Peter Thomas Fornatale is a writer, editor, blogger, horseplayer, fan, you name it. He’s written books for Daily Racing Form Press, Crown and Simon & Schuster, among others. Fornatale’s latest book, The Winning Contest Player, hits the streets Wednesday. He’s a regular contributor to The Horseplayer Magazine, blogs for Twinspires.com and his own site, unbearablebetting.com and tweets @loomsboldly. He’s even got a stint with The Saratoga Special under his belt. And yes, he’s been to the Cheltenham Festival.
First Cheltenham memory?
The 2003 Champion Hurdle. I was in the stands about halfway up the hill and I’d never seen anything like the excitement in the crowd. I vividly recall the woman standing next to me, whose accent to be cockney screaming “FLY, ROOSTER, FLY!” as he made it over the last.
If you could have owned one Cheltenham horse in history … who and why?
With the disclaimer that I am not well-versed in Cheltenham history, I’ll reach for my personal favorite I have seen, Best Mate. So inspired was I by Best Mate’s tremendous achievement of winning three Gold Cups in a row that on the night of his third win, I asked Susan Van Metre, now my wife, to marry me.
Why is it so special?
The atmosphere is just tremendous. There is a palpable connection between the fans and the horses that vibrates throughout Prestbury Park. It’s a celebration of equine athletes and a national holiday. There isn’t anything else quite like it anyway in the world. In addition to what wonderful sport it is, being out there drinking and gambling in the middle of the week, you just feel like you’ve put one over on the world.
What’s your biggest concern/fear regarding Cheltenham?
Probably don’t want to see any more overexpansion at this point. And, of course, there’s always the fear of seeing one of our great heroes get hurt. I love jumps racing and feel that in some ways it gets an unfair rap in terms of safety issues, but watching horses fall is still viscerally sickening.
Name one horse anywhere in the world who should run at Cheltenham. Why?
This is too tough! That said, I would love to see, just out of curiosity, how a top flat stayer would do in a race like the Champion Bumper. Could they stay up the hill? Would experience and class be enough for them to win easily or would breeding find them out?
Best race/moment you’ve experienced there.
Best Mate’s third Gold Cup win was just awesome. Susan and I were pressed up against the rail right at the finish and had a great view of him getting out, making the big run, and holding on. There are many, many contenders for this but that’s my honest answer.
Worst race/moment you’ve experienced there.
Any number of nasty falls could be placed here.
Words of advice for first-time Cheltenham goer.
Get there early, stay hydrated, dress in layers – the weather can be crazy and very changeable. Be prepared for a long day of standing. After the races are over, try to wend your way on foot through the backside up the hill to Prestbury and find the Plough – just about my favorite English pub.
Nap of the meet.
I am just doing my homework now but check in with me on the Twinspires blog for a Monday, March 10 preview and then through the meet as I’ll be live blogging. If history is any indication, we’ll find a winner or two.
Longshot of the meet.