EVEN the good bible tells us it’s okay. “There is a time for everything under the heaven,” said the prophet Ecclesiastes, Cheltenham time, gambling time and it’s under sunny skies.
This time of year there’s BC and AC. You must always remember what happened BC when the AC comes along. Before Cheltenham the questions are “Have you any tips, After Cheltenham, it’s “did you have any winners” so if you gave losing tips, you must remember to forget you then had winners.
If you can’t be there, it’s a day to keep the path to the TV clear. Tell everyone, no access until after 5.30. It’s not a day to concern yourself with what Loose Women are talking about, loose horses are more of a worry. Especially if you backed any of them. And even if you are not a regular punter, it's easy to be tempted into the madness of it all.
It’s a day to put on your patriotic hat. Never mind the cricket, this is one sport where we don’t travel in hope, here, we come to win. Get the green jersey out early, well, maybe get a pink one with green spots, those are the colours you will cheer for today, that will make or break it for Irish punters with three Rich and Susannah Ricci-owned horses carrying the Irish hopes. They will be boosted by the pale blue and orange scarves of Un De Sceaux followers. It’s all bright and breezy on day one.
The Mullins team are out bright and early and Ruby is miked up for Channel 4. Surely all four Mullins bankers can’t go in, but Annie Power looks the part and the closest to a certainty.
The ground is sure to be faster than most of these horses have run on all winter, so where are the chinks in the hot favourites? Who will improve for the better surface?
On the Morning Line, Nick Luck gets a minute with a relaxed Willie Mullins, looking nothing like the soldier of war mock-up that appeared on a certain newspaper front cover last weekend.
Luck reports that’s he’s never seen Hurricane Fly look better in all the Festival’s he appeared at. Mullins concurs. With Paul Townend on board this time it will be a fascinating tactical battle with his stable companion, never mind the rest of the opposition.
So time to eliminate the distraction of betting. A November punt on Vaniteux in the hope that he might be the improver doesn’t looks so wise but at least he’s in the line-up. Is Faugheen the machine worth it at evens?
Can Willie have four winners on one day? Nicky Henderson has that record - he saddled four winners on the second day in 2012. Will he spoil the party before it gets started with L’Ami Serge in the opener.
The opening race roar. There’ll be a roar at the beginning, there’ll be a roar at the end of Douvan’s in front, there’ll be a roar if Jollyallan and A.P. are in front. Maybe Jollyallan’s experience and better ground will give Harry Fry a first winner.
The Arkle is easy, one horse, the one from Sceaux. Will it be Sceaux special or Sceaux close? Remember Champagne Fever last year, it’s all about the jumping they say, but what about the hill? Ruby hasn’t ridden a winner over fences at the Festival since Kauto Star’s Gold Cup.
Paddy Power’s money back offer has to be availed of with such a short priced favourite. Vibrato Valtat looked good at Warwick, Twiston-Davies has a wrong to right from their last Cheltenham run, he looks the best alternative.
It will be hold your breath time, probably only one horse in the picture. Thank God that second last has been moved or it would have been a long 30 seconds coming down to it.
Later in the morning, switching channels, ATR are out in the carpark but still nab a succession of interviewee, journalists and jockeys.
In the office, an email come through - Marzocco heads five seeking Fast-Track Qualifier success at Chelmsford City on Thursday – great, good luck to him but this is not the time or place.
The time flies by and it’s lunch scoffed and approaching the first race. In brilliant sunshine, they are 20 deep around the parade ring. Once out on the track, the Ricci spots are even more fluorescent on Douvan, who shows a bit of knee action going to post. Channel 4’s commercial breaks are annoying, - for days like these Racing UK is a pleasure.
The roar goes up and they’re off. Douvan is keen but travels well all the way. L’Ami Serge suffers when Seedling unseats. It’s a decent pace and hard to see where the soft is in the going, forget heavy ground horses for the Gold Cup.
Before the last it’s all over bar a fall, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby is the roar. Douvan’s a monster - what will he be in another year. Find a word to rhyme with Douvan for the headlines. Douvan the man. It’s Ireland one-two-three. Shaneshill is a solid second, even though he was the personal selection in the office sweep for the week, it’s no consolation. Least Paddy’s giving the money back on Jollyallan.
Is there anything that can beat this horse, asks Alice Plunkett. No, says Brian Gleeson simply.
Racing UK show Un De Sceux calm in the pre-parade ring. Gleeson reports a £60,000 to win £40,000 bet. Once off there’s a gasp as he hurdles the first flat out but he tunes in quickly despite having rivals around him over the first three.
Once down the far side, he’s foot perfect, shortening into the first ditch, neat and fast when he needs to be. He’s a joy to watch. Gods Own looks a brief threat of the bend, but the leader is again quick and accurate over the second and Ruby goes for all at the last and up he comes. Up the run-in, the further, the faster as he opens up six lengths on Gods Own with Josses Hill in third. Ruby’s not going to get sick of the sight of Richi Pesad yet.
Before another break, Channel 4 have fantastic slo-mo shot of Un De Sceaux flying the last, one of the images of the day.
A lull for the layers, no Mullins runner in the next, Clare Balding asks Willie Mullins what he’s going to do until the Champion. “I might go and get a drink now!” Console yourself again. Money back on the disappointing Vibrato Valtat for tomorrow.
This is a race - pretend it’s still the William Hill - where favourites perish, so take your pick. We’ll try to get a bit back with Theatre Guide. He travels well but has nothing to offer from the bottom of the hill. The Druids Nephew has it sewn up before the last and Barry Geraghty gets on the scoreboard for Neil Mullholland who’s made a big impact this year. It’s good news as The Young MaSter is a big fancy from this quarter for tomorrow’s RSA.
Now it’s all just Champion, get on the Machine to play up those early race doubles - a “huge, monumental gamble,” reports Tanya Stevenson. Brian Gleeson reports £120,000 to win a £100,000, £10,000 each-way on Jezki. Faugheen leads them around at the start. Another £120,000 to win £100,000.
Faugheen goes off in front, it doesn’t look a fast pace - is it fast enough for a Neptune winner? No worries, Walsh is supreme. Jezki travels well, so does Hurricane Fly. Once the pace quickens down the hill, Faugheen is again clumsy at the second last, but as last year it take him no time to recover, and it’s Jezki who on the back foot. He’s a brute this Faugheen, nothing can stop him, powering on to the last. Jezki is beaten, The New One offers nothing - last year’s Champion Hurdle form takes a knock - and Hurricane Fly is fighting on but it’s Arctic Fire, well highlighted in the build up by Mullins, who puts his head down and chases his stable companion all the way. “Faugheen, the flying machine,” calls Simon Holt
In the aftermath CH4’s Graham Cunningham says Faugheen is “Everything he promised to be.” The three Closutton heroes stand in the winner’s enclosure, add in Douvan and who knows what else for next year and Michael Dickinson’s first five could well be repeated.
In the analysis, Graham Cunningham reports it was 20 seconds slower than the Supreme. But there was someone supreme alright and Walsh takes that award.
Brian Gleeson cries: “Now Annie, we need you more than ever, Annie.” Cunningham adds it will be the “biggest punting day since Frankie day at Ascot if Annie wins.” “The weight of the country is going on Annie Power,” says bookmaker Raymond Mulvaney.
Time to take a break, forget punting this time. Chanting is supposed to calm people down. Try that, Go Annie, go Annie.
Nothing is ever certain in this sport, except that when you’re up, you’ll soon be taken down. Annie Power settles and cruises through the race, Glens Melody second best throughout. Clear at the last, there’s a roar again, but it’s a despairing roar this time as the unbelievable happens and Annie steps at it and crashes down on her head. She’ll have a headache tomorrow but nothing like her supporters. Punters waiting on the Mullins four-timer won't be calling their first-born Annie.
From the reverse angle, she took off well too soon but later reports link the fall to a shadow before the hurdle – the most expensive shadowy incident in racing history.
Luckily she gets up but the sinking feeling takes the momentum from a battling finish between Polly Peachum and Glens Melody with Bitofapuzzle sticking on well.
After the shrieks, echoed in any offices, the onlookers gathered are happy, “we needed a bit of drama.”
Later on Racing UK, Stewart Machin interviews winning owner/breeder Fiona McStay who has never missed any of Glens Melody’s races and gained rich reward with the once “timid” mare she raised from a foal.
A glum Michael Shinners from SkyBet offers Lydia Hislop 5/4 Faugheen for next year’s Champion. Tempted?
Any appetite for another punt? Will the Mullins form hold up? Patrick offered Perfect Gentleman as a good each-way bet at preview evenings. If Djakadam is the Gold Cup candidate then The Job Is Right has to go close after falling when within hailing distance of the Mullins horse at Gowran.
In the race, The Job Is Right looks threatening on the run to the last but where Derek O’Connor goes, Jamie Codd can’t be far away and he had executed a deft touch again on the Gordon Elliott-trained Cause Of Causes, creeping into the race on the inside round the bend. Despite possible stamina doubts, he found plenty up the hill and it was canny Codd who held off Katie Walsh on Broadway Buffalo as the last fence was bypassed to give J.P. McManus a birthday winner. In his post-race interview Codd acknowledged - “to do it for Gordon is just fantastic, it’s magic”.
A mistake at the last ditch by Very Wood halted his progress. Perfect Gentleman kept on to save the each-way money.
The plan, if all was going downhill, was to bail out on Thomas Crapper, but he’s favourite ag 7/1, not an each-way working man’s price and it’s competitive fare here. Gods Own ran well for Tom George earlier and Stellar Notion will do for the finale.
It proved another winner for Paul Townend for the Rebecca Curtis yard when Irish Cavalier came late down the outside to get the better of the battling Thomas Crapper as the ever-unlucky Little Jon stumbles over the last. Stellar who?
Day one done and it’ll be merry in the Mullins yard tonight, but such is this sport that the certain banker was the one who faltered.
The honours, watched by a record 63,249 attendance on day one, went to the Irish with five winners from seven races. All seven ridden by jockeys - Walsh, Townend, Geraghy and Codd - as Irish as shamrock. Four Irish-breds to two French, a British and American. Two for King's Theatre and two flat sires, Dynaformer and Aussie Rules on the board. The leaderboard for the Irish Independent Dessie Hughes Leading Trainer Award is one-sided - Willie Mullins has four wins, two seconds and a third.
MOMENT OF THE DAY: Un De Sceaux attaching the last.