Monday, 19 March 2018



That familiar sight of swarming enclosures and packed grandstands that the TV cameras regularly focus on was accompanied by smooth Ed Chamberlin's statement that the Cheltenham Festival ' just gets bigger and better'.

The fixture is unquestionably being stretched so is indeed bigger in the context of number of races, number of runners, day on day attendances and money spent by the attendees.

But as the likes of the Guinness Village and the other all day drinking and loitering areas continue to expand, it would appear that the racecourse is more interested in the Glastonbury style festive racegoer than the connoisseur racing fan, which is after all surely what an event that styles itself as being the 'Olympics of jump racing' should be designed for.

Looking at it from a Glasto perspective, this is not pie in the sky for it is only the weather which is the main barrier to an idea that is workable and a potential big money spinner. There is room for the festival goers to pitch their tents, room for stages to be erected, and all without the density of adjoining residential properties for council permission to be attainable.

Aintree also has ample space for this to be introduced. Indeed the venue has a place in modern history for accommodating big crowds for concerts as thirty years ago this September, 125,000 eager souls flocked to the venue to see Michael Jackson perform.

And if anyone wishes to profile the modern racegoer that these venues cater for, they can note that the pre-race concerts Aintree have in their indoor school now continue throughout the racing with some 'racegoers' watching the performances against the backdrop of a giant screen showing the racing.

Don't ever be shocked if very soon one of these trashy concert Summer evening meetings becomes an all night music festival. Would have to be somewhere out of earshot of highly populated residential areas to be given permission but the Newmarket July Course that initiated this trend thirty odd years ago when having the likes of Tom Jones and Suzi Quatro on the bill might start the ball rolling.

The nearby National Stud would have plenty to say though. It's not a prospect which that establishment would be over the moon about.

As to Ed Chamberlin announcing that the Cheltenham Festival is better than ever, just take a look at Laurina who stirred up a bit of a wow factor but one very much tinged with regret knowing that in the past she would have lined up in the Supreme Novices or the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle.

When you consider the choice of targets now available, you cannot help but mull over some vintage renewals of these events and realise how lucky we were to have them at the time.

As an example, the 1984 Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle when Sabin Du Loir beat Dawn Run and West Tip. If that was 2018, Dawn Run would have ran in the Mares Novices event, West Tip in the three mile novices hurdle, with Sabin Du Loir, who was only four at the time, in the same event, the Ballymore as it is now called, or the Triumph.

And for good measure, the unplaced horses in the race included Lettoch, Ballinacura Lad, Mister Lord and Duke of Milan.

To show these examples are far from isolated, two years before the needless introduction of the three mile novice hurdle, the same race was won by Hardy Eustace, followed home by Coolnagorna, Pizarro and Lord Sam.

Nowadays, almost certainly Lord Sam and highly likely Pizzaro, would have lined up for the three miler.

This is dilution at its finest and you can go through the card each day over the past ten years and find clear examples of the quality of events being watered down.

It was disparaging to hear Willie Mullins interviewed after Laurina's victory when he suggested that the ideal race for her would be a mares only chase, which he had heard that the course were planning to introduce.

This truly is not what Cheltenham is about. The idea surely is to mould your charge for the event, not for the course to produce a race for your needs. Think Anaglog's Daughter or Lesley Anne. If they fancy fences with Laurina then it is either the Arkle or RSA where she will have the mare's allowance.

What irks is that this stretched out diluted festival will not be turning back. Quevega is already a legend from a race that should not exist. If they did have a Glasto style festival they would probably have a Quevega Stage.

The Fred Winter well and truly killed off the buzz that would emanate around the Triumph Hurdle. The cavalry charge to the first, horses who had not run in a hurdle race with such a lick on before. Sometimes a once or twice raced could be anything type from a fashionable yard would win. Other times it would be a real hardy sort who had been on the go all season.

Ironically, many of those who were against the introduction of this event, and still regret it's existence, are now up in arms about Boodles wanting the Fred Winter name dropped from the title.

Well, although the race had played its part in degrading the festival it will always be known as the Fred Winter. The name Boodles conjures up the advert from around twenty years ago with Thelma from the Likely Lads revealing to a friend that she is one of their customers.

Now Thelma and the Cheltenham Festival; far from compatible.

picture from Wiki Commons Library

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