Eight months ago I was writing in a state of shock ( www.atried.com/drop-the-bomb ). Vautour had just been rerouted to the Ryannair, after months of connections saying over and over again “he runs in the Gold Cup”.
My ante-post wager was repaid via my bookmaker’s NRNB concession, but I still felt like I had lost. We were all denied the right to witness what would have been an even better renewal of the chasing blue riband – the race of a generation, perhaps even a lifetime. The Gold Cup had been tarnished. It was like Brazil saying they were missing the World Cup to play in the local Sunday league.
Now I write in shock again, but this time it is a harsher, sadder shock. More soulful, less angry. Now I know for sure that Vautour will never win the Gold Cup. He is dead. He was found in distress on Sunday, out in the field with his pal Shaneshill. He had a broken leg and could not be saved.
The private nature of his demise may deny the ‘animal rights’ loonies a chance to ply their ignorant trade, but it will do nothing to comfort the connections of the seven year old, or his thousands of fans. A lot of our equine superstars are described as machines, but of course they are anything but. They are living, breathing flesh and blood. Strong, athletic, and graceful animals with characters, idiosyncrasies, and weaknesses. And fragile, so very fragile.
He was not my One Man, but he was getting there. Electrifying over his fences, scintillating pace, and a way of running that just seemed exuberant and joyful. Three Festivals, three wins – Supreme Novices 2014, JLT 2015, Ryannair 2016. It was quite possible we hadn’t seen the best of him yet despite those sublime performances that made his esteemed rivals look ordinary.
So now I think back to that moment eight months ago. Vautour will go down as a great horse, but perversely may not become ‘one of the greats’. A victory in the Gold Cup would have cemented that accolade into the history books, but he was denied that opportunity.
The main priority of his now ex-trainer Willie Mullins is to win races, and bloody good too he is at that. His job is to manoeuvre his troops to secure his stable and owners the best chance of victory. But his words last March were telling. He said he’d had it in the back of his mind for quite a while, and Ruby could only ride one of them. Sure, Vautour may not have been lighting up the gallops at home prior to the Festival, but he certainly lit up Prestbury Park in the Ryannair.
Plans will be changed, horses will be shuffled, odds will be altered. Racing will go on and the Cheltenham Festival 2017 will still happen. Life goes on, for most. But we are all poorer for losing the chance to see him in the Gold Cup.