Fantasy Festival: The Talking Hoarse
Thinking it’s unfair that we do all the talking for them, or about them, Jamie Lynch wonders what it would be like if the horses themselves held a Cheltenham preview night ahead of the Festival…
It was Peter Kay who made us aware of our collective banality and predictability when it comes to conversing with taxi drivers, with only the two cards to play: 1) been busy? 2) what time you on 'till? The reason the cutting Kay comment crossed my mind was that, this week, due to my phony-baloney, puffed-up title of Chief Correspondent at Timeform, I've appeared at a few Cheltenham preview nights, and in pre-show chit-chat amongst the panelists, drawn from various walks of the industry, it seemed that, likewise, there are just two go-to questions in anyone's locker: how many of these are you doing, and are you at Cheltenham all week?
The other thought that occured to me was that those who really should be on the panel, either to state their case or, moreover, to defend themselves, never get the chance. Admittedly, the forces of nature and logisitics mean it might be difficult for them to sit on a cabinet and express a coherent opinion, but the horses are all that matters in discussions and all that matters at the Festival, and a panel without the very candidates taking part is like a General Election debate without the current Prime Minister, which would never happen, would it?
So far this week, I've heard Jollyallan is a goat, Tell Us More is a dud, Josses Hill is an idiot, Kings Palace is a ponce, Zarkandar is a dog, Timeform is a mirage, Valseur Lido is a big boat and Don Poli is a bigger boat. True, previews can be - and should be - a free-for-all, open season on all horses with no comebacks and no advocating devils, but imagine a world where the tables were turned and we literally heard from the horses' mouths on an equine-only panel. Just imagine...
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Human & Hounds pub for a Cheltenham preview night like no other, because for the first and perhaps only time the no-holes-barred panel is made up exclusively of horses running at this year's Festival. And what a panel it is:
Some people (yours truly) sweat up and fret up ahead of public speaking, but Faugheen is unnervingly calm and collected, coolness horseonified, down to the shades borrowed from Mr R, as he calls him.
Breeder demeanour, as there's more than a hint of the Dettori about him, almost as if Frankie himself has coached Dodging Bullets how to play it, with a few pre-prepared lines. Chipper and chippy, he's getting the others off the bridle before the talking has begun.
The banker - a wise-cracking Irishman who's always a good value at these events. Past his athletic prime perhaps, but renowned in Ireland and enjoyable whenever he's come over to England. Full of one-liners, full of 'The Craic'.
PEACE AND CO
Different vibe to the others. Young, keen (very keen) yet thoughtful, and while the rest have dressed down, he's as sharp as a tacked-up, cravate and all. Strikingly handsome, and what adds to it is that broken English with the French accent.
A Cheltenham regular, plotting a course each year. Press-ganged into appearing on the back of his (cough) eye-catching prep run, and regarded as a worthy panelist because of his past experience but also to provide the inside line on the Gigginstown party. Moody, though, and clearly doesn't want to be here.
'Introductions over,' says the host, 'let's crack on with the feature race of day one, the Champion Hurdle, and seeing as we've got him here we might as well ask the hot favourite. Faugheen, has Ruby committed to you, yet?'
Faugheen: (smirking) Listen, Ruby can be hard as nails when he wants to be - though I've not yet felt the force of it - but he's also a joker, and whenever he says to me that he might ride The Fly I just laugh and say 'that's fine, Greystuff', cos he knows and I know that I'd win this even if you put Victoria Pendleton up and...
Hidden Cyclone: Tell her she can ride me any day; I'd give her some buckin' ride.
Faugheen: (rolling eyes) Very good. (under breath) Idiot. Look, put it this way: I've seen all the videos of The New One, I've seen The Fly every day at Closutton and I've seen The Fly swat away away Jezki all season, and I sleep well. I sleep very well.
'What do you think of the Champion Hurdle, DB?'
Dodging Bullets: I took the p*ss out of Sam for a week the day he got off me to go and ride that yak The New One at Haydock when Noel gave me a peach at Ascot. He's lucky I'm letting him back on at Che...
Hidden Cyclone: He's lucky anyone's putting him on at Cheltenham.
Faugheen shoots HC another look.
Peace And Co: I am very happy to be watching Faugheen. For me he is idol. Maybe next year we race, but now I just watch. I joke that I win Prosecco Hurdle on Friday but he win Champagne Hurdle on Tuesday, non?
'And Edeymi, what's your view on the race?'
Edeymi: I'm just here so I won't get fined.
'Okay then. Moving onto the Wednesday and the Champion Chase, we'll start with you, Hidden Cyclone, because you've decided to swerve this in favour of the Ryanair. Tell us why.'
Hidden Cyclone: If you think I'm worried about this little fella here (points at Dodging Bullets) then you've got wrong, cos we can go outside now if you wanna see who'd win that battle. And, by the way, if this really is a no-holes-barred panel then why isn't Sprinter here, cos he's got the biggest hole going. But they're dropping like flies in the Ryanair and me and Sharkey had a chat and decided that was the best way to go. Plus, the last thing anyone wants is to see O'Leary winning his own buckin' money. What d'ya reckon Edeymi?
Edeymi: I'm just here so I won't get fined.
Dodging Bullets: I'm in a great position with nothing to lose and everything to gain. I didn't think I was up to it but, night after night, Paul would sit me down and talk me up, saying stuff like 'Sprinter's gone at the game' and 'you're way better than Grugy'. I know he does it to Moley too but I still feel special. I can't wait.
'Have you spoken to Champagne Fever about the race, Faugheen?'
Faugheen: To be honest, Champagne Fever is the one horse in the yard you'd steer clear of, so you would. He's a bit of a loose cannon around the place. But the worse his mood the better his form, and he's one nasty b@stard right now, so you (looks at Dodging Bullets) be careful.
'Peace And Co might be able to tell us how Sprinter Sacre is.'
Hidden Cyclone: Ah sure what does the pretty boy know? I'm surprised he's even allowed out, given Nicky's bubble-wrap regime. Then again, we are in a pub I suppose.
Peace And Co: Sprinter is beautiful horse. He look good and say he feel good. Sprinter is only one who does same times as me at home. Mr Nicky swear a lot when he's around him but I think this means good. Other day he come to me and say his heart racing and wind bad, but Sprinter say Mr Nicky often like that.
Two hours (of much of the same) later...
'Right, to end proceedings, it's time for the panel's charity bets.'
Hidden Cyclone: Boring.
Faugheen: I haven't finished yet. Me. By more than 10 lengths.
Dodging Bullets: Frankie told me not to tempt fate, so I'll go for the one there'll all buzzing about at home, Aux Ptits Soins.
Hidden Cyclone: 3/1 Ireland for the Prestbury Cup. We'll batter yez.
Peace And Co: I like double on Faugheen and me, s'il vouz plait.
Edeymi: (the worse for wear by now) Roi des Francs is a buckin' certainty.