Friday is St Patrick’s Day. This, in turn, means that it is also Cheltenham Festival week; although somewhat confusingly, Cheltenham celebrates the luck of the Irish with St Patrick’s Thursday. Not to worry. Whoever complained about two days of Guinness-fuelled celebrations?
Of course, it’s not just the Thursday of Cheltenham week that brings in the Irish. Last year, 30 per cent of tickets sold for the festival were bought by people based in Ireland, and the number of Irish fans has been increasing over the last few years. This year, however, many of the horses that were expected to be the stars of the show have pulled out. Colin Tizzard’s Thistlecrack won’t be running due to a strained tendon; nor will Irish trainer Willie Mullins’s Faugheen, Min, or Annie Power – last year’s Champion Hurdle winner. It’ll be a shame not to see them; especially Thistlecrack after his sad battle to the winning post again Many Clouds at Cheltenham last month.
Ah well, injuries can’t be helped, as any horse owner will tell you, and racegoers will have a fun week nevertheless. Even though Thistlecrack is out, Tizzard still has three runners worth keeping an eye on: Cue Card, Native River and Theatre Guide. Another to look out for is Tobefair, who has one of those racing stories that crop up time after time. Owned by a syndicate of 17 friends from a pub in Pembrokeshire, he was given to retired farmer Michael Cole in exchange for looking after two other fillies. His trainer Debra Hamer has only eight horses and has never been to the festival before – even as a spectator. But for a bunch of owners who never dreamt of getting this far, I expect that just racing at Cheltenham will be exciting enough.
It’ll also be interesting to see how the new rules on alcohol consumption play out, too (after some well-publicised bad behaviour at last year’s Festival, the Jockey Club has decided that each customer can only buy four drinks at a time). Will this just mean bigger queues at the bar, as people come back more often? Or will it make people drink less? The same rules will also be applied to the Epsom Derby, on June 2 and 3, and other key events at Jockey Club courses.
Meanwhile, things seem are gearing up nicely for summer and the flat season. Adverts for Royal Ascot week are popping up on the Tube, and the Epsom Derby on the side of buses. Last week Ascot unveiled a new enclosure – the first new one in more than 100 years. (The last one to open, incidentally, was the ‘Five Shilling Stand’ in 1908, which is now the Windsor Enclosure. You can’t get tickets for 60p these days; but mind you, a 1910 shilling now sells for around £8 on eBay, so the relative value isn’t all that different.) The Village Enclosure (open from Thursday-Saturday of Ascot week) aims to create a festival-style atmosphere, with pop-up bars, food stalls and live music all day – but interestingly is on the other side of the racecourse to the other enclosures, so although there will be a screen showing the action from the parade ring, ticket-holders won’t actually be able to visit the main grandstand area.
Riding out in Epsom in the mornings, there are clear signs that the seasons are changing. Not having to get ready in total darkness is fantastic, of course – but that’s not all. The famous Derby Arms pub has re-opened after its winter revamp, Frankie Dettori and Emilia Fox have been announced as ambassadors for the Investec Derby Festival and the Spring Meeting, on 26 April, is only just over a month away.
Camilla Swift is riding in the Magnolia Cup at Glorious Goodwood on August 3, raising money for Place2Be. You can sponsor her here