Friday March 15th
I am writing this blog at half past six in the evening, at the conclusion of the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival 2013.
The two above pictures were taken last Sunday ( 10 / 3 ) and show some of the 65 acres of the Cheltenham race course, covered in black frost sheets.
I have never witnessed this on the eve of the festival.
The reason being, the extreme cold temperatures we have been experiencing recently.
Last Monday, aided by the Arctic wind chill, parts of the course dipped down to -12C.
But after a ten o'clock morning inspection, racing was given the go ahead and the festival got underway, with one difference; the opening race was put back half an hour to 2:05, rather than 1:35pm.
These were the lowest temperatures we have had at the festival for 27 years, (1986) ; when that wonderful mare Dawn Run won the Gold Cup.
I was lucky enough to be at Cheltenham in January of '86. I saw Dawn Run, up close at the first fence, prior to the start. What a big imposing mare she was. The great horses have a presence and she certainly did. This was her first outing over fences at the course; she had already won over hurdles; including the Champion in 1984 and would you believe it, she fell in this race; but as you have seen, she made no mistake, when it mattered in the Gold Cup; getting up in the shadow of the post and liberating bookies satchels, in so doing.
You have to applaud the ground staff for all their excellent work in making the track race able for the four days of the meeting. It takes two and a half hours to lift/place the pegged down sheets; which were used for the first two days of the meetings; after which temperatures began to rise.
The total prize money this year was £3.8 million, with the winning owner(s ) receiving over £300,000 for the Gold Cup success.
The races, themselves were keenly contested and it was pleasing to see local trainers getting their share of the spoils.
Nigel Twiston-Davies ( Trains at Naunton, Glos. ) two winners:
The New One (7/2 ) (W)
Same Difference ( 16/ 1 ) (Th)
Jonjo O'Neill ( rider of Dawn Run ) (Trains at Jackdaws Castle, Ford , Glos,))
one winner: Holywell ( 25/ 1 ) (Th)
Venetia Williams (Trains at Aramstone, Kings Caple , Herefordshire )
one winner: Carrickboy ( 50/1) ( Th)
Alan King ( Trains at Barbury Castle, Wilts.)
one winner Medinas ( 33/1 ) ( W)
It must be said however, that the festival had its low-point; being the terrible fall, yesterday at the first fence by leading amateur JT McNamara; who very sadly had to be placed in an induced coma and airlifted to Frenchay Hospital Bristol, suffering from severe neck and spinal problems. His neck has since been operated on and he remains in critical condition.
Our thoughts go out to him and his family at this time. It puts things into perspective, this human dimension and makes one realise how brave these jockeys are, putting themselves on the line for our entertainment.
A sombre note indeed to end this short report.