Racing fan Matthew Sutcliffe enjoys a moment of history at Cheltenham.
The Cheltenham Festival – and the Gold Cup, in particular - is considered the pinnacle of British National Hunt racing. I had never been to Cheltenham before so, as a keen racing fan, it’s fair to say I was excited about my first visit.
To put it bluntly, my expectations were completely blown out of the water. I had heard about the famous ‘Cheltenham roar’, but when the Brown Advisory Novices’ chase began, nothing could prepare me for the deafening sound of 70,000 people cheering the jockeys on. It struck me how dauntingly quiet it must have been for them in 2021 when there were no crowds, no sea of tweed hats, chequered suits and flamboyant dresses, just emptiness.
I watched the race just opposite the two furlong marker, so could see the horses jump the last two hurdles and fences in the straight before storming up the hill to victory. The elegance of every jump was poetic, the thudding sound of countless hooves romping up the straight shook the ground, and the whole view of the bowl-like course was breath taking.
I thought nothing could match that occasion; that is, until Gold Cup Friday. It’s a day every racing fan dreams of. It was beyond incredible. The sheer brilliance of Rachel Blackmore and A Plus Tard sauntering up the Cheltenham Hill in glorious sunshine to the roar of the delighted punters. The historic moment when Blackmore became the first woman to win the Gold Cup as well as the first jockey since AP McCoy to win both the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle in the same year.
It was one of those historic sporting moments which leave you speechless. I was in the presence of a true National Hunt hero. I was in awe at the reception Rachael Blackmore received as thousands of people applauded her magnificent victory.
It was a moment that I hope encourages more people – and women, in particular - to become involved with racing. That’s what sport is all about, admiration and enjoyment; and frankly, after the time we’ve all had during Covid, we deserve some enjoyment.
I won’t ever forget my Cheltenham experience. It reminded me of the pride and passion many of us feel towards racing.
That’s why, like millions of people this weekend, I’ll be glued to the TV watching the Grand National. Racing is in Britain’s blood. The sport of kings has become the king of sports.