Firstly I must apologise that it has taken me til Sunday to write this - I've had my first event of the season this weekend so have been frantically trying to get two horses ready, kit organised, tests learnt, courses walked, parents briefed on how to behave - usual stuff. All in all I decided to grant myself the luxury of an extra couple of days to write this.
The last day of the festival dawned grey, but as soon as you entered the racecourse you could feel the excitement and expectation had gone up a gear. The first feature on the coverage that day was an interview with the clerk of the course Simon Claisse by the final fence. All the presenters went down there to discuss the final days racing and I tagged along as usual, and as usual it felt slightly unreal that I was able to do so! Post interview Dave Farrar had arranged for me to meet up with the owner of a company that puts together video packages of various stories and sells them to different media outlets. This was a very beneficial meeting as he asked if I could do some work for them over the summer. Networking continues!
First race of the day we watched from in front of the main stand. It was a cracking race with Barizan having to be ridden hell for leather to try to shake off his rivals most of whom were former flat racers so very quick. Although at one point he was over 15 lengths ahead the poor boy couldn't maintain it up the hill and Barry Geraghty encouraged Soldatino past him to win. But it set the stage perfectly for the rest of the afternoon.
In the second it was great to see Katie Walsh win again and the stands erupted when she did so even though the horse wasn't particularly fancied. By this point everything was gearing towards the Gold Cup and even though the much admired Tell Massini gave punters' pockets a bashing when he came "nowhere-in-particular" in the Novices' Hurdle I was so excited about being able to cover the big race I didn't really pay much attention to it (although from the agonised groans of many a race goer I was rather alone in that!).
And so the Gold Cup had finally arrived and I was able to experience the pinnacle of British racing at as close a hand as I could get without actually riding in it! The whole experience was incredible - first we went into the pre-parade ring where all the runners were being led around - I was in my element here as it was a chance to observe truly quality horse flesh at the closest quarters. Kauto looked every inch the athlete he is always described to be. He is a stunningly beautiful horse and it was hard to see any of the others beating him on their parading appearances alone. Denman also looked glorious, his chest is massive and you can see how he gets his "Tank" nickname. In fact all the Paul Nicholls horses looked in peak condition - even though they didn't feature greatly in this race, he really knows how to get them looking fabulous in their coats and so relaxed. But just to be irritating and to stay in my equestrian paradise a little while longer the one that really caught my eye was Calgary Bay. He looked like he could equally be about to perform a dressage test or hop round a cross country course as to perform in the greatest race in the world.
We then followed the horses under the bridge to the main parade ring. It was like going into a different world as there were people everywhere compared to the pre-parade ring where it had been relatively quiet. We managed to get through the crowds and were able to make it right onto the racecourse by the last jump where only the photographers usually go. As soon as the race started you could tell Kauto was just not getting into his usual rhythm and after his first mistake, which Ruby Walsh was absolutely amazing to sit to, he didn't look strong and he was so lucky to walk away from that horrendous fall that 9 times out of 10 would have had devastating consequences. When he got up I hope the feeling among punters was more "thank god" than "he lost me X amount of money". But then maybe I'm just naive. Anyway the race was still being thrashed out between Denman and Imperial Commander. Although I am a mega Denman fan, Imperial ran such a confident, smooth race that he really did deserve this accolade as did Paddy Brennan and the Twiston - Davies team. Anyway, after the race had finished we nipped back over to the walkway to follow the horses up into the parade ring. It was fascinating to be able to follow these horses on the part of their days journey in the public eye, and whilst there was the niggling feeling that had it been one of the big two that won, the roof would have come off, Imperial Commander was the thoroughly deserving champion on the day.
After the Gold Cup there was a rather interesting interview with Nigel TD in which he made a very barbed comment at the hype surrounding the Denman and Kauto Star anticipated showdown. The way the interviewer dealt with that was useful to listen to and there were certainly some tips to pick up from it. The Christie's Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup was the next race and this saw the Gloucestershire trainer notch up a double when his son Sam (who I jumped in a pony club team with in 2006!) won on Baby Run. The yard capped off their tremendous afternoon when the 7 year old Pigeon Island won the final race of the day. It was great to see a local trainer doing so well and their excitement was infectious. However by this time it had got very wet and very cold, but Team Timeform soldiered on, although it was very nice to get a hot drink at the end of the day!
The whole week was one of the best of my life. I picked up so much about the presenting side of the coverage and also got well and truly bitten by the racing bug. I have made some great contacts which I intend to pursue in the near future, and also am aiming to learn as much about jump racing as I possibly can before I go to another meeting. Even though this is only the very beginning of my experience in journalism it has given me a massive hunger to follow the career, gaining as much experience as I possibly can along the way.
Until my next chapter of shadowing comes along, take care and don't fall off!