An Emotional Festival

Racing is a sport, more than any other, that can tear at the emotions and the Cheltenham Festival 2013 certainly played the entire gamut of emotions.

From the highs of the scintillating destruction of a high class field by Sprinter Sacre to, just over 25 hours later, the gut wrenching numbness, physically and emotionally, as jockey JT McNamara was airlifted to hospital.

The highs began on the opening day, where after the weather scare, Hurricane Fly regained the Champion Hurdle chased home by last years champion.

QuevegaThen we had Quevega winning the Mare's hurdle for the fifth time. It was a run which reminded me of Sea The Stars winning the Arc. A horse emerging from a seemingly impossible position to run on to glory. The sort of run which makes the days spent watching Class 6 plodders all the more worthwhile.

On Thursday we saw a new World Hurdle champion as Solwhit took, or is that borrowed, Big Bucks crown.

Whilst on Friday we saw an epic Gold Cup, a Gold Cup truly worthy of its status, as Bobs Worth came home an impressive winner. It was a contest where it was impossible to call the winner until the very final stages. There may not have been no Kauto Star (although he looked superb as he led the parade), Imperial Commander or Denman but, being brutal, the race did not need them.

Our ConorFriday also saw the next generation, both equine and human come to the fore, with the two coming together in the opener as Our Conor and young Bryan Cooper both made a striking impression in the opener. Our Conor, arguably, doing the second best demolition job of the week.

Sprinter SacreThe consummate demolition job came from Sprinter Sacre who made it eight from eight with his imperious victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase leading to many dubbing him the Frankel of jump racing.

It wasn’t just the manner of his victory, it was the impressive way he cleared his fences, spring heeling his way to victory in a near faultless display of jumping.

Sizing Europe, a previous winner of the contest, is no mug, yet he was well and truly mugged by the Nicky Henderson trained winner and listening to the emotional post-race interviews with Henderson it was evident he is in awe of the horse.

On Thursday though, we saw the other, darker, side of our sport.

On the equine front we lost the talented, promising Matuhi. Who paid the ultimate price in the Byrne Group Plate, despite vets battling for almost an hour to save him. Earlier in the afternoon had Davy Russell being taken to hospital with his punctured lung.

But when we though things couldn’t get much worse, the danger of this sport was no more firmly underlined than by the horrific injury suffered by top amateur rider JT (John Thomas) McNamara. One moment he was riding Galaxy Rock to the first fence, the next he was prostrate on the turf with a broken neck.

There were not too many concerns in the crowd or media centre as the fence was by-passed on the second circuit but as time progressed the news began to spread.

When we heard an air ambulance had been called there was a realisation this was no ordinary fall and although there were some updates over the public address system, it was only when contact was made with those more closely involved, the full realisation of what had happened became increasingly apparent.

Eventually airlifted to hospital and now in an induced coma, he has undergone surgery and we all hope and pray the outcome is positive.

JT was certainly been to the forefront of the riders thoughts on Friday and there were no exuberant celebrations.

It must had been a difficult day for the riders, for although JT McNamara is an amateur rider, as a 37 year old he has been in the weighing room longer than most of the riders and the likes of AP McCoy and Barry Geraghty have been friends with him for near on 20 years.

In the back of all the riders minds must has been the thought "there but the grace of God go I."

The accident has demonstrated how, in a split second, a jockey can one moment be in control of his mount and the next sustain a potentially life threatening, potentially life changing injury.

On a positive front the treatment given to both Matuhi and McNamara shows how seriously racing treats the welfare of its participants, both equine and human. The vets and medics must be the only workers at the racecourse who hope they spend the day doing nothing but the boring and mundane administrative stuff. Thankfully most days that is all they have to do but on the days when they do have to do their job, there are none better.

Seeing the air ambulance circling the course also reminded me of the excellent job they do. What is so wrong, is all the air ambulances in this country rely solely on charitable donations and sponsorship. They do not receive any money from central Government or the NHS.

The Injured Jockeys Fund rightly gets a huge amount of support from those working in racing and those who follow the sport and the IJF will be closely involved in JT McNamara’s journey ahead.

However if you had a successful punting week at Cheltenham perhaps you would also like to give a few quid of your winnings to your local Air Ambulance service – it may be you, a loved one or a friend who needs a big red or yellow helicopter one day in the future.

  Return to The Beast Home