Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Born in Cheltenham. . .

The Cheltenham Tourist office will not like me to say this, but if it wasn't for the racing, frankly I can't see any reason why I would have ever visited Cheltenham!

But yes there is one place I am glad I visited during race week in 2002. A house not far from the Cotswold Grange Hotel, which was the birthplace of the composer Gustav Holst, of The Planets Suite fame.

It's a simple late nineteenth century terraced house, of about three floors. It has been restored in the style of what a house would have looked like around the beginning of the twentieth century. There is a grand piano in the sitting room, and there are occasional concerts there.

But the most interesting item in the house is on one of the upstairs landings; it is in a frame on the wall. It is a legal document allowing the man himself to change his name, and is dated September 1918 (definitely late 1918 - I think it was September!).

It's true - Gustav Holst was NOT his real name.

Guess what his REAL name was?? Remember he changed it in 1918!

His real name was GUSTAV VON HOLST.

Can you imagine why he changed it???

Cheltenham Festival 2005

I am in Dublin, watching the racing on the box this week; it's far less expensive, it's much warmer, more comfortable, plus I don't have to queue to get a drink, a bite to eat, or visit the bathroom. I was able to actually sit down while eating my (home-made) lunch.

So do I miss not being there in the flesh? Yes!!

I used to go regularly. In 2002, I decided to actually stay, for the first time, in the town of Cheltenham itself, and I was lucky that Walter Greacen arranged the Cotswold Grange Hotel for me. I can honestly say that next time I go to the Festival, if I cannot get the CGH, I will seriously consider not going. It's only about half an hour walk from the course. My preference would be to get the bus up the hill to the course, and walk back in the evening - weather permitting of course!!

So within 40/45 minutes of leaving the course, I can be sitting down enjoying the first course of dinner!! In previous years, staying in farther away (and cheaper) places, it could take an hour and a half to get back to base.

I have gone back to the CGH since then; I have always had an enthusiastic welcome from Paul Weaver and his friendly team; there's porridge on the menu in the morning, and it's a reasonably walk to the Prom and the town centre. The only disadvantage is that it is a good distance from the train station.

After the 2002 Festival, when I backed See More Business each way for the Gold Cup and got a return, I knew this had been the best and most enjoyable Festival for me. But demand drives up prices, and as I was paying a mortgage within four months of the Festival, circumstances have changed.

I must add I do not own shares in the Cotswold Grange Hotel!! And I am not being paid to write this!!

Now I admit in advance that I did nap Spot The Difference (witnesses to this were at the preview evening in the Mansion House last Saturday night!), though I did not have my money on!! Unfortunately, my cash is too big a weight for any horse to carry.

Yes, I did get a great buzz from watching Moscow Flyer win today - it would have made interesting reading to have a machine beside me measuring my pulse rate.

But we must admit that, in the general scheme of world sport, National Hunt racing is a small player. I did notice Tuesday evening, on CNN's World Sport programme, that coverage was given to Hardy Eustace, and a clip of him was used to close the programme.

When you watch CNN, they have a running news ticker along the bottom of the screen displaying news, sports, and business headlines; about two weeks ago an English horseracing story made what they call the "Sportbar". No, it wasn't a big race result; it was reference to the arrest of Giles Parkin on suspicion of race-fixing!!

Friday we will have the Gold Cup, if there are any horses left in the field!! My tip? Up until Monday I would have said Kingscliff. Let's wait until Friday to see which horses actually make it to the starting gate!!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Grand National 2005

Saturday 9th April sees what is, for me, probably the biggest sporting event of the year - the Grand National at Liverpool.

I have never been to Aintree - not yet. I am worried that I might enjoy the race far less live than on TV; and I fear I could be right.

Let me state here and now that I have never backed the winner of the race, because I have never had a bet on it. However, I did tip both West Tip and Maori Venture in advance.

When the weights originally came out, the first horse to catch my eye was Silver Birch. Now that he is out my next fancies are Forest Gunner and Hedgehunter.

But don't blame me if you don't pick the winner!