It’s been a week of intense debate. Deadlines have loomed, decisions have been made – some small victories and quite a few defeats. Two shuffles forward, two shuffles back. Now we’ve got to the end of the week and it’s STILL make-your-mind-up time.
What do we want? How much consideration do we need to give to the Irish?
I refer, of course, not to Brexit – but to the Cheltenham Festival, where somewhere in the region of 60,000 people have been turning up each day with nothing else on their minds but horseracing. Amongst the chatter about the best European steeplechasers and hurdlers (most are bred in Britain, Ireland and France with a sprinkling from Germany), there is no mention of Brexit. I have no idea what’s been happening in the wider World and I’m very glad of it.
But it wouldn’t be quite true to say that politics hasn’t touched racing at all this week – Parliament tasked the British Horseracing Authority with the responsibility for ensuring that the highest standards of welfare in the horseracing industry, which is one of the reasons why jockeys have come under added scrutiny at this high profile meeting. Broadcasters and journalists have stumbled, pretty clumsily, around the subject – highlighting the issue of differing public perceptions, but failing to explain the passionate love of horses which resides at the heart of our sport.
We love horses. We love their beauty, their strength, their speed and their agility. Yet there are is a strand of public opinion, quite disconnected from those who engage in the sport, that believes the opposite is true.
On Thursday, while the Cheltenham Winners’ Enclosure rang with the enthusiastic applause of the masses, we found two of the best possible ambassadors that we could wish for. First there’s Andrew Gemmell whose delight in owning the Champion Staying Hurdler Paisley Park is plain for all to see. Gemmell, in case you’re reading this and you didn’t know, has been blind since birth and has developed a delightful knack for speaking the truth while seeing the best in every situation. His love for Paisley Park echoes Winston Churchill’s comment that “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.”
Then there is Briony Frost who, after winning the Ryanair with Frodon, exclaimed “He’s got his day, guys. He is Pegasus, he has got wings…
“… He travelled, my God he jumped. That moment he got overtaken two out, most horses would quit. But no, he grabbed me by my hand and said, ‘No, don’t you dare give up. Don’t you dare not send me into the last. I want this more than you, now come on, where are you?’ And look at him. He is just perfection and determination… Tell me, deny me that he doesn’t love racing. He’s unbelievable. I love you mate.”
Crikey. Quite a few of us were in tears at that point.
So on Friday we’re back for more. Definitely Red, second recently at Kelso will give a good account of himself in the Gold Cup at a huge price. If he stumbles against an Irish backstop, I fear Bellshill the most. Either way, sit back and enjoy. It’s better than politics.