At 8.30 this morning, a group of friends will embark a double decker bus for Cheltenham Racecourse, watch 7 races and return to London some 12 hours later.
I am pleased to say, they have all paid £100 from their own wallets to be in each other’s company, have a ticket , transport and as much food , wine and beer as they can drink.
Also at Cheltenham will be some 50,000 revellers who will have made their way there, some for the day, some for the week in pursuit of what the Irish call the “craic”,
If you haven’t gone, you won’t yet understand, but make it your business to go- put Cheltenham on your bucket list for it is surely worth it.
When the lines go up and the horses make their way up the hill for the first circuit of the Supreme Novices Hurdle, a deep roar rises up from the bowels of the earth and echoes around Cleeve Hill, it signifies the start of the greatest racing festival on earth. For me it even eclipses the tan-tastic Aintree on Grand National Day or Ascot, or leafy Newmarket in July as the apogee of a racing day out.
I’ve been going since 1987, it’s not quite in the blood, speak to my friend Eamonn O’Connor and he will tell you of being weaned on stories of Arkle– himself.
On that first Gold Cup Day, when the Thinker came up the hill in the snow, I remember being more cold than when I worked in the Icelandic fishing grounds. Since then, every Cheltenham has been different. There are some I missed, I wish I could have seen Dawn Run and I ddn’t see Desert Orchid triumph against the wrong kind of track. But I remember watching Jim Culloty (a proud member of the Pension PlayPen) coming back into the ring on Best Mate and Istrabraq and ..I won’t go on.
The strange thing is that none of these things at the time assumed an order of magnitude then, it takes time for you great winners to embed themselves in your personal pantheon and often it is because you had them as a rare winner, that they become to you immortal.
So everyone has their own Cheltenham. But collectively it’s better. This morning we will breast the hill as we walk up to the gates and look down the straight laid out with its multitude of tracks and there will be the “feeld of folke” that Piers Plowman (the original Plowman) described in William Langland’s 14th century vision.
It doesn’t get any better than this. To go with friends, no corporate hospitality, no guilt, nothing for which any of us will have to say “thank you” for!
Wish us luck if you read this before 1.30pm this afternoon, nip out to the bookies and enjoy the Champion Hurdle (it will be a good one) and have a naughty half of Guinness in the pub down the road.
I must get on that bus.