Ireland is a land of 100,000 welcomes- and I reckon most of them(well what I can remember of them) must have come my way when I did an Oliver Twist and went back for more to complete the Cheltenham Preview circuit.
This time the destination was a hotel in County Kildare, the equine heartland that is south of Dublin to fight for ‘the old enemy’ against the Irish in a Preview evening, all part of the build up to the greatest show on turf.
If an Irishman told me to go to hell I’d look forward to the trip and being ambushed by 300 of them was..er…. a memorable experience.
A much missed Racing Priest had his Parish near where we were assembled. He used to tell me of the two pilgrimages he organised every year- one to Lourdes and one to Cheltenham, believing one would pay for the other. But he had one overriding point- nothing brings the community together like Cheltenham, or a spot of English baiting.
Not once did I need to mention the words ‘Twickenham’ or ‘Triple Crown’, you get the gist- they listened and then they laughed with that McEnroeesque ‘You cannot be serious’ look on all faces great and small.
But the Irish have their great racing dynasties and I found myself next to the youngest of one of the greats. David Mullins may be still a teenager but he’s a Group One winner and as he sat alongside another of the rising stars of the Irish Jockeys room, Johnny Burke, I wondered why we British ever bother with Ant and Dec- they were almost as good a double act on stage as in the saddle.
The best thing of all- they gave their night up to support a local charity.
So what wins? I hope you wouldn’t ask but the expert opinion is there will be a rush of paracetamol sales if Douvan and Limini don’t win (come to think of it there will be if they do, especially in the Lord Bagenal in Mullinsland), Supasundae is a real good each way hope, and Ivanovich Gorbatov(I think I went to school with his brother) wins if he doesn’t run as badly as he did last time.
Me? I’m in on Dare to Dream each way in whatever handicap he turns up in.
That great Racing Priest, the much missed Father Sean Breen always used to say a Mass for Winners in a Cheltenham hotel before racing on the first day and used to say ‘we never get this number on the third Sunday in Lent.’
Cheltenham always falls in Lent- but the quest for winners is one thing no one gives up on.
These trips have been humbling- amazing welcomes everywhere, friends old and new joining the conversation and for many the only sight of a horse has been one in a bottle.
Roll on Tuesday.
By Mike Vince