he is---but unfortunately, our TV broadcast cut away before the presentation shots (to a second-rate American track! crazy-making!). Okay, it is addictive.

    Had a slight scare when my boss called. The conversation went something like this (pardon the odd paragraphs, but I really don't want to eat up too much space):

    'What are you up to? I've been IMing you.' 'I'm watching Cheltenham; I'll get back to you this afternoon, and don't worry, I can catch up this evening if necessary.'

    'Cheltenham?! What's this? You get Galway in July, not Cheltenham in March.' (Wisely, he did not mention Ascot in June.) By way of explanation, he's an Irishman from Galway.

    'What have you got against Cheltenham?' 'I nearly died there. Was in a bar across from the race course with my Irish cousins, and they started telling the English lads how much better our horses are. As the only sober one there, it was up to me to save their lives. I don't have fond memories of Cheltenham.'

    And then, as I sat mute, thinking you find out the most interesting things about the people you work with, he said, 'Find a broadcast on the net for me. I'll watch it tomorrow.'


  3. I had C4 on in the background while I pasted drops and put up wallpaper this afternoon. As racing is for you, Tania, wallpapering is to me - a direct and visceral connection to my late father. He was a time-served apprentice and then master deecorator, who had five daughters but only one (premature) son who died after a week of struggling to live. I was daughter #5. As I grew up I watched and learned how to paint and paper a room without ever being taught. I can even paper a ceiling. Had I been a boy perhaps he might have let me help...

    He also liked the geegees and followed the racing on the TV, putting bets on by telephone with a bookie he knew (because we lived right out in the sticks so he couldn't get into town to place them in person) My mother wasn't supposed to know, but I was taken into his confidence. We would cheer and cheer and sigh when "we" lost. He died in 1979, but this afternoon he was in his armchair just out of the corner of my eye, I'll swear

    1. Goldenoldlady - that is the most lovely comment. I am very envious of your papering skills. Your dad sounds like a champion.

    2. Thank you, Tania. He was good company and a devoted father and husband, if a bit irascible at times (probably really tired, who wouldn;t be with five girls - even the dog was a bitch). He read me the Just So stories when I was tiny, and taught me how to score a tennis match so I could follow Wimbledon, and the rules of cricket so I could enjoy that as well. He taught another sister chess but he was wasting his time with me. His favourite authors were PG Wodehouse and Damon Runyon. The latter always used the present historic tense, but there were reputed to have been three instances in his oeuvre where he slipped up and used a past tense. My father found two of them but never the third.

      He also told me that the only way to get a high gloss finish on woodwork was hours of prepping and a dust-free atmosphere, so I usually think fuck that for a game of soldiers and use an eggshell finish. I offer you that tip for nothing...

  4. I understand nothing about horses or races but I love the posts for the sheer enthusiasm, joy and the oh so vivid descriptions! you bring it to life.


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