A.P. McCoy began the ITV Cheltenham coverage, setting the scene on Tuesday: “Sport is all about ‘I was there moments’… and you are kind of hoping for a Mike Tyson job. A knockout merchant, that he’s going to blow them away.”
We pretty much got what we wanted a few hours later. Constitution Hill provided the wow moment but the knockout emotional moment came with Honeysuckle’s win in the Mares’ Hurdle.
All in all, on a backdrop of less savoury issues, it was a week to engage and enthrall and showcase the best of this sport.
The humans asked, the horses responded on that famous hill and it all ended in glorious triumph and adulation, back in the winner’s enclosure.
ITV presented the best of it and they have a lot to fit in, some of it is great insight like having Ruby Walsh on the multi screens, quickly reviewing with isolated shots from alongside, ahead and the air, all of the key moments in the big races.
We did get nice up close in the parade ring shots of the star horses, though the betting element is still just grazing the surface and on a day where that area will tell its own tale about fancied horses.
While some of the Chris Hughes slots around the track are useful, the social stable in front of a noisy background audience serves little purpose.
You have to pay for quality in any aspect of life and you get that with RacingTV on these huge days.
On ITV, the snatched on-track winning interviews can get the odd decent comment and capture immediate emotion but for the proper insight into the heart of what the whole thing means to the people involved you need the quiet, lengthier interviews from RacingTV.
Hislop and Mangan are among the best at what they do and there is neither need nor room for frivolity when the action begins.
The races have been analysed to death at this stage so you need to savour everything as the anticipation grows. Some of the interviews engaged more like conversations with friends, Lydia with Henry de Bromhead, Michael O’Sullivan, the Gleesons and John Kiely on Wednesday.
Ireland began with the first eight home in the Supreme. “An Irish rout,” Ed Chamberlin called it. Michael O’Sullivan’s first success was an engaging starting point of the coverage.
“He actually won easy. Days like this is what I was dreaming of since I was riding ponies at three and four years of age...to get a day like this …I could retire in the morning,” he said just about holding it together. Matt Chapman with microphone added: “It won’t be the first.” And how right he was a few hours later!
Chapman will forever be Marmite (Do we eat the stuff in this country?) but he works well with the bit of paddywhackery around the enclosure before and after the win of The Real Whacker, when he and Rishi Persad swopped the parade ring and the on track after race interviews on Wednesday.
The few words from the beaten jockeys coming back in also added a bit of interest.
The Michael O’Leary with Chapman interview was a good stroke, mostly played out in the Opening Show on ITV.
The “mischievous villain”, was given free rein to give his opinions on sorting out British racing, (a five-day Ryanair-style Festival?) even if the bit of aggro stirred between O’Leary and Davy Russell, over Russell’s decision to come out of an 18-day retirement for a brief spell, seemed manufactured and unnecessary.
Bryan Cooper got the out-in O’Leary treatment too “needed to work harder…he did, so he’s back riding Gigginstown horses.”
There was a nod to sustainability at the course, a nice reminisce with Chris Hughes with McCoy in the weighroom and another piece on Wednesday explaining the goings on behind the scenes in the stewards’ room with the BHA’s Shaun Parker.
Peter Scudamore joined the group to praise his horse and rider. ‘An extraordinary character” was Corach Rambler, Derek Fox despite his lack of academic credentials, “always had an innate sense of a horse, he was “highly intelligent on a horse.”
Ruby also noted: “watch Derek Fox from the last...great piece of riding staying within the rules.” And we had many great pieces of riding over the first two days. Do not mention the whip.
“It was a dream of mine to get the big three,” Nico de Boinville told Chapman as he added the Champion Hurdle to Coneygree and Sprinter Sacre’s successes.
Where does the winner stand now? 182 was Night Nurse’s rating, 180 Istabraq’s.
ITV’s on-screen sectionals furlong by furlong showed the slow pace of the Mares’ Hurdle, 16.86secs furlongs for the eighth furlong after a mile had been travelled to a 14.71secs for the following one, Johnny Burke on the second didn’t get enough mention in the happy aftermath.
There was emotion everywhere after the Mares’ Hurdle, in Ruby’s voice, with Rachael, who still put Chapman in his place, paying tribute to Henry de Bromhead’s training of Honeysuckle.
“I’m so glad he doesn’t listen to you or I’d not get the pleasure of walking back into the winner’s enclosure.”
The aerial wire-cam shots of the mare’s return to the enclosure and its aftermath would be sufficient ammunition in itself to promote the sport and hold fast against any critics.
So too would Lydia Hislop’s RacingTV interviews late in the evening with John and Brian Gleeson, a dream hatched when the horse was named and shared with Brough Scott, both watching his victory at Roscommon in the middle of Royal Ascot last year.
All racing life is here as the dream was shared. Gentleman John Kiely with his first win, partnering with 18-year-old John Gleeson. Nearly 70 years between them but totally immersed in horses. Poor J.P was forgotten about!
Can any other sport offer such camaraderie? Not many.