Savour your Cheltenham memories and cherish each moment
27 February 2015
John Francome's account of his victory aboard Midnight Court in the 1978 Cheltenham Gold Cup hit a chord with yours truly. That year may well have been my Cheltenham Festival debut. I was not quite the grand old age of eight and in a generation that was short on child minders, but with permission and a whole heap of homework in its place from school it resulted in a green light for an exciting adventure to Cheltenham.
The roads were not far from the days of horse-drawn carriages, and journeys beyond the end of the street had to be planned meticulously.
The M25 was not yet completed, and it took ages to travel along Essex's Arterial Road. It felt like it, too, cramped up in the back of a Datsun Cherry together with all the cases and the field books.
The Datsun Cherry's dull orange paintwork was badly in need of a re-spray but mechanically it was very willing and high on mileage.
I think I was squeezed in the back in such a fashion it stopped me thinking of my motion sickness.
We left at silly o'clock, which may have been 4am or 5am. My racing portfolio had already included a few Derbys, an Ebor meeting, a couple of Grand Nationals and was now going to lay claim to a three-day Cheltenham Festival.
Yet aged seven I can promise you that you're not too concerned with the Gold Cup favourite, rather than who you’re going to play with. Although I was under strict instructions to behave and learn more about the mechanics of the family business - yeah right!
The chatter was incessant as the radio did not work – mother didn’t let da play his cassette, and vice-versa. Much of the talk in the front of the car centered on what horses were going to be taken on and what horses ducked.
Luckily my father's colleague at the time had a son the same age as me called Joseph, and like me he lived for Liverpool FC, and many other sports including racing. He too was heading to Cheltenham for the first time.
On arrival it wasn't long before our football was confiscated - kicking a ball around what is now the Best Mate enclosure was always going to court intervention. Enterprisingly, Joseph and I resorted to resorting to folding our gloves into a makeshift ball, but that was curtailed well before the first, too!
In those days the course and runners raced around the back of the Best Mate enclosure, providing a close up, albeit, brief view of thundering hooves and a kaleidoscope of knitted colours.
I can distinctly remember "Come on little Monkie" (Monksfield) was the chant from the pitch for one of the races. At my height I could see what was happening on the track and instead of a crescendo of noise all I could hear was a high-pitched shriek coming from my mother.
To try to keep us entertained the Portsea press sheets, which was the lists of horse names displayed by bookmakers alongside the chalk slates when they priced up races, were neatly removed from the board folded after the first two races and given to me, together with a pencil in order that we kept a note of the price changes. I think Joseph used his to write down Liverpool's next probable line up! I had a go, but the handwriting let me down as the changes didn't line up correctly.
After the the third race we were sent away with Joseph's dad to get the teas and coffees, which was a good sign, as my parents generally needed an extra pair of hands in the event of a long payout queue.
Though how healthy the coffee was has always been debatable; there was a drip from the roof of the catering unit that landed on top of the lid of the boiler, which was a makeshift piece of aluminum foil.
Late in the day we took it upon ourselves to collect as many losing betting tickets as possible, no doubt getting under the feet of many punters, but with a sweet smile or a quick apology you were soon forgiven.
Over the three days we always played the "we got separated from our parents, who are in Tattersalls," card which got us a view of the paddock and winners enclosure and we were very careful to go through a different gate to get back to the Best Mate enclosure. So quite literally and unwittingly the racecourse was our playground!
I couldn't imagine, then, 11 years on I would be clerking for Desert Orchid's Gold Cup. I still can't lay claim to seeing any of the race, just lots of hats being thrown in the air and a huge payout column, no time for beverages then!
Wind the clock forward to Monday, March 9th, and I will take a few moments to go out and sit on the steppings of the Best Mate enclosure close my eyes and perhaps remember some of the bets called out, like the two £20 each-ways on Norton's Coin at 100-1 in 1990.
Can you imagine if there were exchanges then? You'd have been able to back it back at 1000 in-running! But where's the fun in that?
So come Cheltenham 2015, savour your memories and cherish each moment.
As for the action this week it is in the very tricky category. Obviously Batavir is on a mission to gain a penalty in order to get a run at the Festival.
I thought Super Duty ran a great race over hurdles at Wetherby recently.
Tanya Stevenson's Saturday tips:
3.10 Doncaster: Batavir at 7-4 with Bet Victor, Ladbrokes and William Hill
3.45 Doncaster: Super Duty at 9-1 with Ladbrokes
Tanya Stevenson's Saturday pointers:
Paul Nicholls has won the race six times in total and five times in the last seven years.
Ten of the 11 winners were no older than eight.
Only one of the eleven winners had won on their previous start.
David Pipe as of Wednesday has a 30% strike rate.
Five of the last six winners came from the first three in the betting.
Roalco De Farges has won both his runs at Newbury.
Eight of the last ten winners were no older than six.
Eight of the last ten winners derived from the first four in the betting.
Quicuyo has won three of his five races at Donny finishing second once also.
Robbie has won three and finished second twice in just eight races at Doncaster.
Turn Over Sivola has never finished out the first three in 12 chase races.
Nicky Henderson has a 36% strike rate with his hurdlers at Doncaster.
Fourteen of the last 16 winners were no bigger than 15-2.
Twelve of the last 16 winners came from the first three in the betting.
Twelve of the last 14 winners carried 10-11 or less to victory.
Eight of the last ten winners had finished no worse than fourth on their previous run and five had won on their previous run.
Paul Nicholls last seven runners have all been beaten