Letters from Cheltenham…
• Dear Ian, Simon and everyone at Cheltenham,
Thank you yet again for four fabulous days of racing. Four days is enough. No more.
– Full Plate
• Dear Amateur Riders,
Sorry about all the negative responses to your rides and races. Some of it was your fault but a lot of it is our fault, for creating situations where failure is imminent. As my wife, Annie, said a few years ago when she saw the National Hunt Chase, “Novices, Amateurs, 4 miles, soft ground – even I know that doesn’t make sense.” We shouldn’t take away the opportunities but we should try to tweak the opportunities, creating less chance for failure.
– Logical Thinking
• Dear Owners, trainers, jockeys, management, fans,
Don’t say, “It’s part of the game,” when a horse is injured or dies. It reads and sounds like we think it’s OK, like we’re brushing it off, like dealing with traffic on the commute into London. Yes, it’s part of the game but follow it up. “It’s part of the game that no one ever gets used to…It’s part of the game that breaks your heart…It’s part of the game that we wrestle with every day of our lives…”
– Soft Spoken
• Dear Allaho,
I knew you when. When you were a novice hurdler, giving the outside to no one, loping and staying, long before you won the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
• Dear Thistlecrack,
No one noticed, but your leap in front of the stands with a circuit to go in the Gold Cup was better than any during the week. I sang the notes of “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good, once, as I ever was,” as you flew through the air.
– Latitude and Longitude
• Dear Hazel Hill,
Thanks for restoring point-to-point form to the top of the Foxhunter’s.
– Old School
• Dear Pacha,
Enjoy retirement. Well deserved.
• Dear Andrew,
Congratulations on Paisley Park’s win in the Stayers’ Hurdle. They say seeing is believing, you proved, one can see in many different ways.
– Heart Warming
• Dear British-breds,
You’ve got a problem.
– Foreign Raid
• Dear Davy,
Sorry you didn’t win a race for the first time in however many years at Cheltenham and sorry I got nervous when I asked you to sign my photos before racing. You’ll be back.
– Still Awed
• Dear Ben Case,
Well deserved. Your peers were never happier all week than when Croco Bay upset the Grand Annual. You can always tell the difference between outsider’s joy and appreciation and insider’s joy and appreciation.
– One for the Little Guys
• Dear Jonjo Jr.,
If you learn anything from your father, keep smiling, keep treating people the right way and keep kicking. And, oh yeah, we’ll see you at the top.
– The Beginning
• Dear Tobefair,
Sorry, but we had to look you up. Can you believe that? Two years ago, you were the rage, the horse who climbed up the handicap ranks, the horse who won seven in a row, the horse who was bought by the pub, the horse from the other side of the tracks. This year, when you came storming up the hill to grab second (spoiling my exacta) in the Pertemps Final, we asked, “Who the hell is Tobefair?” Sorry, brother.
– How Quickly we Forget
• Dear Jedd, Caron and Paul,
Way to keep the faith in Sam and Joe.
– Nearly There
• Dear Nick,
Nice work, yet again. You show up with a few precise darts at Cheltenham each year and always deliver.
– Under the Radar
• Dear Monday Morning Race Riders,
Yes, Annie Power and Benie Des Dieux fell at the last hurdle with the race in the bag for the same jockey, same trainer and same owner, but the mistakes weren’t the same. Annie thought about going long and didn’t do it. Benie went long and couldn’t land it. Inexplicable, yes. Similar, no. And, Ruby, you’re still the greatest we’ve ever known.
– Polar Opposites
• Dear Roksana,
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
– Picking up the Pieces
• Dear Noel,
Congratulations on a great career. The Honor Guard was worthy. And, as I told A.P. when he retired, don’t wonder what will replace being a jump jockey. Nothing will replace it. Look for something that will challenge you, stimulate you, confound you, but don’t look for something that will replace being a jump jockey. That won’t happen and the longer you look, the longer you’ll yearn.
– Rest Easy
• Sir Erec,
You had us at hello. And crushed us at goodbye. Sorry, old friend.
• Dear Jonathan Burke,
Get up. Stand up. Kick on.
– Down but not Out
We have not lost faith. See you in the fall.
• Dear A Plus Tard,
You were the best young horse I saw all week.
– Sky’s the Limit
• Dear Silver Streak,
I noticed you when you were rated 96 and my American clients said you weren’t good enough. Thanks for the each-way bet in the Champion Hurdle.
– First Love
• Dear Mark,
Who was in the navy coat, two rows deep along the outside rail that elicited a high five of emotion from you after the Champion Hurdle?
– Just wondering
• Dear Apple’s Jade,
Take March off next year.
– Not for You
• Dear Wicklow Brave,
– Honored Again
• Dear Altior,
You’re the only horse in the world I can recognize by your tail. Well, I guess, the same goes for all your rivals over the last 18 races.
– Seeing Gray
• Dear Gigginstown and Gordon,
Sorry you didn’t win as many this year, but for the health of the game, it’s better spread out.
– Everybody’s A Winner
• Dear Tiger Roll,
You have set the bar so high for yourself that your exploits have almost become mundane. I know, you, mundane. Imagine.
– Four and Counting
• Dear Racing,
Stand up for the game, have faith in the game, stop making excuses and operating from your back foot but, also, don’t be vitriolic in your response to the detractors. Stand up, jab, counter punch, stay in the ring but don’t throw roundhouses without precision. That doesn’t work.
– Be Tactical
• Dear Bryony, Lizzie and Rachael,
When historians look back and wonder when it all changed for women jockeys, when they simply became jockeys, it is now. Because of you.
– Women Liberated
• Dear Paul,
The best fail. The best rise. Your mistake when veering right and missing the last fence on Al Boum Photo at Punchestown in April was a moment of reckoning. You took responsibility, handled it and came back to slay all dragons in the Cheltenham Gold Cup 11 months later on the same horse for the same connections. It’s a lesson for all of us.
– Confidence Restored
• Originally published in The Irish Field.