Really don’t know what I am doing with this blog now. All the cards are up in the air with the onset of Cheltenham.
First of all, I decided to take some pictures of my new hair, so you could see it. The Dear Readers always have to see the new hair; it’s tradition. As I was doing so, I felt my usual emotion of mild absurdity. I decided to imagine Overturn beating Simonsig in the Arkle. This is the expression that resulted:
(Slightly crazed, I do admit.)
And now to much more serious matters, of Prestbury Park, and the beautiful creatures we shall see there over the next few days.
My plan is to write about a few of the races over the next week that really interest me. There’s going to be a lot of racing and horseflesh on the blog from now on, so for those of you who have no interest, just pretend I really am on holiday and not posting at all.
For the rest, here are my thoughts on the Arkle, and the two great horses whom I think will dominate the great race, named after Himself, the finest National Hunt horse of the last hundred years.
Simonsig is a very thrilling chasing prospect. He has never been off the bridle this season, and has strolled to two imperious victories, gloriously unbothered by having to wade through heavy mud. He won the Neptune last year, so he has the crucial festival form; that hill holds no fears for him. According to people who know, he is scorching the turf off the gallops at home, leaving observers gaping in his wake.
On paper, nothing can touch him.
But Cheltenham is not paper. That is why there are always smoking favourites which get bowled over. I remember last year when everyone said that Boston Bob was the absolute Irish banker of the whole meeting. Suitcases of cash from over the sea were riding on his talented back. But there was a lovely young horse from Scotland called Brindisi Breeze, whom I backed at 9-1, partly because of the Scottishness, partly because I liked him, partly because I admire Lucinda Russell and she does not send horses four hundred miles for nothing, and partly because I’ve never quite believed in the Cheltenham banker.
Even this year, I would say there is only one, which is the untouchable Sprinter Sacre. Simonsig, Pont Alexandre, Quevega, and Dynaste will all be described as bankers, but I can see Overturn, The New One, Une Artiste and Captain Conan coming along and shaking up all those certainties.
This is the thrilling, edge-of-your seat thing about racing. It is the glory of the thoroughbred, in all its enduring mystery. There are so many tiny imponderables which can make a difference, from the serious business of the tactics of a race, to something as trivial as the first thing a horse sees when it gets off the lorry at the course. If something spooks a highly-bred racehorse, and it gets itself too revved up in the preliminaries, the race can be frittered away right there. (The lovely Australian mare Ortensia did this at Ascot last year.)
And so, there is the great flying grey Simonsig, for whom the sky is the limit. And there is the brilliant journeyman, Overturn, who can turn his hoof to anything. He’s been around for longer; he’s run at the very highest levels over hurdles and on the flat. He was second in last year’s Champion Hurdle, which is not too shabby, and he has now taken, rather late in life, to fences, as if they were the things he had been waiting for.
He bowls along in front, often with his ears pricked, jumping for fun. He does perhaps not quite have the white heat of Simonsig, but he has a lovely, honest exuberance which makes it look as if he is dancing over the big obstacles. He is tough and genuine, and he is going to be the first horse Simonsig has encountered over fences who will not let the grey have it all his own way.
I think, in my most stern, scientific self, that Simonsig probably has the edge. My head says he probably is a banker.
But I love Overturn with every beat of my stupid old racing heart. I think he is my favourite horse in training. He’s so bright and bonny and he loves what he does and he does not know how to run a bad race. So he is my pick. It is not a forensic decision. It’s all for love.
It’s a small bet only. And, win or lose, he still is an absolute champion in my heart.
I am keeping strictly to my new policy of not abusing copywright and putting up naughty pictures of my favourites here. Those racing photographers have a tough living to make, and I must not pinch their hard work. If you want to see the two gorgeous fellas, Simonsig is here:
And my best beloved Overturn is here: