“…Just as quickly as it started the firing stopped, and a terrible silence hung over the valley” – The italicised words are part of the citation at the beginning of the Ballad of Michael Collins, so eloquently sung by Johnny McEvoy. Curious inhabitants of a sports column, undoubtedly. They do, however, rather aptly summarise feelings in this corner on the evening of the second Friday in March each year…
Simply because, for all the build up to and anticipation for it each season, the Cheltenham Festival begins in a whirlwind, yet seems to be over just as quickly as it begun. Leaving a maelstrom of emotions in its wake. This year’s incarnation proving no different. An emotional rollercoaster week. As ever, complete with many local highs, and a few heartbreaking lows.
Perhaps the pang of the latter in some ways outweighing the golden moments. Most notably, Road To Riches coming up just short for Noel Meade in the Gold Cup, the Tony Martin trained Quick Jack enduring a similar fate in the County Hurdle and a few of Gordon Elliott’s – specifically Hostile Fire and Don Cossack and No More Heroes – encountered chance spurning setbacks with glory seemingly at their mercy.
All three can, though, to varying degrees, draw solace from yet another captivating Cotswolds week. Naturally, more so Tony and Gordon as they visited the winner’s enclosure courtesy of Cause Of Causes and Rivage D’Or respectively.
Team Tu Va can also be immensely proud however, as representatives such as Snow Falcon, Wounded Warrior, Apache Stronghold, Ned Buntline and the aforementioned all performed with utmost credibility. To such an extent that the possibility of at least some of them returning to Gloucestershire and acquiring even further renown in the not too distant future becomes even more profound.
The mix of feelings pertinent to that particular week of the year is innumerable. From quiet satisfaction at a long held hunch – relating to the possibly not fully tapped class of Douvan – to elongated retention of faith in Cause Of Causes being handsomely vindicated. Courtesy of what must rank as the ride of the festival, delivered with customary coolness by Jamie Codd. A gong he’d be rivalled for, mind you, by Nina Carberry’s exceptional effort aboard On The Fringe.
Polarising the emotional lexicon, however, were, most pungently, the heartbreak of seeing Road To Riches coming up short in the blue riband, Annie Power knuckling over with the Mares Hurdle – and much besides – an agonising fingertip away. Not to mention what probably sadly amounts to the untimely cessation of the racing career of Sprinter Sacre. Perhaps before the full breath of his potential had flowered. And, from a personal perspective, a below par effort from Monksland in the World Hurdle.
Mind you, there was also of poignancy to Martin’s winner as, up to very recently, Rivage D’Or had been a resident of Osborne Lodge and, had he remained thus, would’ve been providing Sandra Hughes with her first win on the biggest stage of all. While presenting the top trainer award – so fittingly named in honour of her late father Dessie – to Willie Mullins was as much an Irish certainty as anything which transpired on the grass, it surely won’t be long until Sandra is bestowed with merited acclaim in Prestbury Park herself.