At the races: #VictoriaMustNotFall

18 March 2016 - 02:51 By Mike Moon


When Johnny Cash sang about "the mud, the blood and the beer" he was referring to a bar fight with his pa, but the phrase is up for adaption to the four-day Cheltenham Festival currently on in England. It ain't as posh as Royal Ascot or the Kentucky Derby, but Cheltenham is up there with the biggest race meetings of the world. News photographs pouring out of the Chiltern Hills show what a singular event it is. Royalty, sporting legends, music stars and TV celebs are all there, the hoi polloi backchats the millionaires. Everyone dresses up to excess, punts like hell, drinks like crazy and (later no doubt) shags like there's no tomorrow.Leaping from the photos are vivacious outfits, energy and joy. It might be due to spring's arrival on Mud Island but it's also about the good old-fashioned thrill of horse racing.Of course, danger and controversy are part of the excitement. Jumps racing is perilous, gladiatorial and primal. The flying action gets the adrenaline pumping, as does reckless punting, as does boozing, as does ogling hotties in wild clobber.On the course, legends are made: Arkle, Best Mate, AP McCoy. However, this year the big story is Victoria Pendleton, a British Olympic cycling champion who'll today attempt to complete the prestigious Foxhunter Chase after just a year's training as a jumps jockey - the most taxing job in sport.It's a brilliant marketing ploy by a sponsoring bookmaker, under the slogan #SwitchingSaddles, as the whole of the UK will watch to see what happens to Pendleton as she attempts to guide a nag called Pacha Du Polder over three miles, two furlongs and 70 yards of undulating ground and 22 towering fences.To her credit, Pendleton has brought to the task the tenacity of her cycling career. She's even won a lower division race at Wincanton on Pacha Du Polder - thus convincing officialdom she has enough skill and strength to give Cheltenham a bash without unduly endangering her or her rivals' lives.In a strong field Pacha Du Polder is an absurdly short-priced 16-1, for obvious reasons, but the saddle-shifter is realistic and says it'll be a triumph if she just avoids coming a cropper.The main race today is the Gold Cup, the blue riband of chasing. There's no superstar like Denman or Kauto Star this year, but it is competitive with little separating four on the boards: Don Cossack (3-1), Djakam (7-2), Cue Card (4-1) and Don Poli (9-2).Put on a silly hat, chug some bubbly and plunge on your fancy.The local weekend fare is very low-key with the R100000 Lakeside Handicap at Fairview today the only feature. It looks a straight fight between ultra-consistent, teak-tough Drill Sargeant and improving Arezzo, with Zoo Biscuit a possible surprise off a long break.Have you seen the handy Mo√ęt flute you attach in place of the cork so you can sip straight from the bottle with a dash of Cheltenham chutzpah?

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