Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf Carpe Diem

Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf Carpe Diem

Article excerpt

He didn't quite tap the side of his nose but, looking around and dropping his voice, one of the best-connected racecourse informants I know greeted me at Cheltenham on Saturday with the news: 'Alan King has got the sniffles in his yard.' Striking a line through all the inmates of King's Barbury Castle Stables on my racecard, I paused only to put a circle round Baby Mix, Paddy Brennan's mount for Tom George in the first. 'Paddy says this is the best novice he's ever sat on, ' my informant had also confided.

Unfortunately, nobody had told Baby Mix, one of the ante-post favourites for the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He fought for his head throughout, made mistakes at the fourth and second-last hurdles and slowed before the last as if he was carrying two jockeys, finishing sixth of six. I did a Lady Godiva on that one. (Optimists say she put everything she had on a horse, realists say she lost her shirt. ) As for Alan King, he scored a treble with Grumeti, Bless The Wings and Batonnier. If his horses have a sniffle, I hope I catch it soon.

It was still, however, one of those glorious, emotional days peculiar to the winter sport. I have long admired Simon Hunt's chaser The Giant Bolster, trained by the battered former jump jockey David Bridgwater. After a good showing in his prep race over hurdles at Chepstow, I was convinced he would win the Paddy Power. So was his trainer, but The Giant Bolster fell at the first, not the only occasion on which his jumping has let him down.

On Saturday in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase, rider Tom Scudamore sent him off in front. The Giant Bolster thought about it a bit for the first three fences then decided he could do it. He galloped his rivals into submission, coming home 17 lengths clear. The Cheltenham crowd know character as well as horses and 'Bridgy', who runs a small family yard at Stow-on-the-Wold with his wife and brother, is woven into the jumping community. Horse, trainer and jockey were cheered into the winners' enclosure as if they had won the Gold Cup, and to add to the family atmosphere Tom's two pretty little daughters had their own photo call, too.

Do they get Maltesers every time Daddy rides a winner?

'I thought he was a good thing today.

Nailed on, ' said Bridgy. 'I know you had to be a brave man to say that but at home he jumps everything - poles, barrels, tyres - and even I can't get him to make a mistake. …

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