Ben Linfoot Festival Diary: Dawn of the Webb

Howard Webb (left)

Getting up early and heading to a newsagent’s in Cheltenham for a Racing Post bang smack in the middle of the Festival can be hard work, but you are usually rewarded with a surreal sight or two.

Bright and early on Ladbrokes World Hurdle day morning, I saw a man with his shirt, tie and jacket on, but no trousers, walking around town with red and white balloons and he didn’t really look out of place.

It looked a bit like a scene from Shaun Of The Dead and amongst it all was former Premier League referee Howard Webb, a jaded Howard Webb, who still had time for many of the not so fresh-faced race-goers who felt obliged to walk up to him and tell him that he was Howard Webb. Wonder if he’s backing The Game Changer?

Snap decision proves costly

After the melee in the Cross Country Chase when Toutancarmont took out Quantitativeeasing on Wednesday, the Racing Post photographer, Patrick McCann, was sent flying as the two horses bounded towards his lens.

He got some fantastic shots as the Post showed yesterday, but he did sustain a serious leg fracture in pursuit of an action frame to be proud of.

It’s a dangerous craft snapping these powerful beasts and our sport’s photographers do a wonderful job, let’s hope he makes a quick recovery.

I certainly wouldn’t fancy taking my chances out there and this cowardly scribe is quite happy hiding in the press room!

The make-up of the modern Festival-goer

You need the staying power of Don Poli to get through the four-day Festival these days and the Cheltenham survival kit has had a makeover in recent years.

Gone are the days when you could turn up at Cheltenham with your wallet, suit, a couple of shirts, a bit of clean underwear, a hip flask and a pair of binoculars and get away with it.

Now you need a smartphone (with portable battery pack), a radio that clips on your ear and at least one tin of Red Bull to keep you alert during such hectic times.

However, I was stunned when a good pal of mine, a race-goer from the old days, pulled out a Garnier Caffeine Eye Roll-On stick to spark some life into his dark and puffy eyes in a Cheltenham boozer on Wednesday evening. I despair. The game has gone.


Some quick reflections on yesterday’s action now and having witnessed Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Don Poli record scintillating successes for Willie Mullins on the first two days, I didn’t possibly think another of his string could usurp that quartet for sheer brilliance. But then came Vautour.

Oh my days. Ears pricked, his stag-like leap at the last sent shivers down my spine and he poured it on up the hill to smash two proper Grade One horses by 15 lengths. 15 lengths!

The ‘Ruby’ chorus rang out and all was well with the world again.

As I stood open-mouthed at what I had just witnessed, my mind wandered to the 2016 Festival and what the Fab Five have the potential to achieve. It’s scary.

The Real McCoy

After Uxizandre supplied AP McCoy with his 31st – and possibly last – Cheltenham Festival winner, his boss JP McManus was asked how he’ll replace him.

“We’ve had him cloned!” he joked, but in all seriousness he just won’t be able to replace the colossus that is Anthony Peter McCoy.

Even on a day when we saw potentially the best novice chase performance this century (see Vautour), the biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for the 19-time champion jockey.

McCoy clearly basked in the moment, saying: “The thrill this horse gave me - I will miss riding horses like this that run away with you all the way and jump like stags. It has to happen at some point so it's a bit sad but we will worry about it this time next year.”

He has one more day left yet…

Bookies fear AP factor

The bookies are probably leading the punters 2-1 after yesterday’s results, but there is no escaping the fear factor among the camel coats ahead of McCoy’s final day at the Cheltenham Festival.

An AP win in the Gold Cup would be bad enough for the bookies, but if he wins the ‘AP McCoy Grand Annual’ on Ned Buntline, the Festival finale, we’ll never hear the end of it. David Williams of Ladbrokes said: “The McCoy factor has now fully kicked in.

Punters have seen him in the Winner's Enclosure and are now clamouring to back him for a famous last hurrah.

We were in the bizarre position of cheering home AP as he won his first race of the week. It was the start of a bookies' comeback that has seen us enjoy our best day of the week by far.

If McCoy wins again on Gold Cup day however, we're unlikely to escape unhurt.”

We can but dream…

Wise old sages predict Many Clouds

I didn’t include a pocket raincoat in that modern Festival-goer pack but you might need one on Gold Cup day if the weather sages are to be believed.

If you’re not at Cheltenham, and you can’t find a wise old weather sage, fear not, they aren’t extinct, they’re all here at the Festival.

After speaking to several up-and-coming John Kettley’s the general consensus is there is going to be a significant amount of rainfall through the night, into Gold Cup morning and perhaps when the racing starts too.

Could we be looking at a soft ground Gold Cup? Many Clouds, who would be a topical winner if the sages are to be believed, might just get his conditions after all.


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