There is, without any shadow of doubt, something very special about the Cheltenham Festival. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it really is like Christmas if you are a fan of jumps racing.
The build up starts way back in October/November when the National Hunt season begins to gather real momentum, and that build up doesn’t stop until the tape goes up at the start of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the Tuesday and the famous ‘Cheltenham Roar’ fills the air. Until that point, everything that happens at the higher level of the Sport is all about Cheltenham. The winning trainer of the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day is not given five minutes to wallow in the warmth of victory in such a prestigious race before being asked live on television what chances they feel their equine star has in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
It seems like every year we have rumours of Irish wonder horses that will win their allotted Festival race not so much doing cartwheels, than puffing nonchalantly on a fat Cuban cigar and pulling on a nip of Jameson’s after jumping the last, such will their ease of victory surely be. We have handicap plots galore, and “Insider” jobs hinted at conspiratorially by experts holding court at the various pre-Cheltenham preview shows.
I confess I’ve only been to the actual meeting once previously. It was Gold Cup day back in 1995, and it gave me one of my true Cheltenham highlights. Never one to successfully tip winners myself, that year I had a theory that I repetitively tried to convince my best mate and his Dad, who were my travel companions for the day, would lead to riches. The hot favourite was One Man, but after reading Nick Mordin’s book, Betting For A Living and doing a wee bit of form study (!), I was absolutely certain that it couldn’t win over 3m+ on an undulating track. Cheltenham is as undulating as the Yorkshire Dales, and Imperial Call – second favourite, an Irish raider – was my choice. Goodness, a few pints of the Black Stuff were sunk when Imperial Call came home in front and One Man trailed in last!
My other stand out Festival memory is playing truant from school – or wagging it, as it was known – with the same mate, as callow youths back in 1989, the year Desert Orchid won the Gold Cup. Trouble was, my gambling partner and I had antepost tickets on Yahoo at 14/1 (the local bookie wasn’t too fussed on age restrictions) and if Betfair had been going back then, Yahoo would have definitely hit odds on in running going over the last. Alas it wasn’t to be, and I think we were the only two in the country who weren’t teary eyed when Desert Orchid battled back so gamely to pip ours in the final few yards… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYInjUE4P5I.
And who can forget Long Run’s famous win over the great Kauto Star and Denman. What a race that was – possibly the best I’ve ever seen – and having had a big bet on the winner made it all the sweeter.
Anyway, that’s all in the past. What do I do for Cheltenham in the present? The easiest way to explain is to give you a breakdown of the typical Cheltenham day…
The night before
I’ll have struck my Bet Alchemist and Cleeve Racing bets and be tucked up nice and early with a mug of hot chocolate and the Weekender. There’ll be no work distractions for the remainder of the week and in some ways this is my favourite time of the week – all is ahead to look forward to, and like Christmas presents as a kid, the anticipation is more than half the overall enjoyment.
Up and at ‘em. Laughing at the wife and kids because they have to go to work/school, I imagine that with my perma-grin I’m pretty annoying to be around. Still, the kids get a lift in to school, as I want to pick up a copy of the Racing Post which is read over a traditional Cheltenham week breakfast of Potato Cakes (a nod to the Irish) and coffee. With selections highlighted and opinions absorbed, it’s time to whizz the mutt around the block.
It’s from this time that I expect and anticipate some bets coming through. The Value Bettor will be sending his early tips but this year it will be interesting to see how he plays the week. Previous years have not proven to be too successful for Andrew, which is really surprising bearing in mind his love of the course and aptitude for finding winners there. I do know that after last year he wondered aloud if he should continue to tip as he has been doing at the Festival, so it will be interesting to see exactly how he plays it this year.
We’ll also have Racing Intelligence selections coming through. This will be my first experience of the service through Cheltenham week, so I have no idea as to whether to expect a lot of action at Prestbury Park or very little. Precision Value too, should have some tips, but always important to back the selections at the other meetings held during the week. A 4/1 winner at Sedgefield pays the same as a 4/1 winner at the Festival!
In between striking the bets as they come through, it will be time to watch the ITV Morning Line or whatever it’s called nowadays, previously recorded on the Sky box. Can’t say it’s particularly informative, but all adds to the growing sense of anticipation.
Lunch and the switch on to the tv coverage, leading up to the 1.30 start to the first race of the card. On the Friday it will be a traditional visit to my old mate and his Dad to watch the Gold Cup over a couple of beers and a reminisce…Imperial Call may have been my only ever self-found winner, but it wasn’t half a good one!
Finally, just one thing to address, an issue that I am frequently asked about. Most horse racing tipsters will be concentrating on Cheltenham and if you follow a few, you are quite likely going to see a number of races in which you have been tipped a number of different horses. What to do? My advice is simple – just back everything in the same way as you always do for each tipster. Same stake, same time…just get on in the normal way. As soon as you start messing about, not backing horses, the sooner it will be you’ll live to regret it. You’ll judge your tipster’s record over the long term, so just keep methodically plugging away with each.
No doubt – as it is the case every year – the following hours of racing each afternoon will generate new memories; wonderment at the bravery of both horse and jockey, thrilling finishes, and great stories. Some of which will be written up via my daily Bet Diary post each evening. Here’s hoping that we all make some money and the tipsters we follow get their fair share of luck.
You know what? I can’t wait for the weekend and Monday to be over! Very best of luck to all.