The fishy tale of the first Cheltenham Preview of 2021
Gary Sears, with the help of his brother Ian, on the fishy tale of the first preview night for the Cheltenham Festival 2021
The problems started after we left Cheltenham Racecourse on Gold Cup day and made the mistake of ignoring the signs and trying to drive through the town to start our journey home. One week later having negotiated a way out of the traffic jam and found a clear stretch of road we found ourselves just south of the town.
Needing to stretch our legs (amongst other things) we chanced upon the small village of Fiddlers Green and happily a small inn set back from the road. The board outside caught our attention – 2021 Cheltenham Festival Preview here tonight. 7.30 till 11.00. All welcome.
Thinking we’d just catch the last half hour we went in expecting a raucous and full pub. Wrong. There was just the landlord sitting at the bar and a tramp like figure in the far corner.
Enquiries as to whether the preview was finished were answered by mine host – “haven’t you heard; all pubs are shutting tonight due to this virus thing so we had to cancel. Shame really as I got an extra barrel of Guinness and a box of pork scratchings in.”
He looked us up and down. “You two lads look like racing types with your binoculars and your ‘I Luv Jenny Pitmen’ T-shirts”. Don’t suppose you’d consider giving a quick chat, only Big Ron from the Fish Shop over there is refusing to leave till we have a preview. Says he’s always wanted to join in with one.
With microphones thrust into our hands we were left with little choice so whilst mine host sorted out the sound system out, we came up with a plan which started with asking Big Ron what his thoughts were (knowing what we know now we may have assumed that Ron was ahead of the game re social distancing though it turned out he’d spent the afternoon filleting a crate of mackerel so nobody wanted to get within two metres of him anyway).
“Just a couple of jockeys I follow, David Bass and Jamie Codd” was Ron’s input which raised eyebrows with the two other members of the panel but received a nod of appreciation from the landlord. “Don’t knock it lads, he got a lovely double up on the first day, Imperial Aura and Ravenhill, backed ’em win and plaice.”
And so, the preview got under way and proceeded in the time-honoured tradition whereby we spent three-quarters of the allotted time discussing the Supreme Novices Hurdle (eventually deciding that the likely favourite Appreciate It was probably going to go for the Ballymore anyway) before the bell was rung for last orders.
“Better get a move on lads; only another 5 minutes and we need some tips otherwise Ron will find something else to fillet” the landlord warned. “You first, Ian.”
“That Arkle didn’t look up to much this year and with Altior a year older and subject to his annual injury scare next March and Defi surely going up in trip CHACUN POUR SOI will be the one for the Queen Mother if they haven’t found someone different to name it after.”
“Dead or alive I’m pretty certain it won’t be named after Prince Andrew”, chipped in the landlord, ” when we get a five-day Festival they are more likely to name a Juvenile race after him.”
Ian continued. “The Gold Cup is a race that should have come home to England and that is likely to have been the case if the second had an Irish jockey on him, Rachel, Codd, Townend, Russell even Geraghty might have got the job done. With another year of chasing experience, a better understanding of his requirements and hopefully a better pace to aim at SANTINI will make amends.”
“Now you Gary.”
“Well, sure Mullins will enter ALLAHO in everything except the Triumph but surely the Ryanair is the only possible target and can see him making all and winning easily.”
“As for another one, you can’t ignore the Irish ones in the handicaps and reckon Elliott will have worked out COUER SUBLIME isn’t up to championship standard so after another wind op he will rise, Samcro like to win the County Hurdle.”
Mine host seemed happy; “Good stuff gents. A nice yankee. Afraid can’t pay you but help yourselves to a bag of pork scratchings.”
In the corner, Big Ron scribbled in his paper, finished his Guinness and started to make his way across the room. He wasn’t getting away that easily. “You’re part of this panel” Ian reminded him – how about one from you. He didn’t need to think. “MONKFISH” he muttered – “wins everything.”
“Cobblers” shouted Ian after him. The landlord turned around alarmed. “COBBLERS WAY, will overturn the Albert Bartlett form with Monkfish whenever they meet over the big ones next year.”
Big Ron paused briefly, gave an unconcerned shake of the head and with that he shuffled out of the door, away towards an uncertain future.