Cheltenham, eh? Once you start going on about how many of the winning jockeys are Irish, and how many of the winners are bred here, then you know it’s been pretty crap.
Remember how there was none of that last year? Distinctions were few and far between then. Trained in Ireland was more than good enough. Hurricane Fly could have been born in Kabul and ridden by Vladmir Putin: just so long as he got to the festival on a boat, then he was Irish.
Anyway, thirteen winners in 2011 always felt a bit freakish. That just five came along in 2012 will probably be dismissed as similarly freakish too. After all there were eleven runner-up placings. Even a few of them going one better would have ramped the tally up significantly.
But what’s worrying is that if Willie Mullins’s entire string had not been completely one hundred per cent, where would we have been? Blank going into Day Four is where.
Irish fortunes now depend on the champion trainer to a massive degree. We knew that going there. What we hadn’t considered was what might happen if he wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
There’s no doubt many of Mullins’s horses were not at their best last week. Hurricane Fly should be able to pick up Overturn in his sleep. How Ruby Walsh smuggled Boston Bob into second in the Albert Bartlett was a miracle to rival Barry Geraghty’s rightly-lauded Ryanair effort on Riverside Theatre. Even before Allee Garde skittled Soll in the National Hunt Chase they didn’t look to be going anywhere. And that was early in a four-mile race.
Quevega, Champagne Fever and Sir Des Champs did the job and that they did so in such circumstances makes their performances all the more meritorious.
But just as with Aidan O’Brien on the flat, those looking at their racing through green-tinted glasses are becoming more and more dependant on one stable to fly the flag. And if that one yard isn’t clicking, then watch out.
On to more frivolous stuff: it being Cheltenham yours truly kept a closer eye than usual on what was appearing across the media during the festival. There was much to consider in the blizzard-like coverage, much of it excellent. But one little thing stood out – just how crap were the tips in all those ghosted jockey columns.
Now, this argument hardly comes from a position of strength since this corner’s own tips were colder than an Eskimo’s cold bits.
But it was hard to sift through the acres of cliché without wondering what benefit this stuff was producing, bar supplementing the income of jockeys whose dividend for said cash, far from being enlightening, often read only too vividly of going through the motions as quickly as possible.
There were some exceptions. Even they however hardly set calculators spinning with their overall success rates. However that’s not the point. Anyone can pick a loser.
The point of these columns though is to illuminate, or at least try to give a glimpse of what these professionals go through, or are thinking. The reality is often much more cynical, the athlete grudgingly offering a few monosyllabic clichés to a journalist whose unenviable task is to turn one paragraph of quotes into twenty paragraphs of copy. And ultimately it’s the reader who loses out.
There was one moment at Cheltenham though where everyone was a winner. Most racegoers would rather be stabbed in the eye than admit to being sentimental but the moment when Kauto Star was pulled up in the Gold Cup, and the stands erupted into spontaneous applause, was an especially heart-warming moment.
I don’t care how self-consciously hard-man you are, that was a damn fine thing to do, and to witness.
It might even have been a perfect moment to pull the plug on the great horse’s career. But how many of us thought the same at Punchestown last year. And that would have denied us that that epic fifth King George.
All the same, the general vibe this time seems to be that he will be retired. That he is in a position to do so sound and happy is maybe the best result racing could have had from Cheltenham 2012.