Cheltenham: the love/hate continues
Cheltenham – the love/hate continues
I wouldn’t say it was a guilty pleasure, with many other sporting events already cancelled, but I was glad to have had a couple of days at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, the opening day and Gold Cup day. They were the first for over a decade.
I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the climax of the jump season. I’ve loved the sport but hated the hassle of getting to Cheltenham and getting around. Actually, it was getting back from Cheltenham that did the most to remove the gloss.
Standing in a queue, after racing, to first wait for a bus or taxi and then at the station, sometimes in the rain, wondering if you were going to be able to get on the next train to London, left me wondering about giving it a miss in future, which for a while I did.
So, have things improved to make me want to become a regular attendee?
Outside of the Festival, I’ve been to quite a few meetings at Prestbury Park, so have experienced and appreciated the new facilities. And they have certainly helped the Festival experience.
A much-improved part of the experience begins with the train journey. In the past year, Great Western Railway have installed new rolling stock on its network. That means longer trains and a more comfortable journey, and doing away with the queueing system at Paddington for the Cheltenham service.
And, unlike other meetings at Cheltenham, shuttle bus tickets can now be purchased before boarding the bus. Indeed, you can even buy them at train stations. So, you’re on the bus relatively quickly.
But then you experience the first teeth-grinding aspect of the day – the stop (mostly stop)/start journey through the town, where the traffic system doesn’t now and never has adequately coped. If there’s a solution, it’s yet to be found, although taxi drivers for as long as I can remember have called for a one-way route to the racecourse and one-way back.
Four journeys in all, and the bus never went the same way twice.
A word for the emails and leaflets sent to racegoers before the Festival – very little if anything was overlooked in helping to plan and enjoy the day.
On the second visit, I deposited an item with the left luggage service, and the lady behind the counter was the most pleasant and helpful member of staff I encountered at any point in the two days.
On the opening day, I was with a friend who walks with the aid of a stick. That shouldn’t be an issue, but the entrance via the Centaur Centre was an unpleasant scrum – not just for someone unsteady on their feet who was constantly jostled, but also for myself. Such things set the tone for the day.
Thereafter, we pretty much did what we wanted to do, and saw the races we wanted to see. Some of the bars had limited beer selections, they seem to favour the premium, falling-over brews, but getting served was never much of an issue.
There were restrictions on where you could take your drinks and, as with other racecourses with similar “no drinks beyond this point” rules, it can create over-crowded areas reminiscent of Saturday night chucking-out time.
I do sympathise with the security team who enforce the rules. One obnoxious racegoer, on being told he couldn’t leave a champagne bar with his drink, said, in a feigned tone of incredulity, “Oh really, oh really, oh really, oh really” full into the face of the steward. How he didn’t deck him I’ll never know and a colleague congratulated him for his restraint.
Friday’s racing will ever be remembered for the last-fence unseating of Jamie Moore on Goshen in the opening Triumph Hurdle. The horse clipped front foot with rear foot in a freak accident, when the race was at the duo’s mercy. The rider didn’t stand a chance.
There was one racegoer who let go with an expletive laden reaction, claiming that the jockey had jumped off. The more he repeated his opinion, the more he was ignored, so the angrier he got. I felt sorry for people near him with children. He was another person lucky not to have a close encounter with the floor.
Festival week, as usual, heralded the Racing Post’s annual price rise – now a hefty £3.50 (£3.90 Saturday).
It also saw a £4 charge for the racecard, which bought you over 30 pages of advertising. I know where I think the value lies.
Fellow Racing Hub scribblers Gary McKenzie and Karl Merryck have provided the sporting highlights of the 2020 Festival. For the two days I was there, as well as days watched on TV, the accomplishments of horse and rider were outstanding, with some of the best finishes you’ll ever see up the hill.
There were things that came close to spoiling the days, but they didn’t, not quite.
Will I be back next year? The jury wasn’t out for long, Yep, all being well, I’ll be back.
BetVictor show neat footwork
ITV were not the only organisation to step in at Thurles, to provide coverage of Saturday’s racing behind closed doors at the Irish track.
BetVictor also showed some nimble footwork. Two days before the fixture the card included www.thurlesraces.ie Hurdle and the Horse & Jockey Handicap Hurdle.
By Saturday, the two races were now the BetVictor Hurdle and the BetVictor Handicap Hurdle.
Even Sandra might have been impressed with the bookmaker’s quick-step.
Trying to keep an open mind
There are people who, when they express an opinion, I know I am likely to hold an opposite view, however much I try to keep on open mind.
So it is with a letter in the Racing Post from former chairman for six years of the BHB, the BHA’s precursor, Peter Savill.
Regarding the suspension of British racing during the coronavirus outbreak, he wrote “Racing has missed a massive opportunity that was available to almost no other sport, to provide an entertainment outlet for a nation that is starved of things to do.”
I’m hard pressed to think of opportunities racing grasped under Savill’s tenure as head of the sport’s governing body. What I do recall is a period of antagonism followed by a lot of bridge-building being put into place.
Gary McKenzie’s Cheltenham awards http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Hp
Kyle Merrick’s “A Golden Cheltenham” http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3G9