The Inside Rail

This from my friend George Baker, who serves as my eyes - the words - from Cheltenham this year. So good. 

Rolling down off the stands...came a noise that is impossible to describe. I will try. And I will not do the moment justice. The "moment" coming midway through a golden spring afternoon that will live long in the memory of those of us who are lucky to now say, "we were there"...

The big black horse that is Sprinter Sacre had us in his thrall. But that was not last year. It was years ago. The great horses come along once in a generation. Frankel is my "once in a generation" horse. Sprinter Sacre played with our emotions, touched the heights, but then showed that he was flawed. And not invincible. We had hoped. We had believed. But, through no fault of his, the vagaries of health and good luck had let him down, and attached to his potential greatness was now the moniker of "what might have been..."

But then, on a grey afternoon late last year that offered little in terms of real hope, we witnessed a moment that will live with me forever. Nico de Boinville let out half an inch of rein, and Sprinter gave us a "wow" moment. But not in the cauldron that is the Festival. A quieter day. An autumn afternoon that meant something, but not the everything that is the second week of March...

Tantalising. Surely not ? He cannot be back to his very best. Those days are behind him. Please God he is not humiliated, and tossed onto the huge pile of what might have beens...

To the lawn in front of the massed stands. A glance behind picks out Willie Mullins. Playing with his binoculars. In a way that I recognise so well. Like worry beads, they give hope, but also the mechanics through which the good and the bad days are played out...

Un De Seaux, Ruby poised and motionless, controlled and controlling, the top of the hill, if I had my life to bet it would not be on Sprinter. Nico niggling. Still in touch. But only just. If the bookies still called the odds, they would be going 1/5 the favourite...

And then...

Sprinter still there. Upsides. And then a neck ahead turning for home. Ruby stock still. Has Nico gone too soon ? (more on that just now). And then the moment. The moment. The moment of realisation. He's kicked clear. He's still galloping. They are suddenly walking behind. The noise that we love and adore becomes suddenly rather manic and tribal. This is why we do it. These are the moments that it is a privilege to share. This is the noise....

Up and over the last. I was here for Desert Orchid. I was here for Dawn Run. I can now say I was here for Sprinter Sacre...

Tumbling and rushing and pushing and apologising and smiling and laughing and nearly crying. Into the paddock. Home they come. Ruby steely jawed, a little grey, a little shell shocked. Grown men catching my eye. No words. None needed....

The hero returns. Big black flanks heaving. A thousand, no a million, cellphones capturing the moment...

A roar. A roar I cannot describe. Because it is beyond description. It defies description. It is just something that, if you were not there, I will try to describe to you, but never get within a furlong of doing justice to...

This is why we love this silly sport of ours. This is why I do it. Because I dream of one day having one of these days...

And as darkness fell over the Cotswolds, I sat over a glass of something pretty good in a pub that does "pretty good" pretty well. Reflecting. Enjoying. And then a jockey walked into the room. Looking like a slightly guilty schoolboy. And Nico told me the tale. And I hung on every word. And I can now forever say that I was there....

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