APPARENTLY, ‘Cheltenham fever’ isn't what I thought it was.
Turns out it's not a brief bout of hysteria in the build-up to the big meeting but a very real affliction – and there is one noticeable symptom which is hard to treat.
Keep an eye out, as those suffering from it want a FIFTH day added to the Festival.
Those poor souls, they have lost their minds. Let’s keep them in our thoughts.
A fifth day would be great for the owners of Cheltenham racecourse – an additional afternoon would bring in millions of pounds.
But they would be the only winners, the rest of the sport and its fans would be losers.
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The Festival is meant to be the pinnacle of the jumping game, where the best meet the best and true champions are crowned.
Since the meeting was extended to four days back in 2005, the overall quality has been in a gradual decline.
Sure, we’ve had plenty of brilliant clashes since then, but the horse population is dwindling, and for years breeders have struggled to keep up with demand.
We have reached a point, especially in this country, where there just aren’t enough good horses to fill out the Festival’s 28 races.
Field sizes in graded races have been abysmal all winter, and a brief glance through the entries for next week’s meeting will tell you all you need to know.
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Some of the Grade 1 fields are going to be tiny, and the meeting is in increasing danger of becoming a Mullins and Elliott benefit.
There were a record number of odds-on favourites (seven) at the 2021 Festival and there is every chance that could be surpassed this year.
Cheltenham should be a byword for quality and fierce competition, but there just aren’t the numbers to sustain a top-class product at present – let alone if there were more races added.
There were just 20 races when the meeting was held over three days, and I think it’s hard to argue that the additional eight contests have added anything to the Festival as a spectacle.
If I wasn’t working next week, I would take advantage of a lull at the bar during the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle or the Fred Winter. There are several races that just don't float my boat.
Four days is plenty – I for one don't enjoy a string of odds-on coronations and it would be a crying shame were racing’s greatest product further diluted.
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Anyway, enough of the moan-up. Believe it or not, I am actually looking forward to next week.
In this age of big yard domination, the cracking stories are a little harder to find, but there are some good’uns if you look hard enough.
None more so than Tommy’s Oscar, who runs for pensioners Ian and Ann Hamilton in the Champion Hurdle.
They have just four horses in training but they go to the Festival with a lively outsider in one of the championship events.
If you’re not cheering on Tommy, you’re doing it wrong.
Every man and his dog is looking forward to the rematch between Shishkin and Energumene.
I think it’ll be nip and tuck, just like it was when they locked horns at Ascot, but the Cheltenham hill is Shishkin’s secret weapon and I reckon he will do the business.
The roof nearly came off the old place when Paisley Park won the Cleeve Hurdle on Festival Trials Day.
If he can regain his Stayers’ crown there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
And the Gold Cup is the Gold Cup, nothing gets the juices flowing like the 3m2f blue riband.
Al Boum Photo could emulate the great Best Mate if he wins the race for a third time, and he has to have a squeak in an open-looking year.
But the best story of all? You lot. Having the fans back after two years away. No doubt that roar will have a little extra 'oomph' on Tuesday.
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