The Inside Rail

I tried this once before. Not by choice, cervical discs causing pain and pausing my Cheltenham run that had begun in 2002. I tell time by horses, it was the year Sprinter Sacre reclaimed his title, I have to look up the actual date. Right, 2016, I wasn’t there. I watched from the couch, the same one I sit on today. And, as you’ll find out later today, it’s not just as good as being there. Not even close. 

I’ll miss seeing the course as we climb over Cleeve Hill and the vista of sport spreads out in front of us, a picnic blanket with a view, the green lanes and white rails, the perpendicularness of the jumps, barriers on the way to immortality. The banners, the choppers, the ticket scalpers and their carboard signs – buy or sell. When Festival Radio crackles to life and the four, five, a dozen in a Land Rover or a football bus know it’s almost here. 

I’ll miss my cherished friends, dissecting form with Matt Coleman, a ‘Hey, what’s happening” from George Baker when I arrive, looking into the winner’s enclosure and finding Richard Hutchinson, in a sea of hats and coats, I can find him in a matter of seconds, stone still, watching the winner heave away the fatigue. I’ll miss my once-a-year friends, recognizing the pattern of their tweed while struggling to recall their names. They know me as simply, ‘Claaaaaaancy.’ They were stunned to learn that nobody calls me Clancy at home. 

I’ll miss the frothy taste of Guinness at the top right side of Guinness Village, we’re always there for an hour or two before the first, huddling in a circle that ebbs and flows with the days, the weather, all week. I haven’t waited for many busses but it’s a little like a bus stop – with Guinness and the gang – we’re waiting for greatness, not the 7:05 to Babington. 

I’ll miss that greatness, the pure effort and ability of the horses, from my first when Istabraq retired and Best Mate emerged to my latest when Al Boum Photo won his second and Epatante won it for the girls. 

I’ll miss the moments, those mad moments. Annie Power at the last. Moscow Flyer down the back. Goshen at the last. The cross country when the French horse wound up with the photographers. Tikram and the patience of Timmy Murphy. Frodon jumping like he was rolling dice and knew the score before he shook them. Tiger Roll and Lisa O’Neill skimming the tops of the fences in the 4-miler. I’ll miss Ruby’s touch – forever now. I’ll miss Davy’s patience – hopefully next year. 

Oh, so many moments, so much magic. I’ll miss it all. 

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