The Olympic champion wasn’t the only celebrity spotted at Cheltenham yesterday with the Manchester United contingent in town. After doing a quick talk in a corporate box (I’m in demand, you know) I saw Michael Carrick on the adjacent balcony and later on, when it started spitting, I saw Jonny Evans. With them were Ashley Young, Phil Jones and Rafael, who looked like he’d backed a winner, unlike Daley Blind who had a face like a man who’d had his week’s wages on Sprinter Sacre.
I’m no Gok Wan, that I admit, and I’m all about the horses, as you know, but you couldn’t miss the fact the ladies were dressing to impress on Champion Chase day. The #colourmemarch competition seemed to go well and as I wandered about Prestbury Park in a daze after a Coral Cup that was brutal to my wallet, I almost stumbled into the line-up with the best dressed ladies. I didn’t think I had a chance, but after seeing Victoria Pendleton rocking the Flat Cap look perhaps I could supplement myself for an entry one year. ‘My car smells of horses,’ I overheard her saying, or did I have too much of the complimentary Scotch in the press room?
Rich Ricci, JP McManus and Gigginstown House Stud might have to be looking over their shoulders at future sales following the news that Sheikh Fahad Al Thani will have a Cheltenham runner tomorrow. His Pearl Bloodstock colours are well known to the Flat racing scene, but they will be sported in a jumps race for the first time when Current Event lines up in the Foxhunters on Gold Cup day.
David Redvers, racing manager to Sheikh Fahad, said of the gelding: “He’s a horse that fits the profile for the race, and he has been very well trained by Rose Loxton.
Hmm. A sporting interest or something more? Time will tell.
Sheikh Fahad wasn’t the only face from the world of Flat racing to make the news at Cheltenham on Champion Chase day as his retained jockey, Frankie Dettori, was part of the winning team in the feature. Frankie bred Dodging Bullets and he couldn’t contain his joy afterwards.
He said: “I’m a small part in this amazing story and I’m so pleased for Paul and the owners. I’m pleased that Dodge got the job done. It was pretty nerve-wracking, to me it was like watching my beloved Arsenal!” I didn’t know he was a Gunners fan as well as AP McCoy. If you want to be a top jockey the message is clear: support Arsenal.
If you want to change your luck at Cheltenham, I suggest you go and see the good Doctor. Dr Ronan Lambe, that is. Everything the owner seems to run at Cheltenham wins — Silver Concorde, Spring Heeled, Lord Windermere and now Windsor Park, who was an excellent winner of the Neptune under Davy Russell yesterday. A delighted Lambe said in the aftermath: “Dermot [Weld] had the horse at peak condition today and Davy game him a wonderful ride. We decided to ride him a different way today, up with the pace, instead of from behind and he jumped perfectly.”
Yes, a different way indeed, and Russell was quick to explain his handling of the horse earlier in the campaign. “I took criticism earlier on in the season for the way I was riding him but it’s all about the horse, it’s all about here.”
Champion Chase day was great, but so good was Champion Hurdle day that it was still the talk of Cheltenham 24 hours later. As people discussed Annie Power and shadows and the freakish efforts from Douvan and Un De Sceaux, senior Irish handicapper Noel O’Brien was positively giddy about Faugheeen.
He said: “The acid test was always going to be when he took on proper Grade One horses and he took them on and beat them convincingly. We’re going to put him on a rating of 174. That would be 1lb behind Hurricane Fly’s best ever performance and 2lb behind Istabraq’s.”
And the feeling is, he’s only going to get better.
The bookies strike back. After their famine on day one, they had a feast of good results on day two. Only Don Poli and Moon Racer obliged for favourite backers and 16/1 and 25/1 winners in the Cross Country and Fred Winter put the icing on their considerable cake.
Things have turned for them since the fall of Annie Power and Michael Shinners of Sky Bet said: “We were staring the worst day in our Cheltenham Festival history in the face yesterday. When Annie Power loomed up towards the last we were looking at frightening numbers, but only Don Poli and Moon Racer hit the net for favourite backers on Wednesday and crucially the handicaps went in our favour. It was definitely our day today.”
All square, two to go…