How can 4 days pass so quickly? One minute the Cheltenham roar signals the beginning of an endless performance of sporting drama and magic and then, suddenly and without a claxon-call of warning, the curtain falls and it is time to rebook for next year.
Unless you leave the racecourse or betting shop with your pockets stuffed with currency the overwhelming emotion at the end of proceedings is that of an addict going cold turkey. It’s over. What else is there? Tomorrow is not another day; it is the first post-Cheltenham Day. The first day on the long trail to another opening day Cheltenham roar. Are we hopeless saddoes or optimistic romantics?
Jack Leach once penned: how can anyone die through winter when you don’t know if last year’s top two-year-olds have trained on? I think it can now be amended to: how can anyone die when there is another Cheltenham to look forward to? Given medical scientific input the atmosphere and anticipation of Cheltenham might yet be distilled into an elixir of life that will give the true racing fan a life expectancy of a hundred years or more. It is that potent.
If only the horses could live as long. Or simply stay sound.
It was good for the sport that a 7-year-old won the Gold Cup. With ordinary improvement he could yet prove to be a superstar of the calibre of Best Mate, though he’ll never be a Kauto or Denman. My initial thought, though, is that too many horses who you could not imagine winning a Gold Cup were too close to Sizing John at the line for the race to be anything other than an ordinary renewal. Minella Rocco, Saphir Du Rheu and More Of That were within ten lengths of him. Good horses in their own right but how many races have they won between them this season? One of them may win the Grand National but not one of them is going to win a King George let alone a Gold Cup.
Bristol De Mai is the interesting horse to take out of the race. Only six he could improve leaps and bounds next year, though for him to win a Gold Cup one suspects he will need what Cheltenham rarely provides in March – soft ground. Native River is another who has every right to improve next season and I suspect next year Richard Johnson would want to make it a more searching test of stamina. Out-doing Le Mercurey for speed is one thing, having enough speed to win a Gold Cup is another thing altogether. But again I cannot see him ever be good enough to win a Gold Cup. People misled themselves with his Welsh National win. Carvill’s Hill won a much more competitive Welsh National by a fence and yet he couldn’t win a Gold Cup either.
And of course we all wonder what Thistlecrack would have done. At the gallop the front runners set my thought is that he would have won as his jumping would not have been thoroughly tested. Though the Coneygree who won two years ago would have beaten all of them. The manner of his victory, the way he put to the sword, the way he jumped and galloped good horses into submission, reminded me of Crisp in the Grand National. If only he could be kept sound? If only.
I fear the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup will be remembered for the horses that were not there rather than those who were. I hope Sizing John remains sound and proves me wrong. I hope the Bradstocks can get Coneygree to the start line. Thistlecrack, too. And Yorkhill.
One things for sure. They will not all be there. The only guarantee that Cheltenham offers is that the atmosphere will be electric and the sport will be memorable. So let’s wish our lives away and speed-dream ourselves to another opening day Cheltenham roar.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.