Magazine article The Spectator

Cheltenham Cracker

Magazine article The Spectator

Cheltenham Cracker

Article excerpt

But, Daddy,' she wailed, `my name isn't Eileen.' Listening to the mobile phone chorus from those of us who had rashly entrusted -ourselves to Great Western trains at Paddington to get to Cheltenham's Open 2000 meeting, hers was the most poignant cry.

Travellers all about me, faced by a 45minute wait at Swindon, a coach ride to Gloucester and another train on to Cheltenham, where we would arrive for the third race if we were lucky, were busily unscrambling their arrangements and reassigning their assignations. But it was 'I'm-- not-called-Eileen' for whom I felt real sympathy. I mean we have all forgotten the odd birthday (the way to remember your wife's birthday, they say, is to forget it once), but to forget your own child's name after some 18 years - what could the explanation be? So many children he simply could not muster an accurate roll-call? A scattering of progeny from too many marriages? Or was 'Daddy' perhaps one of the sugar variety who'd simply got the wrong weekend with the wrong young brunette?

Having myself been christened Robin and then registered as Robert by a forgetful father, I had a special sympathy. Hatchet-faced officials in one-party states or at the White House gates don't take kindly to a passport which bears one name and a press card with another. But at least he knows what to call me.

Anyway, being due at a book-signing for Valley of The Racehorse, I shared a taxi from Swindon (thank you, Clare and Lee) and made it for the opening race. It was worth the expense for a cracking day's racing. After the first, when Norman Williamson on Kadarann and Tony McCoy on Montreal battled all the way up the hill, I thought we would not see a better finish all season. Only to revise my opinion after the third, when there was an even more pulsating struggle between the talented young amateur Tom Scudamore on Maid Equal and Richard Johnson on Flying Gunner.

It made it all the more absurd that Robert Ogden's Fadalko, the top weight and ante-post favourite, should have been pulled out of the day's big race, the Thomas Pink Gold Cup, on the grounds that there was not a suitable jockey available. On the flat the talent may be stretched a bit thin these days, but over jumps we currently have a host of good riders. I am second to none in my admiration for the injured Mick Fitzgerald, who was to have ridden Fadalko, but he is not literally irreplaceable. …

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