More a purr than a Cheltenham roar
The Secret Racegoer joins the crowds returning to Cheltenham to witness the ups and downs of jump racing at its best
The crowd gave more of a purr than a roar to greet the start of the two-mile one-furlong British EBF “National Hunt” Novices Hurdle at 11.30, the first race to be witnessed by the Prestbury Park faithful since Gold Cup day in March.
Just short of 2,000 annual members, the maximum permitted, were there on day one of Cheltenham’s International meeting, presumably named as such because of raiders from France and Ireland, who this year were limited to visitors from across the Irish Sea.
To get to where the food and drink were being served, where the bookmakers were operating and where the horses could be seen meant the Secret Racegoer had to walk through the eerily empty Centaur Centre (pictured).
In fact, as he arrived early, everywhere was empty except for those in their red jackets taking up their positions to ensure that masks were worn and safe distance maintained.
They were happy to see the crowds trickle in, but would have been happier if a cutting wind wasn’t whipping in from behind the stands.
As the place slowly filled, the Secret Racegoer was grappling with downloading to his phone the QR image in order to be able to buy refreshments. It was the sort that looks like the crosswords you see in the posh Sunday papers which you keep on promising to one day try and understand.
After 20 minutes a cappuccino was on its way, via the at table service. Not long after, a diet coke followed, an indication that the Secret Racegoer was going to need a little more fluid before the day’s first Guinness was consumed.
Now at table service is a wonderful thing. Even at the Secret Racegoer’s regular Battersea pub the bar staff can no longer hide from customers which is usually their wont.
But everyone at Cheltenham was new to the positioning of dozens of tables and the Secret Racegoer watched as occupants of various tables recoiled as the Diet Coke came in their direction.
Cappuccino, Diet Coke and a spot of fresh air meant the system could now accommodate a pint of the black stuff. At £6.30, Jockey Club Caterers were clearly making up for lost time.
In order to obtain a pint, it was necessary to rule out ordering a half-pint. It was also necessary to shun the addition of blackcurrant. Now, the Secret Racegoer does not have anything against people wanting Guinness and black, and his insider with the caterers said it was proving quite popular.
But there were also options to add lime or orange. The catering insider was not very proud of being employed by an organisation which thought such an offering was acceptable. Indeed, she held the view that Black Velvet is a waste of good Guinness.
The highlight of day one was the redirected Peterborough Chase, lost to Huntingdon when that track was flooded, and it gave the Gloucestershire venue a valuable boost, given that the feature cross-country is not to everyone’s liking.
Mister Fisher jumped well to give Nico De Boinville a peach of ride, and stayed on nicely in the closing stages to take the prize-money put up by Fitzdares, who are to bookmaking what Coutts are to banking – not for the likes of ordinary mortals.
Cheltenham racecourse was bathed in sunshine and it was glorious to be there if you dodged the teeth of the wind.
It wasn’t so great for a couple of participants, bringing home the perils of jump racing with two falls in front of the stands.
The point-to-point champion Gina Andrews held a narrow lead coming to the last in the two-mile one-furlong handicap. Her mount, Haafapiece, got it wrong and Andrews was catapulted into the ground only to be kicked in the face.
She lay motionless face down on the turf. The screens went up and remained in position for what felt like an eternity.
She was eventually taken to Gloucester Hospital where a fractured jaw and eye socket were diagnosed. Her sister, jockey Bridget Andrews, subsequently tweeted: “Thanks to everyone for their well wishes for Gina today after her horrible fall at Cheltenham, she is okay but is staying in hospital tonight.”
A day later and an early return home was on the cards.
The next race saw Arion go through the fence two from home when putting in a challenge in the two-miles four-and-a-half furlong handicap. Richard Johnson was another pilot to be thrown to the floor, but Arion took the heavier fall of the two, and lay motionless with Johnson kneeling by the eight-year-old until help was on hand.
Again, the screens were put up and, again, remained there for some considerable time, before a winded Arion eventually got to his feet.
Bookmakers, dotted around the parade ring, were probably relieved that the 13/8 winner of the second, Happygolucky, was the day’s only successful favourite.
Due to the consumption of a “substantial meal” on the Friday night with said insider from the caterers, who had no hesitation in accepting a cocktail, choosing a Martini Porn Star, or having an Irish Coffee after a decent bottle of red, day two meant another delayed start to partaking of Guinness.
Over dinner (she – salmon (perfectly happy with red wine), he – steak (thinking good call)) two mounted police officers were observed strolling down Cheltenham High Street and taking guard opposite Poundland.
Heavyweight dressage division
These handsome beasts, the horses, moved in unison and looked like the heavyweight division of synchronised dressage. After about 10 minutes, they clipped-clopped away, at a leisurely speed that was to be echoed by many of the horses the Secret Racegoer backed on the Saturday.
As day two continued, the bar team honed their homing skills and Guinness was finding its way to the correct table. What the Secret Racegoer did not do was master the online ordering, and towards the end of the second day, two pints of Guinness were ferried to table 14. The Secret Racegoer had inadvertently ordered a double.
The Secret Racegoer also ordered steak pie, peas and mash. A young lady from the catering team asked how the pie was. The Secret Racegoer replied that some evidence of meat would have been nice.
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