My First Trip To Cheltenham

Cleeve Hill

By Samantha

Cheltenham Racecourse is incredible.

Tuesday was one of the most incredible days I’ve ever had at a racecourse. Since the age of about six, I’ve been desperate to go to Cheltenham and I actually couldn’t believe I was there. It’s still, three days later, bonkers to think I attended Champion Hurdle Day. I was in awe. It’s hard to put into words how awesome this course is. Everything from the architecture to the atmosphere was just spectacular!

The parade ring is completely enclosed by the stands and the viewing area on the winners circle edge. This creates an amphitheatre atmosphere and it must be absolutely incredible to be a jockey riding into the winners enclosure with the applause of the knowledgeable crowd ringing around. It, without a doubt, deserves its title of the ‘Home of Jump Racing’.

The grandstands are absolutely huge. They stretch high into the sky and, if you were at the top, you’d have an incredible view of the course. In all honesty, it was extremely daunting at first as they towered over my tiny form way down below next to the rails. I was shocked at how much of a hill the ‘Cheltenham Hill’ is. By being there, you really appreciate the test it is on a horse and what makes it such a famous track. When they say it’s undulating, it is VERY undulating. The runners seem to be constantly going up and down. Because of this, I was impressed by what a view you actually had. Tuesday was a clear day and you could see all the way to the other side of the course.

Annacotty looked excellent under Hannah Bishop

It was wonderful to see some old favourites as part of the Retired Racehorse Parade. Taking park were Cue Card, Annacotty, Master Minded, Saphir Du Rheu and many others. For me, the horses are the stars of the show and I loved seeing these horses looking so well and loved. It advertised just how wonderfully versatile racehorses can be and what excellent qualities animals have!

To watch the racing, we found a space at the bottom of the chute. We could see the runners go to post but also get a great view of the last fence and hurdle. I really recommend getting that position as it was so busy and moving between the parade ring and rail was difficult. The coronavirus definitely didn’t scare many people away. There were multiple hand gel dispensers just to be safe too!

Shishkin

Now, we’ve got to talk about the ‘Roar’. This was one of the things I was told I would love about the day and it was incredible – the whole way it echoed around the course, sheltered by the magnificent Cleeve Hill gave me goosebumps. The unfortunate thing was the false start of the race. If they’d gone first time, it would’ve been even more spine-tingling. Second time round, the runners for the Supreme actually started and it was an incredible battle between Shishkin, who drifted at the off, and Abacadabras. But the money didn’t tell the story and Shishkin gamely battled on under Nico De Boinville.

The extremely pretty Put The Kettle On

The false start was, annoyingly, a recurring theme of the day. The same happened in the second race, which, arguably, completely ruined the chances of Notebook who ended up on the hurdles track. Like the Supreme, this resulted in a tenacious battle between two runners – Fakir D’Oudairies and Put The Kettle On. Obviously, I was screaming for Fakir but the mare out-battled him under a wonderful Aidan Coleman drive for Henry de Bromhead. Looking back, she’d actually won at Cheltenham earlier in the season and had a 7lbs allowance which could’ve tipped the scales but what a mare! She deserved that. There were some nasty falls but luckily all live to fight another day. Maire Banrigh is being treated at an equine hospital but she should be ok according to her owner John Hales.

My favourite boy Mulcahys Hill.

The next race was the Ultima Handicap Chase. Obviously, I was so excited to be at Cheltenham but that was because of this race. As anyone who follows me knows and the Rein It In Racing team tease me for, I absolutely adore Mulcahys Hill. He’s a bit of a live wire and was difficult to get out onto the track for him groom Caoilin Quinn and jockey Adrian Heskin. He got out safe and sound and finished the race in the same way – much to my relief – coming twelfth but looking very pleased with himself. It was a thrilling contest with The Conditional and Kildisart, who showed a good return to form, battling down the straight. It was Brendan Powell Jr who took the honours aboard The Conditional though! The horse completely deserved it and so did his trainer David Bridgewater. They were all over the moon! Myself and Niamh had seen him at Warwick in January when well-fancied for the Classic Chase.

Barry Geraghty happy on board Epatante

The next was the feature contest, the Champion Hurdle. Annoyingly, there was yet another false start and it was getting a bit silly by then. I think it ruined my selection Not So Sleepy’s chances as he never got into a rhythm. A mare that did was Epatante and she proved why she was a long-time, worthy favourite. She won by three lengths, beating the ever consistent Sharjah and, in third, the exciting Darver Star. Barry Geraghty was obviously delighted! He was riding out of his skin all week and this was remarkably his fourth Champion Hurdle. Even more impressively is that it was Nicky Henderson’s eighth and JP McManus’ ninth. I believe McManus deserves all of the success in the world for the way he treats his horses in retirement and his lovely, caring attitude towards the stable staff who look after his horses!

Rachel Blackmore and the Mares shone on day one!

Next was probably the race of the day- the Mares Hurdle! Two lovely mares, Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle, headed the market clear from the rest and that was how it finished! They were very wide apart but so tenacious! In the end, it was the Rachel Blackmore drive that won the race on Honeysuckle. The response was mind-blowing. There were a group of lads who had lost considerably on Benie Des Dieux but were in awe of the ride Blackmore gave this mare. It was excellent! She’s such a wonderful ambassador for the sport and it should be shouted from the rooftops about such talented riders, both males and females, like Rachel and Paul Townend riding at the top of their game.

Smiles all round with Imperial Aura

The newly-named race, the Northern Trust, came next and it was a big win for David Bass and Imperial Aura, despite idling. It was lovely to see the groom so emotional about her horse winning! They finished relatively strung out in comparison to earlier races and David Bass gave this horse an excellent ride.

Finally, on the day, was the National Hunt Chase. It has become shortened and made safer for the runners but three runners unseated and five pulled up. Lord Du Mesnil made a bold bid in front but only managed second. Jamie Codd, a great rider not just in the amateur sphere, ride Ravenhill into the lead at the last and the pairing won by three and a half lengths. The favourite Carefully Selected unseated at the last and was so tired he stopped there. The vets were fabulous- they were right on the scene and cooled him off as he was very hot.

Overall, I had the most amazing day. I’d imagined finally getting to the home of jumps racing so many times and the day was more incredible than my wildest dreams. I’m so grateful to the McNeil Family for the tickets and the privilege of being there to see Mulcahys Hill on the racetrack for the first time.

Make sure to visit Cheltenham – you’ll love it!

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