I wanted to write you a tremendous report of the last days at Cheltenham, but I ran into the wall of mental and physical exhaustion. Usually, I take Cheltenham week off, but this week I was doing my day job and my HorseBack job and then studying the form and watching the racing and by the end of it all, I hit the wall. I could hardly think, let alone type a coherent sentence.
Cheltenham is always an emotional turmoil for me, because I love those brave, beautiful horses so much. My heart is in them as if they were mine; they feel like old friends. I love the stories of the humans behind them, and, having grown up in a National Hunt yard, I know well the hopes and dreams and love and care that go into those glittering equine athletes. I am incapable of watching in a calm, detached manner. I pace and fidget and hide my eyes and shout my head off. After four intense days, I have entirely lost my voice from roaring the great champions home.
This year, quite apart from the fairy tale of Sprinter Sacre coming back in glory, which induced an outpouring of adoration and joy such as the festival has not seen for a long year, there was the hard fact that I was watching these races for the first time without my mum. If I was at home, I would go in to her house each morning and discuss the day, dream of new stars, remember old triumphs, let her tell me about the times when she would watch Arkle soaring over those great fences to his own immortality. If I had travelled down to the racecourse, I would ring her up between each race on the mobile and shout out inarticulate, antic reports of what was going on. ‘There are grown men crying in the Jockey Club stand,’ I yelled, after Coneygree flew up the hill last year. ‘The Champ did it!!! The crowd has gone mad,’ I bawled, when AP rode his last festival winner on Uxizandre, for an astounding pillar to post victory.
All her favourites won this year, and I felt her absence and wished she could have been here to see Annie and Sprinter and the mighty Don. I cried an awful lot of tears, of joy for the dazzling performances, of missing for a voice that was silent, of memories for a shared passion.
Today, it was the dear Stepfather’s birthday. It was the first one without my mother, so I made a special effort. I cooked him a fillet of glorious Aberdeenshire Angus beef for his birthday lunch, and he got out a bottle of 1990 Cheval Blanc, which my mother, who knew all about good claret, had hidden away in the cellar. It was one of the most elegant wines I have ever tasted in my life, and we drank it in her honour.
This has been her week. I don’t really believe in other lives, but if I did, I would like to think that she was looking down, and smiling her sweet smile.