So, how was Cheltenham for you? Game of two halves for me, Brian, with the second something of a disaster compared to the first, writes David Massey. It's normally the other way around; normally I'm grateful to come out of the first two days level, then when the stamina kicks in on the New Course I tend to do better (I can just find slow horses, that's all) as the week goes on. Not this year, though. I could have done with Cheltenham finishing Wednesday night.
Let us start at the very beginning. I began the week at Stratford with my good friend Becky, who I was staying over with Monday night before moving on to Worcester for the rest of the week. I normally stay with her all Cheltenham week but since she moved house a couple of years ago I have to bring my own inflatable bed along, and my back simply won't take a week of that. Last year I was so crippled by the time the Foxhunters came around I could barely walk. So this year I shared a house with Rob and the S&D Bookmaker crew, merely so I could have the luxury of a proper bed at night.
Stratford was windy but I did find a couple of winners to start the week off on the right note and get the fish 'n' chips in with on the way back. Up bright and breezy next morning, I was all ready to get out to the track for an early start but Becky, who is one of the Cheltenham photographers for the week, looked like death warmed up. She'd been coughing a bit on the Monday and that had developed into a chest infection overnight. Cheltenham week is knackering enough if you're fit; if you've not passed the vet, it's a sight harder. I set off, Becky following on later.
I make my first mistake of the week having parked up. Starving and in need of breakfast, there's a chuck wagon doing bacon rolls for six quid. I eagerly purchase and wolf it down as I enter the track. Imagine my joy at finding out the media centre, which is where I'll be this week, is giving out bacon rolls for free to those there early enough. Six quid the worse off, I decide to have one of the free ones, simply so I can average out the bacon rolls at three quid a piece, which hurts less that it did.
I'm with the Sporting Life team this week, which is great, and "Scoop" Linfoot is already busy beavering away. I write up the morning tips with Rory Delargy, based in the dead-tree press room in the main building; for all that the facilities are a little better in there, I'd rather be where I am, based behind the weighing room, as the walk to the paddock is a lot shorter. (Over the four days I shall do over 60,000 steps. Compare that to the Saturday and Sunday that follow where you'll be lucky if I shift me ar*e off the sofa.)
It's good to catch up with people I haven't seen for a year and, in some cases, more, and by the time I've done that and digested Thursday's declarations it's lunch, and then the Supreme.
I've no great opinion on the Supreme but Tahmuras looks really well beforehand and just for a moment I imagine the Brits getting off to a wonder start and giving the Irish a bloody nose on the first bell. It doesn't last long. Tahmuras is well stuffed behind Marine Nationale, the Irish saddling the first eight home.
There's a wonderful moment in the Arkle as the big screen in the paddock reveals Straw Fan Jack finishing with a flourish for fourth, with trainer Sheila Lewis and connections going absolutely bonkers. You'd have thought they'd have won it! How wonderful it must have been for all of them to be in the winners enclosure for such a big Grade 1 event. I was delighted for them all, in much the same way I was a couple of days later for Laura Morgan and co when Notlongtillmay finished second in the Turners. It means so much for the supposed smaller yards when they have horses like these that perform so well on the big stages.
Corach Rambler and The Big Breakaway carry my hopes in the Ultima. The latter is beaten after two fences, some early scrimmaging putting paid to his chances (put a line through this, I still think he could run a big one in the National) but it's deja vu all over again as Corach Rambler storms up the Cheltenham run-in to claim the prize for the second year running.
We all want Constitution Hill to be good and my word, he is, barely coming out of second gear to dispose of State Man et al. Then Honeysuckle brings the house down to win the Mares and it seems the world and his dog is in the winners enclosure, all showing their love for Henry de Bromhead, Rachael Blackmore and the amazing mare.
I'm in the paddock to look at them for the Boodles when, standing beside me, seemingly out of nowhere, is Junglist Matt Hancock. I think about asking what he fancies when I realise that could be a leading question and think better of it.
I like Jazzy Matty in the paddock and invest accordingly. A pleasing result follows as he wins at 18s. Mr Freedom, despite the pilot almost falling off turning in, gets me a nice bit of place money too (where would we be without extra places these days?) and I call it a day on the betting front, heading for the car park as the jolly old favourite wins the National Hunt Chase. A bad day for the books.
Wednesday. Delargy is staying in Worcester too, and I go and pick him up early doors. Sadly the traffic on the M5 is so awful it takes us an hour to get to the track. The free bacon rolls are long gone by the time we are in; in desperation I go hunter-gathering for breakfast and end up with a sausage bap. A bargain at seven notes.
I'm waiting for a couple of friends to turn up in the Vestey Bar around 11am when Pat Neville walks in. He's clearly waiting for someone too. I cannot help but think if his was a Henderson or a Nicholls he'd been getting mobbed by lads asking for tips, but nobody seems to recognise Pat. I go and wish him good luck with The Real Whacker and he thanks me, and tells me he thinks he'll go close. He does better than that as once again, he makes light of Cheltenham's fences in the Brown Advisory and wins by a short-head from the fast-finishing Gerri Colombe. I suspect more people will recognise Pat now. Having backed the Whacker and laid Sir Gerhard for a place my punting is going terrifically, too.
It's a shame that Edwardstone leaves his A-game at home and in the end, Energumene is a facile winner of the Champion Chase. I think we were all hoping for a proper contest and that, sadly, fails to materialise. That's no fault of Energumene, of course, but you want the best horses to perform in the big races and Edwardstone didn't.
The previous week I'd done a piece for the Life with Ed Chamberlin where Ed was utterly disgusted that I'd said Delta Work was the best bet of the week. I'd already had one good bet on him and after seeing him in the paddock, went in again. Turning in I was worried Galvin might do for him but he battled on in a most game fashion to score. Ed childishly sticks his tongue out at me as I walk across the paddock afterwards, but I don't give a monkey's as the nap goes in for the week. I even manage a cheeky each-way fourth on Lecky Watson at 80s in the bumper to finish the day off. My best start to a Cheltenham ever.
If only we had stopped there.
Wednesday night and Thursday morning it rains. Cleverly I get up early Thursday morning, pile into everything that wants it genuinely soft, thinking I'll be in a great position later to trade out of them all. We're in time for the bacon rolls and having tipped the tea-bar lady a fiver when things were going well yesterday, I'm offered two of them. I do not refuse this most generous gesture.
If the nap was Delta Work then Banbridge was the NB, but unsurprisingly he'd been taken out with the rain that had fallen. Money back on most of the ante-posts, so no great damage done. However, once Stage Star wins the Turners and Good Time Jonny the Pertemps it becomes blindingly clear that it certainly isn't soft, and it's only just good to soft, the wind drying things out, and all my morning bets and going to be sunk. The majority of them drift like the Kon-Tiki, and there's no way out of this. Worse, I've shoved them all in multiples, and the value of them now is some way south of the price of a bacon roll. Fugitif offers me some hope in the Plate, but he finds Seddon too good, and by the end of the day I've given back well over half of what I've accumulated in the first couple of days. On the way out I buy a Mars Bar as compensation; it is barely bigger than a Fun Size one. No fun for me today, that's for sure.
Steaks are on the menu Thursday night and Rob tells us about his week so far, two lousy days and one brilliant one. He's confident a few results Friday will see him in front. Rory joins us on the evening and gets pelters from myself for ordering a cocktail for dessert. What's wrong with a sticky toffee pudding? He's not the bloke I thought he was...
I wonder how much that cocktail affected him as at 7am Friday morning I get a text from him. He'd moved hotels the previous day and clearly couldn't sleep. "Any chance we can go early? This place is haunted..."
It is not for me to steal Rory's story, but he was convinced he'd been visited in the night by a cat. "I felt it jump on the bed, then jump over me, and settle down next to me." Having put the light on and seen no cat, he tells me, he started Googling "ghost cats" at 5am and couldn't get back to sleep. On enquiring at reception whether the hotel has a cat, he was told no, "but there was one once". He can't get out of the place quick enough.
By Gold Cup morning there are some tired faces around the media centre. Carol Vorderman appears and does some interviews. Two from the top, please Carol. She's followed in by someone who has been in Love Island; being old I know not who she is, but she seems very sprightly.
Becky, who has been on the Fisherman's Friends all week, looks no better than she did Tuesday when she arrives and looks ready for it all to be over. She has my sympathy. A mid-morning coffee with a friend ends with us chucking £25 a piece into a placepot, which lasts two legs but no further. In fact there aren't many going at all after three legs and the Foxhunters will see the rest of them off, just about. Premier Magic, winning at 66-1, had recently been successful at my local point, Garthorpe. Did I have a penny on? What do you reckon? A tenner each-way on Shantou Flyer, who has been to more Cheltenham Festivals than most racegoers, softened the blow, but for me the week is done. After expenses, a small profit. I hit the M5 soon after to avoid the worst of the traffic and am home for seven.
Aintree next. I'm back on the firm and will be working in the ring, so I'll tell you exactly how small the dresses were on Ladies Day in the next instalment...