More Odds And Sods

I went to Cheltenham racecourse last Wednesday.

No, I have not cracked up and turned up for The Festival two weeks early, I was there for the Countdown To Cheltenham press launch.

Apart from around 100 assorted members of the media and a similar number of contractors doing preparation work for the Festival, the place was deserted.

It had a strange, surreal, feel. Cheltenham without the crowds is a wholly different place. It somehow seems forlorn, lonely. It is a similar feeling after each day of the Festival.

To avoid the crowds leaving the course and car parks most hacks, myself included, hang around for about 90 minutes after the last race. At which point a quick, straightforward, exit is virtually guaranteed – apart from Gold Cup day when there is never a quick exit.

At that time of the evening Cheltenham is also like a ghost town, the only evidence of the massed crowds being the mountains of litter being attacked by a veritable army of cleaners.

The Cheltenham launch was held in the Panoramic Restaurant way up in the upper levels of the Grandstand.

I have to say it is an area of the course I do not usually frequent, after Wednesday it is an area I do want to frequent.

It is not very often in life that you have a “Wow” moment, however my arrival in the Panoramic Restaurant was one such moment. The view of the racecourse is absolutely awesome, a magnificent aerial view of the action . . . . .  it would be virtually impossible to miss any of the action.

It is also an area of the course where access comes at a premium. For the Festival you are looking at around £600 a head and for non-Festival meetings between £75 & £140 a head. However for a special day out for a racing fan it would be money well spent.

Anyway, enough of the free advertising.

The aim of the session was to launch the “Countdown To Cheltenham” an easy going affair and the chance for the course to update the assembled media with the progress as the Festival approaches.

Edward Gillespie was first up and, as always, was (justifiably) talking up the Festival, whilst conceding the economic realities and admitting they have scaled down the corporate hospitality offerings this year.

The Q&A session inevitably turned towards staging the Festival on a Wednesday to Saturday, rather than Tuesday to Friday – the questioning spearheaded by Big Mac.

It was very interesting, next day, reading the reports in the Daily papers and it was quite evident as to which of the hacks was personally in favour of the Saturday finale by reading their interpretation.

Reading a couple of the reports you would have been left with the impression that Mr Gillespie just cannot wait to move to a Saturday festival and it was almost a certainty for 2012.

In reality his response was much more guarded and cautious but hey why let the facts get in the way of your own agenda.
Next up was Simon Claisse, Director of Racing and Clerk Of The Course. Normally one of lifes eternal optimists even he was downbeat about the star of the track.

The harsh winter has not made preparation of the track easy and he admitted his groundstaff were two weeks behind where they would like to be in terms of preparation. However he was still confident of having decent ground for the big day.

Clerks Of Courses are a much maligned species, and I am the first to admit I have fired bullets in their direction in the past – indeed I will be firing some more in a pew paragraphs time.  However it must be an absolute nightmare trying to prepare a decent track for what is, arguably, one of the greatest meetings of the year. As he pointed out the course has, since Christmas, experienced 66 nights of frost and snow.

However, whatever the problems the course may encounter, there are few doubts everything will be ready for the opening day and the almighty, unique, roar which will ring out towards Cleve Hill as the tapes go up on the opening race of the 2010 Festival.

On a weather related note, the cold snap, although not as bad as it was still haunts racing and overnight frost results in numerous inspections.

Now I understand the need to inspect after a heavy frost, however I do get really annoyed when inspections drag on and on and the final decision to race is taken at the last minute.

The latest “will it, won’t it” saga came at Stratford on Monday, where the final decision to race was taken at 1:00, just an hour before the opening race.

In this case the decision was that racing went ahead, however can you imagine the, justified, outcry had racing been Cancelled.

What about racegoers having to travel a long way to get to the races. I was a prime example on Monday – had I waited for the final decision before setting off to Stratford I would have missed, at least, the first and possibly first two races.  As it was I had to set off not knowing if the meeting was on or off, a not very satisfactory state of affairs.
I have said this before and I will say it again. If racing is to be credible these last minute decisions should not be made. Nor should the decision be left to the course itself, they have to much of a vested  interest in the meeting going ahead.

The decision to race should be made by independent inspectors and if a course is not fit to race two hours before the opening race then the meeting should be called off.

Finally some tragic news from Fontwell – the Curry shop (the best on any UK racecourse) has gone. On the 2½ drive to the course I was looking forward to the curry.

Alas I am destined to be deprived, having to settle for fish and chips instead – the fish and chips are OK but no substitute.

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