Cheltenham Festival blog: A star hunter on ladies’ day

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  • If I could have ridden one horse at Cheltenham today, it would have been Mister McGoldrick. The little horse is 13 now, was running at his sixth Cheltenham Festival, and is surely the best evidence yet that racehorses like their jobs. He absolutely belted round the track in the Byrne Group Plate, jumped as brilliantly as you’d expect a horse of Sue and Harvey’s Smith to do, and just got caught for finishing speed towards the end.

    He has won 14 times, including this race two years ago at 66-1, and must be the light of his owners’ lives. He’s a front-runner, whistling off ahead of the field — imagine field mastering off him with a Leicestershire pack.

    It was ladies’ day at Cheltenham — some quite ill-advised bare flesh on show, I’d stick to the woolly tights and tweed next time — and they held a ladies’ charity race to conclude the card. It was won by Orna Madden, who represented Ireland at the 1999 European Young Rider Eventing Championships in Necarne, beating Kate Doyle, who had been on the 1998 Irish team in Waregem, in a photo-finish. I’m tipping Laura Collett for next year’s race.

    Paul Nicholls’ girlfriend, Georgie Browne, couldn’t manage a dream finish to her stint as Ladies’ Day Ambassador for Cheltenham. She rides Master Minded out every day at home; he’s lost his champion chaser crown, so how about a tour of the charity race circuit next year? If I were you, Georgie, I’d get Clive Smith and Paul Nicholls to sign on the dotted line tomorrow 10min after Kauto’s won the Gold Cup for them.

    AP McCoy looked very sore when limping off the track after falling with Song Of Songs in the fifth race. But even if he’d broken a leg he’d be walking on it — it would take amputation to stop him riding Denman tomorrow in the Gold Cup. Championship racing though it has been, this whole week has felt like a cheerleaders’ routine for the big one. Kauto, Denman — everybody’s got a view. People are arguing passionately in bars, scarves and badges proclaim allegiance, and only their trainer, Paul Nicholls, won’t declare his partiality.

    Denman may have slightly taken the glitter off the contest by falling at Newbury last month, but he represents the deep core of jump racing — the traditionally-bred staying chaser, owned (at least, half of him is) by a farmer from the heart of good hunting country in Somerset. I think the French-bred, versatile, flamboyant Kauto Star will win, but Denman will have a lot of fans here tomorrow. The Gold Cup score between the pair is one apiece; this is the decider. Racing fans can want nothing more than for the two of them to come to the last together and battle it out up the hill to the line. May the best horse win.

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