Jobs were done, Racing Post secured, coffee made. So I settled down to luxuriate in an hour of unfettered form studying and eager anticipation with The Morning Line. Fairly early in proceedings the bomb was dropped, and the 2016 Cheltenham Festival was torn apart.
“We’ve decided to run him [Vautour] in the Ryanair.” said the best-turned-out Rich Ricci from the purple sofa, prompting open-mouthed drooling of coffee onto virgin newsprint (me, that is, not him or Channel 4 presenters). I’m sorry, Richie, must have misheard you there mate. Vautour is the horse that for the last two months you, the mega-owner, and Willie Mullins, the mega-trainer, have been telling everyone definitely goes for the Gold Cup.
Anchor Alice was too nice. She just seemed mildly surprised. Fitzy said it will be easier for Ruby now he doesn’t have to choose his mount. Out on the course surely Lucky would probe Mullins a bit more forcefully? Not really:-
“I probably had it in the back of my mind all along,” said the guarded trainer “and Ruby can only ride one of them.”
And yet you chose to continually say his aim was the Gold Cup? No ifs or buts or maybes? Then we were on to Tanya awkwardly telling us how excited she was, and jockeys in go karts, and other trainers saying they’re all in “good form”. Hadn’t anybody heard what Richie just said? Vautour runs in the Ryanair!?! It’s like they’d just announced on the news that the Queen is dead and then moved straight on to the weather.
I felt angry, and for once I am not talking out of my punting pocket, although many others might be. I had backed Vautour for the Gold Cup (and a hefty one it was too, for me at any rate) with the non-runner no-bet concession – my money was safe. But others may have ‘done their brains’ (a strange saying, which seems to fit here) ante-post on the assertions that “he goes in the Gold Cup”, said not once but over and over in the various media streams during the Festival build-up. Even punters who had backed others in the Ryanair on the assumption they wouldn’t have to face Vautour can feel rightfully aggrieved.
But my anger was not financial. I felt deprived of something I had looked forward to for months, like I was ten again and Christmas had just been cancelled and the big cardboard box in the store cupboard didn’t contain a four foot snooker table after all. The race of a generation, perhaps even a lifetime, had been spoilt. The Gold Cup had been tarnished.
I watched the rest of The Morning Line in a sulk. Why do they keep interviewing bookies about their possible losses when we could be listening to Pricewise analysing the form? And why do they keep wheeling out Mattie Batchelor for his annual reprise of a Norman Wisdom routine? And why isn’t anybody else in the slightest bit concerned about Vautour not running in the Gold Cup? They all seem to be pretending that the Festival is still going ahead!
By lunchtime I’d calmed down. Two hours studying the form and hoovering up the bookies offers will do that to a man. Has anybody else noticed that Skybet give you your money back if you lose the first race? That’s lunacy! I didn’t win the Supreme, but I didn’t really care. The ground looked pretty quick, mind. And the crowds looked enormous; I was quite glad I wasn’t there.
The Arkle was a race for watching rather than betting. Douvan was superb, and I wasn’t the only one to be particularly interested in how tall he is, but graceful with it. In the minute after his victory he was variously described as a “machine”, “monster” and “ballet dancer”. That’s quite an image, and possibly a script for the next Tarantino movie.
Then Clare Balding tackled the big question. She’d got Richie at his weakest, in the winners’ enclosure after Douvan had won. He apologised, and said that Betbright, where he is chairman, would pay out on Vautour as a winner. It was a nice touch, possibly all he could do in the circumstances, but why did I still have a bitter taste in my mouth? I didn’t think it was the coffee.
A competitive handicap chase perked me up. I liked four of them, but that would have been silly. Kruzhlinin was left out on account of his jumping, and Theatre Guide because it was only 17 days since his last run. I backed Beg To Differ because the visor improved him last time, and Un Temps Pour Tout because I thought he’d appreciate the longer trip and better ground. I was right, on the latter.
I was wrong with the Champion Hurdle though. Long-term fancy Camping Ground, backed ante-post at 25/1, couldn’t hack the pace. It looked like good, quick ground, and the times confirmed it. The winter form suddenly became virtually meaningless. Connections thought Vroum Vroum Mag would like the better ground, and they were right – she was extremely impressive. The Richie/Mullins/Walsh domination continued, impervious to the maelstrom of indignation still washing around my lounge.
But my race was run for the day. I emerged unscathed financially, but still slightly bruised by the Vautour debacle. I won’t back him at odds-on in the Ryanair, and I might even shun the gold Cup in protest. Alright, I probably won’t. Day 2 is here now. Enthusiasm is renewed and positivity refreshed. Until someone tells me they’ve decided to run Un De Sceaux in the Coral Cup instead of the Queen Mother…..