By Alan Coyle
Today sees the calm before the storm. A million hopes and dreams will fill the air tomorrow and for the next three days, not just at Cheltenham, but also across the British isles and beyond as one of the jewels in jump racing’s crown shines brightly for all to see in the cold, chilly air tomorrow.
Horses, trainers, jockeys, owners, stable staff, punters, in fact anyone with an interest in the sport of kings will most probably have their hearts in their mouths tomorrow. From Bangor-on-Dee to Huntingdon, Newbury to Sandown, Wincanton to across the Irish sea to Leopardstown, strands of form from across the best part of a season of National Hunt racing will come together like a jigsaw, a difficult puzzle finally solved to admire and behold. It will all come down to twenty-seven races spread across four days. The chance to be confirmed a champion.
It won’t just be the chilly conditions giving people goosebumps. Jockeys in the weighing room will no doubt be feeling the weight of expectations on their shoulders. Sometimes we do not truly appreciate what this spectacle must be like for them as riders. Trainers, owners and stable staff will be nervously prancing the paddock and the many grandstands and enclosures with heavy burdens, some prayers said even. Punters will be waving their fivers furiously not to mention their five thousands’ seeking to have their opinions confirmed by the championship tests of the thoroughbreds they have selected. And what of the thoroughbreds? For they know not what truly lies ahead and what weight of expectations they carry for so many.
Many will look on, on the course, at home, in the betting shops, in the pubs across Britain and Ireland and beyond. Many a betting slip torn and discarded, many a pint supped and ultimately sunk, many a torn fiver lost and many a dream shattered. Though many will celebrate for a long time, with champagne bottles run dry, wallets fattened and dreams come true.
Whatever does happen, the safety of our horses, our heroes, our jockeys, our heroes, we all hope they come home safe and sound. For it is ultimately their exertions that bring us this ultimate pleasure. The release, the rush, the feeling.
After what hopefully will deliver an enjoyable and heart-warming week it won’t be long before the planning for next year begins. It sounds ridiculous in some ways but every year holds the same lustre. The same desire. The same passion.
It means everything to everyone who loves horses and the sport of horseracing itself. There really is nothing, quite like Cheltenham.