Hope it's not too late as Cheltenham finally acknowledges dreaded C-word
In Cheltenham, they've barely even mentioned a word.
Ten years ago, this would have been heaven.
Cheltenham week and all the excitement it brings...suddenly schools are off and the racing is a distant dream no more. It's time for the bookie office, the old Morning Line, any podcast you can find, it's the greatest week of the year and every day is just a countdown, until that inimitable 1.30 roar.
From then on, it's game-time. The games are off everywhere else.
The GAA have pulled the plug, the Premier League - with Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson Odoi stricken, are out for the foreseeable. In fact, apart from Pretsbury Park, the only competition worth following these days is the fight for the last toilet roll in Aldi. Apparently they've been reduced to stealing out of fellow competitors' trolleys in the German supermarket. What shameless antics, at least wait until their back is turned.
Somehow, Cheltenham just keeps rocking on through the blizzard though. The Gloucestershire town might be a good place to stock up on toiletries!
With a nonchalant nod and a rebellious smile, the 100'000 or so horse-racing fans who have descended on the Cotswolds this week are in the eye of the storm and they don't even know it. They could be ostracised on return.
Having been working from home all week, it has been like some sort of far-fetched fantasy from a long-ago land. Barely a beat of the build-up missed, from Gary O'Brien's unparalleled expertise and assuring voice of reason on Racing TV, to Matt Chapman's barking madness on ITV. In school, it'd be made worse thinking about all your missing but ten years on and with Corona-virus sweeping the world, you're in a different place.
You're hanging on a mention of the word, but the thing hasn't even been given air-time. Has anyone told them?
The brilliant Nick Luck has been on form but in two days presenting on Racing TV, the man has only mentioned the 'C-word' once, and that was when announcing that Irish racing was to be behind closed doors for a couple of weeks.
'What's their problem?' - You could almost hear the dissenting British voices.
Jockeys, trainers, owners, breeders, punters, grooms - there are way too many interviews in fairness - have all been in front of the camera but not one of them had been asked or tackled about the virus that has Ireland and most of Europe on lock-down.
And so the show goes on, business as usual in Cheltenham through Tuesday and into Wednesday, Thursday. Gordon Elliott is still racking up winners like nobody's business and this outside noise doesn't appear to have registered, even with the thoughtful ones like Willie Mullins, Elliott and the educated punters, who are more concerned about what the softening ground will do to their tenner in the next.
It's a rather messy situation that has got even messier as the week has gone on, with Cheltenham goers taking flak, left, right and centre from those at home and those far away. It would be remiss to blame the punter though - it wasn't their decision for Cheltenham to go ahead.
That responsibility clearly rests with the powers that be and when you see the disorganised chaos in Tesco, Aldi and SuperValu these last few days, it re-affirms the belief that if you let them in, wild they will go. Crowds haven't been down much in the grandstands.
But somewhere in the middle of Samcro's duel of the festival with Melon, some time after watching the wonderful Rachael Blackmore steer Honeysuckle a triumph in the Mare's, reality dawned on some.
As renowned horse racing journalist Kevin Blake said, the 'racing bubble' is an enthralling place but sometimes you just have to take a step back and listen.
"This has been an uncomfortable week in there," he said.
Got home late last night after leaving Cheltenham a day earlier than planned. I usually couldn’t be happier within our racing bubble, but this has been an uncomfortable week in there. I really hope the fears prove to be unwarranted. A quiet couple of weeks at home awaits.
— Kevin Blake (@kevinblake2011) March 13, 2020
Come Friday, they were cancelling trips like responsible people. Even Matt Chapman, that mad-man on ITV was saying the festival should have been called off.
Was meant to fly to Cheltenham tonight for Gold Cup Day tomorrow and even though im gutted to miss the trip , lose out on flights, Air BnB and Chelt tickets , think it would be crazy to head over in the current climate, hard decision but the right one i think 😧💔
— Cárthach Bán Breathnach (@cartyban) March 12, 2020
We all just hope it's not too late.