Today traditionally is the day I would always call Big Buck’s day. I would wake up like a child at Christmas, my heart beating at the thought of the magnificence to come.
Now, as the new pretenders start to rear their glorious heads, it may be Annie Power day.
Annie Power is the queen in waiting. She may be one of the great race mares, spoken of in the same breath as Dawn Run. She is tough, strong, and enthusiastic, with a dash of stardust about her. She has found everything she has done so far ridiculously easy.
The received wisdom is that she is a glittering star, and that Big Buck’s is a waning moon. He’s eleven, which would make this task tough for him even in the best year. But he has not had the best year. He’s been off with a tendon; his last run was a losing battle. The Irish, whose eyes are indeed smiling, think that Annie will scoot up the hill, leaving the old champion trailing in her wake.
I love her. She thrills me. I hope she stays around for years. I think she might one day take her place in the Gold Cup. If she can win today, which is in itself a tremendous ask, I shall throw my hat in the air.
My absurd old heart still belongs to Big Buck’s. He has delighted everyone who loves racing for so long. He is in a class of his own.
He should not win. All the odds are stacked against him. But he is Big Buck’s. He is, as the old racing hands say, different gravy. If anyone can pull it out of the fire, he can.
Anything could happen. The old warrior could pull up, or he could battle up the hill to regain his crown. The young queen could find the big stage too much, and go out like a light. She has never run at this level, and she has never gone this far. Or she could rise to the occasion, and soar to new heights. The anticipated duel may not materialise at all. At Fishers Cross could refind his brilliance and beat the both of them.
It’s not a betting day for me. I’m up on the meeting; my punting race is run. It really is a love day. Big Buck’s owes his adoring fans not one thing. He has given so much. If he can make the improbable come true, it will be the story of the festival, and it will truly be a dream to dream. It would also be the training performance of the year from Paul Nicholls, who keeps the faith with his mighty campaigner. He has said that he tips his hat to the brilliance of the great mare, but ‘mine won’t go down without a fight.’ It would also be the ride of his life for young Sam Twiston-Davies, one of the brightest lights in the National Hunt game.
Win or lose, I hope Big Buck’s runs his race, and comes home safe, with his head held high.
Even though he is the emperor of my heart, I do thrill to the good mare. You know how I feel about the mares. This morning, I gave Red a breeze. She was light as air, smooth as silk, so sweet and responsive that I really let her go. Out loud, in the cool Scottish air, I stood up in my stirrups, threw the reins at her, and cried: ‘Come on, Annie. Go, go.’ She went. As I slid off, and congratulated her, for her own private brilliance, I said, seriously: ‘You are my own little Annie Power.’ She blew through her nostrils. She nodded at me. She gave me her velvet nose to stroke. She knows. She ran round at the back on gaff tracks, but in her own mind, and in mine, she is the champion to end them all.
My own private Annie: