AI salute Queen Rachael Blackmore of Cheltenham, who was finally able to bask in the warm, long and loud applause of her adoring audience a full year after being crowned for the first time. His further victory aboard Honeysuckle in this year’s Champion Hurdle meant there was no popular winner on the opening day of the first Festival since 2020 to open its doors to the public, even if a bad fall during of the next race quickly brought her back. towards the earth.
Such is the life of a professional jockey, but his last great racing success was a truly heartwarming opportunity to be a part of it. For all his modesty, Blackmore clearly enjoyed the very public acclaim that was so cruelly denied him by circumstances last year.
It was the culmination of a long day. “ARE YOU READY TO ROAR?” The Racing Post’s front page had enthusiastically asked readers and racing fans for a nod to the legendary throaty version as it descends from the crowded grandstand and across the verdant green of the racecourse to greet the start of the race opening in Cheltenham each March. While the answer seemed like a resounding yes, a false start from the nervous Dysart Dynamo in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle meant that this year’s collective bellows came to a premature end. Although the 70,000 people in attendance tried to rally for another visceral outpouring of celebration joy of living when starter Robbie Supple reposted the tapes and the peloton finally started rolling on their two-mile trek, the moment had passed.
Bray the drunks. A tidal wave of tweed and mustard corduroy. Ray Parlor spitting pints in the Guinness Village at 10:30 a.m. Slowly but surely nature is healing. At least you could certainly be forgiven for thinking so given the near total absence of face masks adorning the tens of thousands of spectators who converged on sunny and heartwarming Cheltenham for the first day of this year’s annual National Hunt jamboree . In the race card, the Jockey Club preached caution, good hand hygiene and avoiding congregating in “busy areas”. With punters cramming six deep around the parade ring and at the counters of every available bar, he was resolutely ignored.
Pride of place on the cover went to Blackmore and Honeysuckle, the jockey’s beaming arm raised in triumph after his victory aboard the mare trained by Henry de Bromhead in last year’s Champion Hurdle. The undisputed star of this particular festival, when she announced herself to a wider UK audience by sending six winners back to Gloucestershire, it was a pleasure to see her get her post-race fee this time around.
This year the crowds returned in droves and while the most enthusiastic among them waited patiently in line outside the main gates in the morning sun, the racecourse itself was in full swing. Their dawn gallops over, the work riders sat around smoking and sipping coffee, while blinding studio lights on a portico overlooking the parade ring illuminated Oli Bell’s cool features and guests as they taped ITV’s daily primer The Opening Show.
Around the lobby, various groups of casual workers received last-minute instructions before preparing for a hard day’s work in front of hot plates and behind beer pumps, while those employed by the more exclusive restaurants and bars were indulging in last-minute buffing and polishing. glasses and silverware before the arrival of well-heeled guests. Many of them landed in a steady stream of helicopters before being ferried to a VIP lane adjacent to the run-in by chauffeured Bentleys. Oh, how does the other half live.
It was all just a dizzying prelude to the first of 28 races scheduled for this week, with the Irish raiders set to continue their astonishing dominance of last year. However, first blood in the Supreme went to the English, with the fall of three from the Willie Mullins-formed Dysart Dynamo clearing the way for Constitution Hill to lead home a Nicky Henderson one-two in the most convincing style. Sent off from the 9-4 joint favourite, there was nothing mixed about the roars that encouraged Nico de Boinville’s five-year-old to race up the straight and past the finishing post as he left his stable mate Jonbon trailing 22 lengths. One of Mullins’ three entries, Kilcruit was a surprisingly distant third.
“That was awesome,” said a thrilled Henderson, who then saddled 18-1 underdog Marie’s Rock to win the Mares’ Hurdle. “I know what the second horse is and I would have been very surprised if something could have done that to Jonbon, so he must be an amazing animal. The hype horse earlier in the year was Jonbon, then this guy woke up from his sleep at home and we suddenly realized that he was actually very good.
Sadly, it wasn’t all good news for a racing industry still trying to rebuild its reputation after it was found to be in grave breach of its unspoken social contract with the public following the leak of heinous photographs and video footage featuring staged the desecration of racehorses, and the Festival suffered its first equine death of the week in the Supreme at Shallwehaveonemore. In a field of sport where the occasional loss is a tragic inevitability, it is to be hoped that in the days to come only the betting slips and empty pint jars piling up will be discarded.