My Race Days
The Cheltenham Festival 2012
The highlight of the year (in the racing calendar) for me is unquestionably the Cheltenham Festival. Last year I won the best dressed lady award and the Gold Cup featured an epic battle between three heroic legends in Denman, Kauto Star and Long Run; and the year before I won a small fortune on my favourite horse Poker de Sivola. It would be a tall order to top such memorable times; and just a week before the participation of Kauto Star was in doubt. He had suffered a fall in training; but a racecourse workout at Wincanton confirmed his fitness to line up and that had already lifted everyone to the point where Gold Cup day was a sell out 70 000 plus people. They had come not to see him win; they had come simply to see him.
"And they're talking in the streets, and they're talking in the bar. But you'll
never see the like of Ruby Walsh and Kauto Star" 14 year old Mark Boylan from County Offaly would belt out from the winner’s enclosure on the morning of the Gold Cup with a punk acoustic passion that is indicative of the esteem in which this horse is held. Those that do not appreciate that, know nothing of horses or horsemen or passion; and fail to understand the contribution of horse racing to culture, the economy and our spirits to boot. As the Irish Times reported on Champion Hurdle morning; “WE MAY be drowning in debt and battling a bailout but we’ll always have Cheltenham”.
Of course the Irish media 'gets it' ; but those ill informed UK journalists that think we have humanised Kauto Star have missed the point entirely: he hasn’t been humanised; he is above that. Indeed; the sport of horse racing elevates what is essentially an ungulate to the status of mythical beasts that are worshipped by those that come to pay homage to them. Except in the case of Kauto Star his deeds are not mythical but real: he is the only horse in history to lose the Gold Cup crown and then regain it; and to win the King George at Kempton five times. The great status, reverence and welfare that thoroughbred horses enjoy is due to the sport of racing.
And so they came again to Cheltenham in 2012 to pay homage to Kauto Star and other equine heroes.
“And the times that we live in; people come from near and far; to see one of the greatest; his name is Kauto Star...”
There are other Cheltenham heroes of course, and ‘Big Buck’s’, ‘Hurricane Fly’, ‘Sprinter Sacre’, ‘Long Run’ and others would have their armies of fans; many sporting badges and colours. Champion Hurdle day the first of them; and hot favourite Hurricane Fly would have his credentials put to the test as he took on another previous Champion Hurdle winner in Binocular; and last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkandar. I had a small win bet on Zarakandar but had my main bet of the day on his stable companion Rock on Ruby. Ironically; Ruby Walsh his usual partner was on ‘Hurricane Fly’ so Noel Fehily came in for the ride. Donald McCain had already saddled the first winner ‘Cinders and Ashes’; and his Champion Hurdle contender Overturn and Rock on Ruby led from start to finish and we were lucky enough to have done the forecast! Hurricane Fly ran a gallant 3rd. I had had a couple of pounds on Rock on Ruby ante post at 16/1 too and backed him on the day. So that put me in good position to start the week.
Shortly after the race I bumped into Salvo and Alex Giannini who are Swansea friends who have had some great horses with Philip Hobbs and had a table in the restaurant. They asked me along for a drink and to meet their guests; premiership footballers Gary Monks and Mark Gower from Swansea City who had just enjoyed a memorable victory over championship contenders Manchester City.
Following this Swansea then went on to beat Fulham away by a whopping 3-0 ! I always like an underdog and to note that the combined value of Man City is over a quarter of a billion pounds against the Swansea team valued at just £7 million is a heroic story in itself. A visit to the Cheltenham festival was a nice break for the boys between these memorable victories and they were accompanied by their Dads who are avid racing fans. Here is Gary in action for Swansea:
and here is Mark Gower:
I was pleased with the way one of my pre festival hopes had run on the Tuesday too as Billie Magern ran a great race to finish 5th to Jonjo O’Neill trained Alfie Sherrin at long odds. Sprinter Sacre won the Arkle in great style providing trainer Nicky Henderson the first winner of several from the yard that would land one of the stable staff over a million pounds from an accumulator bet! Philip Hobbs Balthazar King won the Glenfarclas Cross Country with Chris Leigh’s Wedger Pardy running a great race in third under Jacqueline Coward. Quevaga won the mares hurdle in great style; and Hunt Ball was an impressive winner of the last for trainer Keiran Burke.
Day two of the festival was ladies day and I thought I had better defend my title as best dressed lady; so decided on an Yvette Jelfs hat and a black cashmere and recycled mink jacket designed by my partner David. I didn’t think I could win again this year so was able to enjoy the racing a little more. I was having two main bets: Guavain in the Queen Mother Champion chase at 20/1 each way who finished a gallant fourth but it was Nicky Henderson’s day and ‘Finians’ Rainbow’ beat last year’s winner ‘Sizing Europe’ by a length and a quarter.
I backed Grand Crus and Join Together in the RSA Chase but again Henderson and Barry Geraghty were victorious with ‘Bobsworth’. Note Geraghty already has the pink armband and he isn't about to surrender it. The armband is sponsored by Thomas Pink and shows who the leading jockey is at the meeting.
Nicky Henderson’ had then a 40/1 winner in ‘Une Artiste’ which meant some huge accumulating bets going for stable staff and fans of the Henderson yard. Well my ‘nap’ for Ladies Day was another appropriately named Henderson runner; Royal Ascot winner ‘Veiled’ each way; and I had a good each way bet on the Tote and it paid an incredible £10.40 for a place!!
Veiled finished third to the Donald McCain trained ‘Son of Flicka’. Being Ladies day I thought more people would have been ‘on’ !! I gave it as my each way tip for the week on the Shop Cotswolds website who had asked me to do a feature on festival fashion:
This year there were again some fabulous fashions on display and the winner was 23 year old Margaret Connolly from County Meath who wore a beautiful vintage Lilli Ann cream and blue fox coat with brown accessories and hat. There were some exceptionally well dressed ladies the whole week actually; and it is encouraging that the event is becoming a kind of winter fashion Ascot. But the emphasis is winter: the forecast was for 11 degrees all week but all week it was colder and particularly in the mornings and evenings. So Margaret’s outfit was just perfect!
Best hat was won by Alisha Foley and was made by here sister Michelle who has a new website and can make pieces for you to order for special race meets. http://hairfascinators.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/alishahat-199x300.jpg
Here are Michelle - again she created the gorgeous red hat she wears here - and Maria Cheslin whose milliner is Dawn Guibert. My hat is by Yvette Jelfs.
Here you can see Lystra Adams modelling for Dawn:
and here was Lystra's amazing outfit for Ladies day:
And here is Yvette's site:
One of the most glamorous ladies in racing is unquestionably Lystra Adams. I bumped into her and trainer Ian Williams wife Jayne the following day which perhaps had the best atmosphere this year of all four days. I had good fun with Lystra and Jane and they really are lovely. Lystra and her husband have horses in training with Ian Williams and Tim Vaughan; and Lystra won the fashion award at Aintree last year which has a great prize.
Here is Midlands based trainer Ian Williams’ exceptional website; so if you are midlands based and want a horse or share in a horse near to you it’s one to consider; clearly a nice social yard!
Ian was former assistant to Jenny Pitman, Martin Pipe and Francois Doumen so has an exceptional professional route into becoming a trainer and has enjoyed great success thus far both flat and jumps and are currently in fine form on the all weather in particular; and until recently of course was the trainer of ‘Weird Al’.
Lystra, who is also a Naomi Campbell lookalike model; told me all about it and added a few tips for Racecourses staging Ladies days!! She is also the face of Racing Welfare's Racing Lottery which does such sterling work for stable staff, work riders and stalls handlers etc who face injury or retirement.
Shortly after Lystra and her husband has Tartak running in the Byrne group plate and he ran a blinder to finish 5th; AP McCoy and Divers just denying them a place by a short head. It was Lystra’s birthday too so a nice result for them to have a horse run such a great race at the festival.
There was no doubt of the hero of the day and it certainly lifted everyone to see Big Buck’s crush the pretenders to his throne in the World Hurdle. What a magnificent animal he is; I make no excuses for the fact I adore him despite the fact he is usually too short a price to bet on. On the day though; he was 5/6 – meaning you get £5 back (plus your stake) for £6 placed.
I heard of quite a few people having £600 to win £500 as well as larger; but being a student I just placed a small bet on him but it was still just such a thrill to see him win. I had seen actor James Nesbitt in the morning who looked very anxious but his horse Riverside Theatre was another popular winner at 7/2 and James looked suitably delighted:
James started his interest in acting when a teacher suggested he get involved with the local Riverside Theatre and hence the horse’s name. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0626362/
He is currently filming for the Hobbit movies; and features in a movie I really want to see – ‘Coriolanus’ with my favourite actor Ralph Fiennes. So congratulations to James Nesbitt on a great victory in the RyanAir Chase even if it denied 11 year old Alberta’s Run a third consecutive victory in the race: I think a lot of people had the forecast!
‘Sir des Champs' had provided the Irish with the first winner of the day for Willie Mullins who had also taken the bumper the last race of the day before with ‘Champagne Fever’ at an incredible 16/1 : Willie Mullins is the bumper king so this was a surprise and enabled the Irish to celebrate in style both evenings! The northern contingent had cause for celebration to as rather a lot of punters seemed to be on the North Yorkshire Jefferson runner ‘Cape Tribulation’ at 14/1 winner of the Pertemps.
I caught up with injured jockey Christian Williams on Ladies day too and I know a great many of my blog followers have been concerned about him after his terrible injuries. Pleased to report he is in good spirits and hopes to be back race riding this summer:
Don’t forget if you can support the Injured Jockeys Fund!
My partner did a picture for the IJF which features Christian called ‘The Dirty Dozen’ which has 13 jockeys; 12 of which are covered in mud; and AP McCoy has led from start to finish so is clean! It is the cover for their great chocolate selection as well as being available as a greetings card pack:
Also available as a limited edition print from my partner David:
So it was on to Gold Cup day and we were all beginning to flag. I was helping as normal all week on my partner David’s exhibition stand and from 8am to 8pm on your feet all day is tiring.
We were on course by 8am Gold Cup day and got set up.
As soon as the gates opened there was a real buzz: Kauto Star and Long Run’s armies of fans came in sporting their coloured scarves and by mid day it was heaving. One of my facebook friends Jay had flown in from Jersey with his 8 year old daughter Beth and she was keen to see Kauto Star and Long Run and to be at Cheltenham; which she described as ‘bigger than Jersey’ – meaning a great deal more crowded!! They had bought us some delicious Apple Brandy; a speciality of the island, and we enjoyed a drink and chat about the racing while Beth tucked into doughnuts. I went with Beth and Jay to view the horses as they left the paddock for the Foxhunters which features the best Point to Point horses in the land and tried to pick out a winner. Beth liked Blackstaff and I had been talking to his trainer another Jane Williams – this time wife of trainer Nick – earlier in the day so I decided to have £2 each way on the 100/1 shot too. We had a good ride around for a while but Jane’s daughter who rode Blackstaff eventually pulled him up two fences from home when he couldn’t close and the race was won by another Irish raider Salsify. But it was lovely to see Beth enjoying the atmosphere of the festival:
Countrywide Flame at 33/1 had taken the Triumph Hurdle and my hope Urbaine de Sivola was only 11th; but watch him he is a good horse.
Alderwood took the Country hurdle at 20/1 . Brindisi Breeze took the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle in which my selection was another of my favourite horses Sivola de Sivola but again was only 11th.
So now it was the Gold Cup. I had backed Kauto Star at 6/1 months before so on the day decided to have one bet in the Gold Cup. I fearlessly placed £10 each way on the horse that everyone told me I was silly saying could win the race. I had interviewed trainer David Bridgwater after the festival trials on my blog because I had been impressed with the way he had beaten Cheltenham specialist Poquelin and Billie Magern easily and that surely meant he was a Gold Cup contender for me.
While my heart wanted Kauto to win there was that niggling doubt after his injury scare and if he didn’t perform then I could see The Giant Bolster staying up that hill. I wished now I had backed him at ridiculous odds he was on Betfair back then but noted he was still around 100/1 on the Tote and that would do me. I was absolutely confident he could not be out of the first three and told all my friends to back it. My concern prior to the race has been if Grand Crus ran then Tom Scudamore would be on the David Pipe grey; but as he had run in another race Tom was now riding The Giant Bolster.
As the race got off to a dramatic start with Sir Alex Ferguson’s horse ‘What a Friend’ falling at the second fence; Kauto star looked to be enjoying himself in second behind ‘Midnight Chase’ until he began to back peddle and Ruby Walsh fearing something wasn’t right pulled him up.
What was very special for me is that just after Long Run’s jockey who has the utmost respect for Kauto Star after their epic tussles takes a long look over his shoulder to see what has happened to Kauto. He was fine of course and as he trotted home he got an incredible reception from the crowd in what was his sixth consecutive Gold Cup. The race appeared to be a formality at this stage for Long Run who was travelling smoothly throughout; and I wonder what Synchronised price in running was because he was off the bridle with AP struggling to keep him in touch early on. But in the Gold Cup one needs to stay; and if you can keep in touch the hill is about who stays best. But I was watching The Giant Bolster and standing at the second last was screaming for him and Tom Scudamore as he jumped into the lead.
He appeared to have the better of Long Run and Time for Rupert and just had one last fence to jump to win. And there; he and I were ambushed by the highwayman in green and gold hoops; that man McCoy again. An unbelievable jump at the last meant Synchronised had gone from fifth to land in contention with Long Run and The Giant Bolster and he kicked into the lead.
A real fighting finish and a great race. One of the greatest supporters of racing owning horses with many trainers in Ireland and the UK and keeping so many people in rewarding work is JP McManus; and he had never won the Gold Cup. McCoy hadn’t won it since 1997 on Mr Mulligan. So it was really nice for the connections. But not so nice for me as I saw £1000 swiped out of my hands! That would have really helped with my research work! But it’s only money; and this game is not about money. Nobody cares about losing; it is about passion. And there is no greater race for passion than the Cheltenham Gold Cup. As it happened the Tote paid £14 for a place for The Giant Bolster so I was pleased with that and collected £140 putting me well up for the week after my win on Rock on Ruby and good place return on Veiled.
AtaGlance took the race after the Foxhunters for the Jefferson yard at 20/1 with my selection Dan Breen running much better than his eventual 12th place suggested. I am sure he will win a big race at some point.
Nicky Henderson finished an incredible week for the yard winning the last with Belvano at 20/1 this time under Paul Carberry; what a great week for their stable staff! I met the lass (and her lovely mum) that looks after Long Run after the Gold Cup and she was also delighted at winning the best turned out prize for the race which was £500 and she was looking forward to a holiday with the proceeds!
I was interested to hear from Helen that Long Run is a bit of a character and head butts her in the chest every day as a greeting or when being groomed; particularly when it's his tea time: he loves his food! Helen also said he has got more cocky since his Gold Cup win; so knows he's a star!
I think it is nice for the stable staff to get some acknowledgement for their commitment to their charges and the improved best turned out prizes and the listing in some racecards of the grooms is important in this. It was particularly nice to hear however that stable lad Conor Murphy’s faith in the horses he looks after paid off when he won a £million on a £50 accumulator bet he placed on 5 of the Henderson yard horses all won! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2115564/Cheltenham-Festival-2012-Stable-lad-Conor-Murphy-wins-1m.html
A sad note to the festival was the deaths of five horses. This may appear high but the percentage is one per cent and the annual rate of course is far less in horse racing. I extend my deepest sympathies to owners trainers jockeys and above all the stable staff that love and care for them day in day out. While it is a very small percentage risk, horses unfortunately cannot survive serious leg injuries unlike humans and veterinarians are swiftly on the scene to prevent any suffering. But consider for a moment the high mortality rate in wild herds which is far greater. Life for a wild horse is often short and frequently brutal; so notions of romantic wild herds enjoying freedom are naive to say the least. The average age among herds is frequently no higher than four years. By contrast; many racehorses are still running at 12, 13 and 14 and enjoy retirement into their twenties. The owners, trainers, jockeys, stable staff and the vast majority of racing fans support the sport because they love horses; and particularly these National Hunt heroes. Garde Champetre was one of the casualties and he has won 6 cross country races at Cheltenham; I would like to see them name a race in his honour; and if he had to go anywhere it was appropriate he was injured on the course he loved so much. Both injuries in that race occurred on the flat not the jumps; and there has only ever been one fatality in a cross country race before at Cheltenham.
The Cheltenham festival this year gave us some epic ups and downs as usual but that is what racing is about. For those horses that appeared to be below par there is always Aintree, Punchestown and Sandown to make amends in the coming weeks; so don’t lose faith with the horses you have followed just yet. Each course will have its own festival atmosphere, the racing will be equally as competitive, and all have the top class horses and jockeys taking part. Synchronised may be going to the Grand National and bid to become one of the few horses that have completed the double in the same year. Jonjo also has festival winner Sunnyhill Boy entered in the race so he has some good ammunition. The Nicky Henderson yard have Burton Port; and Paul Nicholls will be eager to win the race and will have Neptune Collonges the flamboyant grey (who has bypassed Cheltenham) well prepared. There is Weird Al now with Donald McCain who also runs last year’s winner Ballabriggs; Junior who by passed Cheltenham; West End Rocker and According to Pete are others to consider with reasonable weights. Swing Bill; The Package, Viking Blond and Giles Cross are among the bottom of the weights and must have place chances. It looks to be a great race in prospect. My each way tip for the race will be 13 year old Black Apalachi who has had bad luck in the National; falling when looking like the winner three years ago; getting mugged by McCoy on ‘Don’t Push it’ the following year when finishing second; and missing the race last year due to injury. He’s a beautiful black horse and earned another crack at the race when finishing 2nd at Fairyhouse last month in his prep. Then on the Friday of course there is the best dressed competition with fabulous prizes as you heard Lystra describe.
I will be having an outing on the flat at the traditional opening meeting of the season ; the Lincoln at Doncaster, just before so much depends on how I get on there as to whether I run at Aintree or not! So hope to see some of you at Doncaster! And then of course back at Cheltenham on the 18th and 19th April so join me there!
You can see all the Cheltenham races here:
Cheltenham April meeting details here: 18th/19th April:
Doncaster Lincoln: 31st March/1st April http://www.doncaster-racecourse.co.uk/raceday/2012fixtures/?mode=view&fix=2331
Aintree: 12th to 14th April http://www.aintree.co.uk/pages/grand-national-meeting/
Punchestown Ireland 24th to 28th April : http://www.punchestown.com/
Sandown Bet 365 Gold Cup April 27th/28th http://www.sandown.co.uk/bet365-ultimate-celebration
Don't forget also that on Good friday stables in Lambourn and Middleham are open to the public so you can go and see many of the great horses that ran at Cheltenham.
About Eliza Cook
Hi! I'm Eliza. I am a Geographer by profession, and am currently studying for a PhD in Geography at Swansea University. I will be investigating ice core records from Greenland pretty soon. But you don't want to hear about those.
On top of this, during a year out, I fell into working as an in-house model for Agent Provocateur. Strange but true! This experience heightened my appreciation of fashion - especially the eclectic and eccentric fashions of the races.
I've been a racing fan for two years. I love all racing, but a day at the jumps is where I really feel the most excitement. Having grown up in Gloucestershire, with two great racecourses on the doorstep - Cheltenham and Chepstow - it is a wonder that I didn't find racing sooner.
I've been privileged to be a part of some of the 'behind the scenes' elements of racing, from photographing frosty morning breeze-ups to attending the post Cheltenham Festival jockeys' celebration in the Weighing Room!
I am thrilled to be a 'Voice of the Races'. To me, the most striking feature of racing is the accessibility of participants - and the fact that everybody attending has a part to play. A day at the races has it all; wonderful horses, spectacle and fashion, in an adrenaline soaked atmosphere where people from all walks of life come together in mutual appreciation of the sport.
I can't wait to tell you all about my experiences at the races, the people I meet and the adventures I have, as well as the fashions I encounter and the stories I uncover.
I hope you enjoy it!
- 08.11.12 Cheltenham showcase 2012 ; A Fashion shoot, vintage fashion and fond Farewells; Sleek Bodies, Dark Lovers and a bit of Bondage.
- 15.10.12 Dubai International Arabian Raceday Newbury 2012 : the Pure Bred in Legend and Reality and a meeting of cultures
- 26.09.12 Fashion Pad : Racing, Rock n Roll and Retro; Barbours , Belstaffs and Burberrys , Biker Chic and Black Leather; and an addiction to Muck and Speed!
- 29.08.12 Friends at Fontwell Park: Number 6 and a figure of 8; Vintage Fashion & Fab history; Flying leaps, cricket & music...From The Jam and more!
- 29.08.12 After the first race; Fontwell
- 30.07.12 Eliza’s Log: back from a remote Arctic scientific research station; a suitably International blog; and some movies, art, fashion and music
Sorry, I'm not on Twitter at the moment.
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