Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

Racing heart

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 14 March 2012

I write this on the eve of the Greatest Show on Earth. I have, as you see, completely given in to cliché and hyperbole. I have no defences left. I am supposed to be doing serious work; I have piles of admin to tackle; I must renew my library books. But I can think of nothing else except the glorious four days of Cheltenham.

The racing thing was always a thing. I grew up with it. My father rode horses; he even once won the Kim Muir at Cheltenham, in the heady days of the sixties, when anything was possible. Then he trained horses. When I was very small, I did not understand houses that did not have a working stable of thoroughbreds attached. It was as normal and expected to me as breathing out and breathing in. Then I went to London and ran around with boys and got tremendously urban. I still went to the races, but it was not an abiding passion. I lost touch, a bit.

Lately, I have fallen in love with National Hunt all over again. As I sit down every Saturday and frown over the form and ring up Mr William Hill to place my bets, I make little jokes about channelling the spirit of my dead dad. Oh, that gambling blood, I say to myself, as I throw on another twenty, it’s very strong. I don’t really know about blood and water, and which is thicker; all I do know is that each jumping weekend feels like a glorious connection to a man who is gone, and a distant childhood which is past. It’s not nostalgia, exactly, which I try to avoid, but it is something very strong and real.

And now, like a present or a reward, along comes one of the greatest Cheltenhams in living memory. My mother, who saw Arkle in his pomp, thinks we are living through a bit of a golden age of jump horses. There is the mighty Big Buck’s, aiming at matching the 1950s record of Sir Ken by winning his sixteenth race on the trot,  bidding for his fourth World Hurdle. There is the storied clash of Long Run and Kauto Star. There is the beautiful and brave mare, Quevega, the hope of the Irish. As if the old veteran stars were not enough, there are some thrilling novices coming into their own, most especially Grand Crus and Sprinter Sacre, who may turn out to be the most exciting horse I have seen on a racecourse for a very long time.

It is a platitude to say that Cheltenham is like Christmas for racing people. There is the same glimmering, skittering feeling of anticipation. Like a six-year-old waiting for Father Christmas, I can hardly sleep for excitement. There will be fairy stories and hard luck stories and surprise stories. The big boys will come out and do their thing, but there is always some unheralded delight, a tiny yard which manages to wheel out a big winner, as if the gods of fairness are casting their thunderbolts of equity.

There will be the roar on the first day that you do not hear anywhere else. There will be more beautiful, brave equines gathered together in the natural bowl of Prestbury Park, more honesty and heart, more tear-jerking finishes up that searching hill, than any human has a right to expect. I shall shout and scream; the echoes of Come on, my son shall ring round my little Scottish room, whilst my dog barks her head off, which is what she always does in a tight finish. I shall rely on Guinness for strength, as I do every year. I shall remember my great, late, racing father.

And on Friday at around three o’clock, I shall hope with every atom of my body that the magnificent old campaigner, Kauto Star, can defy all the statistics, and storm up the hill one last time. As I wrote last week, the odds are all against him. No twelve-year-old has won the race since 1964. His training was interrupted by that horrid schooling fall. Any number of things can go wrong. I hope for the dream because I love him, with the pure, untainted love you may have for a brave horse. But he owes his admirers nothing. After two Gold Cups and five King Georges, his place in the pantheon is assured. In the end, as I always think on these occasions, really all I want is for the auld fella to come home safe.

PS. I suppose I should put my neck on the line and give you some tips. The problem is that in most of the big races, I can’t see the favourites getting beat. I have done Yankees on Big Buck’s, Sprinter Sacre, Quevega, and Sizing Europe. If you want value rather than boring odds on, then I like TeaforThree at 7-1 in the 1.30 on Wednesday. Dear old Midnight Chase, who jumps and stays all day, will give you each way interest in the Gold Cup at 12-1. And since there must always be something to get you out of trouble on the last day, Toubab is value at 8-1 in the 5.15 on Friday.

Should you watch, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

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