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In praise of jockeys

I can’t let the Festival week end without noting the general workaday heroism of our jockeys, both jumps and flat. They often come in for a lot of stick (excuse the pun) and if you don’t ride you can have no idea of the physical demands made on their bodies every day, and that’s not including kicks and falls and wasting to make weight.

For my money, these guys are the toughest athletes we have. Early starts, long journeys, seven day weeks on little food – no wonder Andrew Tinkler tweeted this morning that if he’d been lucky enough to win the one million that one of Nicky Henderson’s stable staff did this week on a yard five-timer, Tinkler would be straight off to Heathrow – not riding work the next morning as indeed the lottery winner was (full story here).

Anyway, props to Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy for yesterday; not just for having the wisdom to preserve the beloved Kauto Star after nine fences jumped, nor indeed the looks like you won’t even be placed ride on Synchronised to lift the Gold Cup. No, massive, massive respect for this brief exchange, redolent with meaning, between the two friends and competitors during the running of the Gold Cup, reported in the Racing Post.

Ruby said: “I was thinking about pulling up when
AP [McCoy] said ‘if I were you I’d be pulling up’.

The rest is history.

From the Mirror: AP with Synchronised ~ what a lovely Sadler's Wells face

On another cockles-of-my-heart note, Paul Nicholls is parading Kauto Star, Big Buck’s and Rock on Ruby through Ditcheat this lunchtime, in that order. Kauto Star in front, where he belongs.

The Greatest Show on Turf: Gold Cup Day (start spreading the news)

There’s something about Gold Cup Day. For me, Champion Hurdle Day used to be the most nerve-wracking day of the Festival because it was Day One and I was always in love: Rooster Booster, Detroit City, Harchibald, Brave Inca and Hardy Eustace. It was the race I had invested in most heavily emotionally, and sometimes financially, because it felt more like a bit of me. It spoke to my passion for flat racing and as a lot of the contenders had flat racing pedigrees I had another angle in on the form. By Gold Cup day, I was too knackered to do anything more than enjoy the last championship race.

Then a few years ago in a conversation with a fellow punter, sitting in those elevated seats overlooking the course at another Cheltenham meeting, I mentioned that, to me, the Champion Hurdle had started to feel more like a sacrifical altar than a race. As I said it, I was looking out towards Cleeve Hill and imagining all those Champion Hurdlers coming round the top bend. It was one of those things you say, but weren’t expecting to. Since then, Tuesday at the Festival has seemed a little less vitally important.

Gold Cup Day, now on a Friday, stands alone. It never has seemed like a sacrificial altar to me and I don’t want it to start now! After all, if you’ve (the horse) have made it there with a serious chance its just like that line in the Sinatra song New York, New York about making it anywere…King of the Hill, Head of the Heap, Top of the List, King of the Hill la, la, la…

Sorry. No doubt about it, the Gold Cup is a culmination. It is the culmination of the working week, it is the culmination of our National Hunt season, it is the culmination of the Festival and it is the culmination of a jumps horse’s career.

To culminate means to bring to a point of greatest intensity or completion, from the Latin root culminare meaning to crown, or culmen meaning the summit. And there is more. It also has a meaning relating to astronomy. To culminate in astronomical terms means that a star, or other celestial body, reaches the highest point above an observer’s horizon.

Gold Cup Day has its own Star today and I, along with most of the racing fraternity, are hoping beyond hope to see the culmination of Kauto Star’s most magnificent career. If he wins, I will surely be enjoying my own culmination: following the Star into my own celestial meridian.

Conveniently down the road from my house

P.S. If Kauto Star doesn’t win, please let him come back safe with all the rest, and I know we will love him just as much, if not more, as before. And I will still play the Frank Sinatra tune tonight and toast the greatest jump horse I have ever seen.

Heart in mouth time

It’s a funny saying that, attributed to Homer’s ‘Iliad’; a feeling Queen Hecuba gets immediately before hearing the news of her son, Hector’s, death. The full line being:

‘In my chest, my heart leapt in my mouth, my lower limbs are numb.’

I just read the news from Paul Nicholl’s yard that Kauto Star will run in the Gold Cup this Friday afternoon, and the saying came immediately to mind. My heart is in my mouth, and it’s going to stay there until the race is run on Friday. It’s difficult to organise your thoughts when you feel like that, so here’s some more from The Iliad, Book 22.

Just as some horses,
sure-footed, prize-winning creatures, make the turn
around the post and race quickly as they strive to win
some splendid prize—a tripod or a woman
honouring a man that’s died—that’s how these two men raced,
going three times round Priam’s city on their sprinting feet.

And here is a picture of Kauto Star and Long Run. It’s interesting to note how the old warrior looks quite perky and the new kid on the block looks a bit, well, knackered.

Please let them all come back safe, in this order...

The week ahead: Kauto Star

I’ve lost and gained in my time on racecourses. Money obviously, but other stuff too, stuff which is mainly unquantifiable. I’ve not been racing for nearly a year and because of other demands on my time I haven’t kept up with ever-changing minutiae of the sport. By which I mean I rarely look at the form and although I check the Racing Post site most days, I rarely click beyond the main headlines.

I still love horses and racing, but without the time for the study I no longer gamble. Mindlessly backing horses I know nothing about just doesn’t appeal. This Friday is the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Kauto Star, the horse featured on the blog’s header, is likely to run against last year’s Young Pretender who in fact lifted the prize, Long Run. Kauto took a nasty fall at home recently and his participation, let alone his winning, have looked uncertain. Noises from the yard are now positive and the racing world is crossing its collective fingers, not just for the horse to run, but to run and jump safely home.

I don’t have to look at a single piece of form to know about this race. To feel the race in prospect quickening my heart and, equally, if I let it, tattering my nerves. Kauto Star is 12. He has won the King George at Kempton a record 5 times. He is going for his 3rd Gold Cup win, if he runs; the stable will confirm or otherwise tomorrow, but the sounds coming out of there are all positive. Kauto Star is the kind of rare athlete and superstar that superlatives, often frittered away in racing journalism, were made for.

The last horse to win 3 Gold Cups was the flawless Best Mate. Others who achieved the same feat, Arkle and Cottage Rake, were outside my lifetime. Then there was Golden Miller who won a straight 5 Gold Cups on the bounce between 1932 and 1936 – click here for videos of these and other Cheltenham legends. At 12 Kauto Star is never going to achieve that number, but with his King George victories a 3rd Gold Cup would put him right up there with Golden Miller, to my mind.

I am not one for debating who was the best National Hunt horse across the centuries, but I know special, special, special when I see it and, whatever happens this week, Kauto Star is staying as this blog’s header shot for a very long time to come.

Kauto Star at home with Clifford Baker, his lad who has the final say on whether he runs

Kauto Star takes ‘a tumble’

I am sad to read the news that Kauto Star has had what was in fact a rather nasty training fall at home last week. The horse is reportedly not himself and the yard says he is 50/50 to make it to the Gold Cup at Cheltenham later this month.

I would not want to be in trainer Paul Nicholls shoes over the next few weeks.

It feels like the end of an era ~ you can’t have a Gold Cup without Denman and now Kauto Star, can you?

Not really…

Eye on the Prize

This is funny old Cheltenham what with all the turn ups for the books (and now we need never wonder where that saying came from). I think I have though finally achieved notgettingsuckedintoallthehype and have ended up unbroke. It’s not what I thought it would be though. I imagined I’d feel more, well, smug. Thank god I don’t. I just feel like I am gagging for some flatter than flat racing for me togetsuckedintoallthehype. Leopards never change their spots.

That being the case it seems likely that Kauto will win tomorrow and I must admit that I will watch the spectacle without financial investment. Not because I don’t care, but because I don’t like to see Denman get beaten, not even by his neighbour. One must expect that the ground is going to be too lively for the Tank’s comfort and ease tomorrow, and that’s a shame. Today I saw an old man getting on a bus. He was a big unit, not fat, but tall and well-boned. As he got up from the bus-stop bench he reminded me of how Denman might be after galloping on good ground for over three miles. Not a pleasant thought to be honest. Maybe I am just a crazy lady comparing random bus passengers to racehorses, but that’s what I do.

As I’m being honest, I have to confess that I am not even so concerned with tomorrow’s historic clash as I am with how Cooldine will run in the same race.
I am desperate for him to run well and boost my fantasy of Joncol winning the Gold Cup in the next couple of years. I even tried to find a market tonight for next year but I have failed so far…

I’ll just keep trying.

Hello darling, I'd like to place a bet on the 2012 Gold Cup.