AUTHOR: Star Sports Content


This week, SHARPE MIND is all about CHELTENHAM CHAT…

In this Star Sports blog, read what those who have attended The Festival over the years have to say with sports betting PR legend Graham Sharpe!

After reading this, click here to check out all the rest of our Cheltenham Festival 2023 content!

THE CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL – described once by much-respected racing writer, Alastair Down, as ‘the most uncomfortable, expensive – and successful – sardine convention in the world’ – is an event every racing fan, punter, owner, trainer and jockey has several – or more – opinions about. Here I take a look back at how some of them express those views…

Prior to the 1991 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Jenny Pitman was concerned that her Garrison Savannah may not overcome injury to achieve full fitness before the big race.

A shoulder injury had left the chaser standing still in his box for six weeks, and when one of her owners asked whether the horse would run, Jenny told him tersely ‘If you see him in the paddock.’

He was there and he did win – just – from The Fellow and Desert Orchid in a classic race, but Jenny was selective about who she would talk to from the media about it, declaring ‘I would rather kiss Garrison Savannah’s arse than speak to (BBC TV presenter) Julian Wilson.’

The year before, Welsh trainer Sirrell Griffiths entered a third of his entire stable strength – he had all of three horses in his yard – in the shape of Norton’s Coin, for the Gold Cup. On the big day, one of the visiting locals from the village where the horse was trained, Nantgaredig, approached a rails bookie, and talked him into offering him double the general 100/1 being quoted, by telling him; ‘A man like you, 100/1 – when you can have twice that down the line?’ receiving, in return, a prod in the chest and the the answer: ‘Okay, will 200/1 do you?’ It did. …..’That’s better – give me £60 each-way.’

He got the bet at the price, and the no-hoper romped in, making the villager the best part of fifteen grand better off – although he had to wait nervously until the next Tuesday to collect his winnings, as he’d cleaned the bookie out!

In 1995, trainer Kim Bailey was able to declare: ‘I shall be able to buy the lads a new hostel’ after his 100/30 favourite, Master Oats landed the Gold Cup two days after stable-mate Alderbrook won the Champion Hurdle at 11/2 – both being ridden by Norman Williamson – in just his third race over obstacles. Bailey was strongly rumoured to have won a seven figure sum as a result.

Royal Ascot has tied itself in knots over the years to lay down the law about how racegoers should dress for their meeting – perhaps they should just take a leaf out of Cheltenham’s book – in 2004 the course advised; ‘There is no dress code – we recommend racegoers to dress for the weather.’ Eminently sensible.

But not everything which happens at The Festival can be described as eminently sensible – just ask former jockey, Gaye Armytage, who, while broadcasting live for Sky from the Festival was suddenly heard on air by viewers to exclaim loudly: ‘F*** off!’

Gaye later explained that she had been unexpectedly ‘goosed’ by a passing trainer – ‘I’ve never had my backside pinched so hard before – I was so shocked the swear word just shot out.’

A slightly milder expletive emerged from trainer David Nicholson’s mouth in 2004 when he reacted to to Cheltenham Managing Director, Edward Gillespie’s announcement that the Festival’s Stayers’ Hurdle name was to be changed, because ‘we always thought the word ‘stayers’ implied plodders.’ Responded Nicholson; ‘That’s total bo**ocks.’

Daily Mail racing editor, Marcus Townend called her ‘Hugely popular, a darling of racing and a role model for aspiring female riders’ in 2021 – but four years earlier, jockey Bryony Frost had been almost unknown before she won Cheltenham’s 23 runner Open Hunters’ Chase on 16/1 Pacha Du Polder to announce her arrival on the big stage.

Punter Paul Dean from Stockton-on-Tees stood to win £511,000 from a fiver bet on a five horse Festival accumulator, with four of his selections winning, and the bet running on to 4/9 favourite Envoi Allen in the 2021 Festival’s Novice Chase. His bookie offered him a risk-free £250,000 if he cashed out before the final race.
‘After four hours sleep, I decided to take the partial cash-out offer’ revealed Dean.
Envoi Allen fell.

And the excitement of Cheltenham can leave even the best a little tongue-tied when they try to explain it – here’s Henry de Bromhead on 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Minella Indo: ‘He loves Cheltenham. He grows about six feet when he lands in Cheltenham for some reason, he just loves it there.’ Surely, though, any horse with ten feet would have an unfair advantage over rivals?

Only last year, though, one of the best ever Cheltenham Festival quotes emerged after Rachael Blackmore shared how she felt after becoming the first female jockey to win the Gold Cup, on A Plus Tard: ‘To have that roar and be able to come back when you can’t see space and you can only see bodies is just amazing. It’s the closest thing to feeling like a rock star you’ll ever feel without being able to sing.’

However, back in 1942, the crucial element of BBC Radio’s commentary on the Gold Cup was what WASN’T said, as Frenchie Nicholson-ridden Medoc II won the race – because commentator Raymond Glendenning was mindful that revealing the race was being run in thick fog may have been useful information for foreign enemy sources who were monitoring radio broadcasts.




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