Welcome back to England. Cheltenham looms.
Bedded down at Robins Farm, Team Baker’s fourth and final yard. I’ve managed to hit all four bases on their diamond. Far Westfields, where I breezed 2-year-olds, fledgling at best, but a good ramp. Whitsbury, where head lad Daigo Crofts looked at me at the gallop and said, “You’re not the first American to ride out here, you’re the third. Cash Asmussen and Steve Cauthen.” The one and only Manton, sadly, the last drops in a dry bottle. And now at a yard they own, back home for George. I admire their moxie of hanging their shingle and letting the wind whip it or secure it. There is risk and there is calculated risk, I wasn’t sure which one they were meddling with 10 years ago. But here they are, a Royal Ascot photo on the wall, still living the dream.
Great hosts. Dear friends.
The annual pre-Cheltenham Sunday lunch with Highclere, hosted by Ma Baker, who delivered a perfect meal on a perfect day. Jet lag trying to hang tough, but the energy of Cheltenham vanquishing it like a beaten favorite in the first.
Sunday night, reruns of Desert Orchid and Dawn Run played on the TV in the kitchen, the silken touch of Simon Sherwood eking out 3 1/4 miles on the indefatigable Desert Orchid and the relentless drive of Jonjo O’Neill galvanizing an equally relentless Dawn Run. Legends. There are replays that make you stop what you’re doing, no matter how many times you’ve seen them. At home, Secretariat, the tremendous machine in the Belmont Stakes, of course. Affirmed and Alydar in the Belmont. Perhaps there are others. Here, it’s always Desert Orchid and Dawn Run winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, overcoming the impossible. Satisfying souls and sparking dreams.
Monday morning, the calm before the storm. I have found a desk and a view. There is nothing like the office of a British racing yard – part engine room, part pub – two greyhounds huddle on disheveled couch, Jezki at Leopardstown plays in the background, George hammers at his blog, a runner in France waits for an afternoon race, the rain continues to torture and the horses saunter past the window. Like, right outside the window, you can pour your cereal and clock one going 5 furlongs up the hill, can’t beat that. And, if you’re wondering, I’m pouring cereal, not riding out.
As for Cheltenham, the conversation starts and ends with the ground. Overnight rain has ticked the description to heavy, soft in places. That’s rare for Cheltenham where usually the conversation surrounds whether Simon Claisse and his team are going to water the ground. They won’t turn a nob this week. None of this helps Valdez, who abhors heavy ground, we’ll wait and see how the week plays out before we make any decisions, guess, that’s the good part of being in the last race on the last day.
• Watch Desert Orchid win the Gold Cup.
• Watch Dawn Run win the Gold Cup.