The last few weeks have been rather fraught and complicated for reasons too catastrophically labyrinthine and dull to go into. But this week – ah, this week. This week is simple. This week is pure pleasure. This week I’m not even going to pretend to do any work, because every horse I love will gather under the benign shadow of Cleeve Hill. In the grand natural amphitheatre that is Prestbury Park the finest thoroughbreds in the land will come and strut their stuff. There will be the talking horses and the stalking horses, the fresh princes and the old warriors, the tough mares and the raw, unfinished juveniles, just learning their jobs, all spirit and hope.
There will be the handicap blots and plots, the lively outsiders and the rampant superstars. The mighty yards will send in battalions – great fleets of boxes will sail over the Irish sea with the Mullins and Elliot armies, ready to go to war. Colin Tizzard will get up and milk the cows before he brings out his favourites for the Gold Cup. The small yards have no regiments, but out of their ten or twenty horses they find one who might make the big boys sit up and take notice. Cheltenham is the great equaliser, when a horse bought for pennies can rise to greatness, while an aristocrat costing hundreds of thousands may disappoint.
The pros will be there, and the Corinthian amateurs; the drinkers and the punters, the duchesses and the plutocrats and the ordinary Joe who saves all year for this meeting. It’s a crowd united in love, for the occasion, for the craic, for the Guinness, for the wild beauties who fly over the storied turf, wearing their hearts on their sleeve. There’s something pure about those horses, about the jumping and the galloping, the blazing talent, the pure speed, the will to win. I’ve no idea who will soar up that hill into the halls of glory, except for Altior who should give a masterclass in grace and power. I’ll get to the stage in a moment when I want them all to win, when I’m so in love with all of them that I’d like every one of those equine athletes to come home in a lovely line across the course. They all deserve it. They are so brave and they try so hard and they lift my heart like nothing else.