Lull before The Storm
When you look at what has happened in Japan in the past few days it makes the racing worlds near obsession with what is happening in a field in the Cotswolds in the coming days almost an irrelevance.
Life goes on however and as I write this just over 48 hours before the Supreme Novices gets underway and the first Cheltenham Roar of the season fills the air there is a feeling of the lull before the storm.
Yesterday I read an eye-witness account of the Japanese earthquake and he commented “just before the earthquake struck there was a moment of eerie silence, then the ground started shaking.”
It is probably a crass analogy but that is where we are today in relation to the Cheltenham Festival. All the preparation has been done, acres of newsprint, trillions of bytes of online-comment, countless hours of radio and television analysis and all that can be said has been said. The Imperial Cup has been run and now it is just a matter of waiting for it all to start.
I like to arrive at Cheltenham early each day. Partly for practical reasons, to beat the crowds but also to get a feel for the place - especially on the Tuesday morning. There is something special walking round the site early Tuesday morning, before any of the crowds are admitted, as the hard working staff apply the last minute touches. There is a certain sereneness about the place, especially as you know in a few hours the place will be a seething mass of humanity it is a chance to really appreciate what a wonderful natural amphitheatre Prestbury Park is.
It is the same at all the big meetings, another tradition of mine now is to walk the Derby course at 9:00 on the morning of the big race. Strolling across the then quiet downs to the start. Walking up the hill of the first half mile of the course (watching at home it is impossible to appreciate just how steep that climb is) then stopping at the 7f post and looking back across The Hill towards the empty stands. Then the descent towards Tattenham Corner and looking down the straight towards the spot of glory. Again, unless you stand at the entrance of the home straight, it is difficult to appreciate the camber. Then, walking down the home straight in near silence, in stark contrast to the wall of sound which will greet the runners later on in the day.
There is something about the anticipation which can be as good as, sometimes better, than the event itself.
Before the event you can imagine close finishes, different scenarios. You can imagine your horse pulling clear in the Martin Pipe on Friday, thus giving you a full set of Tote Jackpot wins for the week.
Of course the reality, for most of us, is one or two winners in the entire week and that’s if we’re lucky. Probably even more so this year as this looks to be the most open Festival in many a long time.
Of course this time next week, with the benefit of hindsight, we shall all be saying “well it was obvious really that so-and-so would win.”
That’s the delight of these big festivals, the build-up can be as much fun, as exciting as the event itself. There is even, and whisper this quietly, the Festival may end up a damp squib with all the contests finishing as processions. Somehow I don’t think so.
Good luck to everybody playing their part at the Festival. From the all important crowds who add the atmosphere. Through to the officials and staff who make the event proceed seamlessly.
Not forgetting the jockeys and horses and even if our own selections win or lose our overwhelming hope is they all come back safe and sound.
And good luck to Richard Hoiles, Mark Johnson and Mike Cattamole on course, along with Simon Holt and John Hunt for Channel Four and BBC Radio who will have the best views of the racing as well as the very difficult job of calling the runners home.
Although they commentate day in, day out even they approach these meetings differently. I was chatting to Mark Johnson at Sandown yesterday and the way he was talking about commentating at the festival was like watching a child talking about Christmas arriving . . . if you could bottle that enthusiasm you would make a fortune. It was also interesting the race he was looking forward to most of all was not the Champion Hurdle or Gold Cup but the Foxhunters, which goes to show everyone approaches the Festival from a different perspective.
Another reason why these upcoming four days are so special.
For those of you turned off by the thought of obstacles getting in the way of horses running then don’t worry it is only a couple of weeks before the tiny jockeys charge down the Catterick home straight for the first time this season.
In the meantime just indulge us old romantic National Hunt lovers.