I get around a bit on my theatrical travels. St Albans, Sidmouth, Eaton Bray? Been everywhere, man. Sometimes I even push out the boat to Luton but, given soaring petrol prices and pot holed roads, I ration my visits. That’s my excuse anyway. But the A5 to Dunstable and B653 to Wheathampstead are regularly worn in search of theatrical gems, adventurous soul that I am. Always worth it if I see a cracker (And Then There Were None, Calendar Girls) and even the lesser ones are rarely totally devoid of interest. Theatre is like that if it is in your blood. And it constantly surprises. High expectations are fulfilled or dashed in equal proportions and low expectations are sometimes pleasantly and wonderfully surpassed. And I reckon all, or most of them, have their directors scratching their heads in puzzlement. Something that seemed a whiz bang hit in rehearsals fails to leave the page in performance and the one they considered a complete turkey suddenly gels and flowers. If they are honest they, or the best of them, are never sure which way the play or musical will go until they flaunt it in front of an audience. Fate is so fickle.
It’s the same with horses. The best of them, those that are fit that is, will strut their own personal stage at my beloved Cheltenham in the second week of March. Some will live up to expectations, some will exceed them, and many others will leave their trainers scratching heads and forthcoming entries. But for four days the finest National Hunt horseflesh on the planet will clash swords in twenty seven of the finest races. To put it all into context NH horses are rated 0-175 and there will not be many with a rating under 130 running at Prestbury Park. And the latter only in the handicaps or novice events. In the top races 150 would probably put you in as a likely also ran. Kauto Star (retired) and Big Bucks (injured) are two goliaths who won’t be there but there are enough other super stars to compensate. Sprinter Sacre (rated 179) is no doubt the best of them and the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday is considered a shoe-in for this awesome beast. Quevega, Simonsig, and Hurricane Fly (Champion Hurdle favourite) are just a few of the other superstars who will get the pulse racing. Even if, at prohibitive odds, you ain’t backed them. In the latter Rock on Ruby may surprise again. For me, well I like bigger prices and hopefully a couple of the following may swell my personal satchel. Even if they don’t, like those actors or plays which don’t shine when they should, I shall still love them.
Haven’t a clue about Friday’s Gold Cup at the moment (it looks wide open, but don’t tell Sir Des Champs and Bobsworth) but reckon Kentford Grey Lady could give Quevega a shove in the Mares Hurdle and I like First Lieutenant (win) and Alberta’s Run (e/w) in the Ryanair Chase. Both races on the Thursday and old Bertie is my blog poster horse. 12 years old and won around £1,000,000. He owes nobody anything and this could be his last race. Certainly at Cheltenham. He needs good going. So if it rains he may put his feet up and watch it on the telly. I shall certainly be doing that. And if Empiracle (currently 8/1) wins the bumper on Wednesday I shall be counting my dosh and toasting a very nice Harpenden man who has backed it to win £5,000. I’ll only win about £50 but I shall be ecstatic for both of us. And if it loses I won’t care, at least for me if not him, as the adrenalin will pump in glorious anticipation. And that is what it is all about. Theatre and horseracing do that to you. And in March at Cheltenham the horse eclipses all. On four unrivalled days it is the nearest you will get to heaven whilst you still reside on earth. Those wonderful equine actors have brushed up their lines and honed their characters (hero or villain) in a script yet to be written for a play yet to unfold. As some folks say, bring it on. Roy Hall
The Cheltenham National Hunt Festival
Tues 12th March – Fri 15th March 2013