Less than 24 hours before the commencement of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, this corner had no problem admitting that, in some ways, not a sh** was given about the action at Prestbury Park.
Mitigating such misgivings, though, was the hope that the sound of the Cheltenham roar at the start of the first race would re-ignite a bit of a spark in yours truly. Being honest I can’t say I was overtly joyous but, a considerable consignment of satisfaction was derived from seeing Barry Connell’s Marine Nationale stylishly garnering the expected victory in the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Similar sentiments are also applicapable to the swashbuckling performance of El Fabiolo in the Arkle. You might think a Willie Mullins-trained favourite wouldn’t be that big of a deal at this stage. But, against that, it’s a long time since this writer heard WPM as effusive in his assessment of a horse as he was about the prospects of Simon Munir and Isaac Suede’s steed.
Less expected – by me at lesst – was the retention of the Ultima Handicap Chase by the Lucinda Russell-trained Corach Rambler. Brought about by a masterful display of jockeyship by Sligo’s Derek Fox.
However, if you want to talk about things which were foreseen, grab your binoculars and feast your gaze upon Constitution Hill. Some of his opponents here would’ve needed ocular assistance to get even a long distance glimpse of Nicky Henderson’s equine machine.
He left high class speedsters look like heavy ground plodding handicappers. Furthermore, the exciting – or terrifying, depending on where you’re looking from – reality is that this gargantuan Galactico doesn’t turn six for another two weeks.
If that wasn’t enough to give his contemporaries sleepless nights, some of the possibilties floated by what winning rider Nico de Boinville described as his “Maverick Owner” Michael Buckley will surely cause mass insomnia. Namely, the possibility (or probability) of his prize possession going chasing next term. And/or turning up in the Ascot Stakes during the Royal meeting.
Now, you might have thought all of the above would have been the headline news on the day. Especially given the manner in which the victor made his elite equine kinfolk look like shackled plough horses. But on this day of days it had to be a case of ladies first.
Perhaps it was apt, though, on the day Michael Buckley mentioned the possibility of Constitution Hill emulating Dawn Run – i.e. going on to win the Gold Cup – that the greatest race mare of the modern era got to bow out in the tumultuous blaze of glory she and those connected to her absolutely deserved.
The only ponderable was how we doubted she would ever do anything other than what she has always done. A long time ago, I came to the realisation there was no such thing as a stupid animal. Which fittingly explained what an understandably emotional Henry De Bromhead meant when he said “She (Honeysuckle) knew where she was”.
Whilst not for a second underplaying the role played by her equally heroic partner in brilliance Rachael Blackmore, the 9-year-old could visibly be noticed coming to life upon meeting the home turn and Cheltenham’s famous hill. Said incline has been the ruination of many a Cheltenham dream but dear Honey seemed to view her adversary like Stephen Curry does most of the NBA – “Is that the best you can do?”.
Thus putting her in the same mould as Paddy Mullins’ wondermare or other past Champions like Hardy Eustace or Binocular or Brave Inca or Faugheen. As distinct, say, from such luminaries as Istabraq or Hurricane Fly or this year’s victor who, you suspect, got there without utilising the entirety of their gearboxes.
Of course there was another complete layer of emotion to the story of owner Kenny Alexander’s sensational senorita yesterday, as there is to every De Bromhead runner now and will be forever more. The extra jockey in the sky, Henry and Heather’s late son, Jack. There may be a need for copious more Kleenex before the week is out.