There was a lot of talk before Cheltenham about whether the Irish would come over in their usual hordes.
Ireland’s economic troubles mean that many fewer people have the cash for a splurging week at the races, and I thought the day did feel flatter than normal. The roar as the tapes went up for the first race of the day was rather polite, as was the applause as each horse entered the winner’s enclosure.
Even Hurricane Fly’s reception was a touch muted — and this was an Irish-trained favourite, ridden by their darling, Ruby Walsh. I have no idea whether there were really fewer Irish at Cheltenham today than normal, but it certainly felt like it.
But that changed when Quevega won. Hats were thrown in the air and the cheers echoed round the racecourse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an impressive Festival winner. She literally cruised home with her head in her chest, and Ruby never moved a muscle on her.
Why did they run her in the mares’ race, rather than one of the championship races? I guess because they were absolutely certain she would win this, and why not take the easy option?
I’d love to know more about her. The bare facts are that the French-bred won three times at provincial tracks before she went to Ireland, and has only run 10 times since her first race there three years ago. She only ran twice last season — at Cheltenham and Punchestown, and won both times.
This was her first run since last April, yet I haven’t heard any stories about her being injury-prone or difficult to train. Why doesn’t she run more often? Mind you, if she only exerts herself twice a year she could do this for the next decade. She’s undoubtedly the best National Hunt mare in training. But how does Willie Mullins have the self-control not to keep running her? She’s a cert for a feature in our Cheltenham preview next year, that’s for sure. Ruby described her as the “perfect ride” — and he’s ridden enough to know.
Quote of the day: “He was savage out there” – Andrew Lynch, who won the cross-country race on Sizing Australia. Such a great Irish expression. He didn’t mean that the horse was biting his rivals and kicking his groom, just that he was brilliant. A thrilling day’s hunting can be “savage”, a pretty girl can be “savage”. It’s a great word to use when “great” just doesn’t cut it.
What will Henry do? Flat racing’s greatest trainer, Henry Cecil, makes his first appearance at the Cheltenham Festival on Thursday when he is the guest of honour, and also runs Plato in the ladies’ charity race. The big question is, how will the maestro, known for his sartorial elegance, dress? Will he adopt the Cheltenham uniform of tweed, or stick with his usual dark suit? His Newmarket compatriot, Sir Mark Prescott, may be a connoisseur of all country sports, but he was dapper in pinstripes today. I’m going to ask Tote PR representative George Primarolo for a price on the tweed, based on the principle of backing the outsider in a two-runner race.
WAG watch: How does Meally Thornton, Robert’s wife and the mother of his two-month old baby, stand up in those heels? These girls as are tough as their jockey husbands.
Celeb-spotting: Apparently Lily Allen was at Cheltenham, although I didn’t see her. Hopefully I’ll do better tomorrow, when Justin Bieber is paying a surprise visit. Not really, of course, but just writing his name in my blog should mean that it gets read by loads of American teenagers. Sorry to disappoint you if you’re one of them, it was a low trick.