Welcome to England

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The wind whips. The tea is strong. Wolverhampton replays on the telly. A jumper, an all-weather specialist and a couple of spring turf hopes canter past the window. A retired greyhound begs for a sausage. The butter sits on the counter. The bread, the milk, too. The door sways in the wind. The Aga warms the room. Racing Posts, a tweed jacket, Cheltenham hats wait in boxes on the table.

My favorite country.

Off to Plumpton (a first) and Kempton (a first for all-weather racing) and then a dinner party in the Cotswolds tonight. We’ll be late but we’ll be there. As for tomorrow, four days of sport, of drama, await.

Hoping for a win picture with Steel Bob, Princesse Bassett and/or Mamillius and my great friend, George Baker. We met when Gus Brown was a jockey, riding out at Paul Webber’s so many years ago. We ripped across the country looking for rides for Gus and stories for me. I remember seeing my name in the Racing Post, my byline, eight times during the trip, that was big for me. So big, then. So gone, now. The game, the world, has changed.

Working as an agent and a writer, I had brought my boots and helmet but didn’t expect – want – to use them. Paul Webber wasn’t going for that, he put my name next to Patricksnineteenth, first set, first day. I thought they all went like the long-striding, kind, stamp of a horse, I think of him often, just what a good horse should look like, feel like. Through his eye, you could see his soul. Paul gave Gus a ride on Harpoon at Ludlow, didn’t amount to much and we hustled another seven rides during the foray, of course, the pinnacle being Saitensohn at Cheltenham. Have I told you that story?

Ah, so many years ago.

If life is about taking chances and seeking experiences, well it should be about taking chances and seeking experiences, then taking the risk and coming to England was a good one. If, at the very least, it was to help bolster lifelong friendships with George and Candida Baker, Pat and Valerie Murphy, Richard and Pauline Hutchinson…well, then it was one of the best ones. That trip hooked me on England – the land, the racing, the ethos.

My first Cheltenham was in 2002 and we’ve been going strong ever since (one blip in 2016 because of a bad neck). Each one is different, each one is the same and all come down to horses and friends. Moscow Flyer, Best Mate, and Kauto Star. AP, JP and JT. Ruby, Barry and Davy. Willie and Nicky. Tiger Roll and Tully East. Like Saratoga, Cheltenham marks the passage of time. A year of our lives are gone, a few friends, too. Tomorrow, there will be the roar and the ruckus, there will be punts and pints, there will be horses and heroes. Through it all, I’ll take a moment, realizing, respecting, that a year has come and gone.

  • A few to watch today: Shantung at Plumpton, Belle Empress at Stratford. Nayati at Stratford. As for tomorrow, well, I’ve got a few bombers at big prices, a few old friends who I’ll root for and a few bankers who will make or break someone’s week.