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The good, the bad and the just plain bizarre - we had them all.

Byline: Rodney Masters

Posthumous award for a champion in all but name

Depressing, but this must come first. Valiramix. It was merely a question over his winning distance, six lengths . . . seven lengths, and how many seasons he was likely to retain the crown-two, perhaps three? For some racegoers, the tragedy instantly soured a Festival they'd looked forward to for so long. Tony McCoy, Martin Pipe, and all connected with the brilliant grey looked crushed. How we felt such desperate sorrow for elderly owner Jim Weeden who, a few days earlier, had said he lived for the horse.


As a small crowd waited patiently in darkness outside the stable block for the arrival of Istabraq on the eve of the meeting, an old-fashioned horsebox not much larger than a bread van pootled up, with Guillaume Macaire's jockeys Jacques Ricou and Benoit Giquel, one driving, the other navigating with maps sprawled across the cab. After unloading Jair du Cochet and Japhet, they returned to unpack other equipment, rugs, brushes and saddles before spending half an hour sweeping out the box. "I rather doubt McCoy and Johnson are required to do that," observed one onlooker. For Ricou, there was to be a whip-lashing from the trainer for making too much use of Jair du Cochet in the Stayers' Hurdle.

Marion Jones gold medal

No need for starting blocks or spikes for Henrietta Knight as she sprinted out of the mini tent behind the weighing room where she had viewed Best Mate's win on television. It was just a shame nobody had a stopwatch to time her over the first 100 metres.

Can do better, must do better

Magnus, whose presence under 12st in the Coral Eurobet Cup considerably suppressed the weights. His performance led to Martin Pipe-who had five others in the race, including 25-1 winner Ilnamar-being fined pounds 2,000 after the stewards decided the horse had not run on its merits. Jockey Barry Geraghty was banned for 12 days and Magnus, at pounds 340,000 the most expensive jumper bought at public auction, was suspended for 40 days.

The alternative Best Mate award

It seems Real Madrid's Steve McManaman and AP McCoy are as thick as thieves. The England international keeps in touch with the champion jockey on a regular basis, talking on the telephone at least three times a week, and is an avid viewer of SIS in his apartment in Spain's capital. McManaman, who owns a number of horses with Martin Pipe, including Arkle runner-up Seebald, says: "We're good friends. I trust him completely. God bless him, he knows everything about everything."

The Lancet award for short-term illness

McManaman's ownership partner, Robbie Fowler, who allegedly cried off an interview in the paddock with Derek Thompson, saying he was suffering from an allergy to racehorses and needed medical attention.

Most empty chairs at a post-race press conference

No surprise, this one goes to Michael Krysztofiak, part-owner of the oft-rehoused Flagship Uberalles. Why is the horse with his third trainer? He declined to say-again. Meanwhile outside, Paul Nicholls, one of those former trainers, said of the horse: "He's a bit like Joan Collins-she has a different husband every year, and he has a different trainer. I'm pleased for Philip [Hobbs] and the horse, but glad we don't have the hassle any more."

Biggest groan

Emitted by those who'd joined in the gamble on 5-2 favourite Rhinestone Cowboy in the Champion Bumper when the stewards declined to change the result in his favour after his double bump from Edward O'Grady's Pizarro.

Most sensible escape from a raw easterly wind

After winning on Pizarro, Jamie Spencer dashed from the course to catch an overnight flight to Dubai, where he competed in the UAE 1,000 Guineas. Luca Cumani's stable jockey admitted he was so nervous at the inquiry he couldn't get his words out.

Ride of the week

Paul Carberry, on Frenchman's Creek in the William Hill National Hunt Handicap Chase. A masterclass in patience on a character some feared may chuck in the towel, but who won barely knowing he'd been at the races. The experience, in a race won by Grand National stars Rough Quest and Seagram, will have done the chaser's confidence no end of good as he heads to Aintree.

Hero (equine)

Shared by the defending champions Istabraq and Looks Like Trouble, who were both on missions that would have carved chapters in Festival history. After their glories of yesteryear, they felt the pain as they limped off a stage they'd graced so honourably. We shall miss them.

Hero (human)

Collectively, the jockeys. A breed apart, a bravery apart, from the majority of others earning a living from sport.

When the wife isn't looking award

Hundreds of potential recipients who took advantage of a break away from home to get first-hand experience of Cheltenham's first-ever lap-dancing bar, licensed for just the three days over the Festival.

Best Channel 4 sequence

Following the every move, and every emotion, of Lisa Burge, the headgirl to Philip Hobbs and groom to Flagship Uberalles, before, during and after the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Superb.

The `can you have too much of a good thing?' award

One hour of airtime on TalkSport on Thursday morning was devoted to the question of whether the Festival should be increased to four days, with the Gold Cup on the Friday. One of the points raised was that the Champions League has become almost tedious for being expanded, and another that there would be the need for the invention of a new feature race. The consensus was not to meddle.

Non-event of the week

Despite rumours fanned (or more likely originated) by national newspapers that Richard Johnson and Zara Phillips would announce their engagement during the week, nothing was forthcoming. Johnson was prepared to offer 50-1 about it happening this year, though he would have impressed all those at BP-evidently that's how the royals refer to Buckingham Palace-with the supreme performance on Flagship Uberalles in the Champion Chase named in honour of his potential great-grandmother-in-law.

The Gazza Trophy for sob of the week

No lack of candidates, including Terry Biddlecombe and Richard Johnson, but the award must go to the previously too-often-troubled Dean Gallagher, who gave us the full water works after his Champion Hurdle win on Hors La Loi. It was easy to understand why.

Natural high award

Racecourse commentator Mark Johnson, who sounded like a Radio 1 DJ on speed before a race developed in earnest.

Best commentator

Shared between Channel 4's Simon Holt (who recovered quickly from mis-calling Adamant Approach) and Radio 5 Live's Lee McKenzie. Controlled, accurate and amusing.

Most missed friends

The Queen Mother, who, according to one national newspaper report is unlikely to be seen on a racecourse again, and, of course, the injured Adrian Maguire.

Sheer horror award

Poor, poor Rouble, who shattered both cannonbones in a similar accident to the one that claimed the life of Valiramix. Winner of his last three races, and entered for the Champion Hurdle, he had the talent to be one of the best. A grievous loss to connections and to jump racing in general.

The up the Pole award

With his triumph in the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle, locally trained Galileo, a winner from five furlongs to two miles in his native Poland, emerged from the shadows of a namesake who won the odd decent Flat race himself.

Biggest ovation in history for a favourite pulled up before halfway


Just leave him alone award

To all those who didn't pester Tony McCoy, badgering him to smile and cheer up. He was hurting deep down. After that horrific first day he'd been in bed at 9pm but didn't sleep until 1am. We can appreciate why. His first-and only-strike at the meeting, on Royal Auclair in the Cathcart, did nothing to ease the pain.

The `just following orders' award

To Jim Culloty, who more or less followed Terry Biddlecombe's gameplan throughout on Best Mate. Biddlecombe, three-times champion and a Gold Cup winner himself, had plotted the route while walking the course during a howling gale on Sunday afternoon.

The one man and his dog award

Not won this year, owing to lack of sheep on the course.

Running terrified of JP award

Bookmakers who went odds-on throughout the winter about Baracouda, 13-8 winner of the Bonusprint Stayers' Hurdle-though, to their credit, they called it right.

Proudest dad

Francois Doumen after his son, Thierry, much maligned for his style by the UK press, delivered Baracouda from last to first with the coolest of rides.

Darned good effort

Fiona Needham, with darned holes in the sleeves of her riding jumper on her father's 20-1 shot Last Option, winner of the Christie's Foxhunter Chase. They are lucky colours, worn by Dad, Yorkshire farmer Robin Tate, when he was riding decades ago, so she's reluctant to bin them.

Unluckiest losers

Jonjo O'Neill's Keen Leader, travelling best of all when exiting two out in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle, and the Willie Mullins-trained Adamant Approach, whose storming challenge would surely have

cut down Ireland's banker Like-A-

Butterfly (9-4 to 7-4 favourite) in the Gerrard Supreme Novices' Hurdle. He came down at the last, a departure

that clobbered the betting ring for a

cool half a million, some of the cash heading the way of the mare's owner, JP McManus.

Hot lips award

Must go to Alastair Down who, on his favourite playground, appeared so happy he wanted to kiss anything that moved, preferably female, though he didn't seem too bothered.

Missed chance of the week

Cheltenham provided a free service to drag motorists from the muddy car parks when a fiver a tractor tow would have boosted the track's coffers.

The `are you sure?' award

TalkSport's Mike Parry, who likened the sun to an octopus as it came up over Cleeve Hill on Thursday morning, throwing, he claimed, its tentacles of light over Prestbury Park.

Notable absentee

Sven Goran Eriksson. The England manager never appears to miss a big football occasion, so it was surprising he wasn't in evidence with so many top-class players in one place at the same time over the three days. Had they suspected a seat had been reserved for him in the grandstand-as it seems to be at most grounds across Europe-they could have arranged an impromptu kickabout by the water jump.

Don't call me, I'll call you award

Venetia Williams, who when asked for her views on a race in which she had a runner, told the Racing Post reporter she considered it "a bit of a cheek" that trainers were being asked to write the paper. How about trying your hand at the Hereford analysis to help us out on Easter Monday, Venetia?

One-liner of the week

Mark Winstanley, discussing Istabraq's prospects on SIS. "There's more chance of Will Young getting a Father's Day card than there is of this horse winning."

The `don't know whether to laugh or cry' award

Scolardy, in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. His disqualification by the Leopardstown stewards cost connections the bonus of n100,000 offered for winning both races.

Longest queue

Apart from the toilets, the one outside the tent where Jenny Pitman was signing copies of her thriller.

Touch of reality award

Off-duty nurse Jane Price from Birmingham was amused by a pre-racing interview when a trainer mentioned the stresses of preparing a horse for Cheltenham. "Perhaps he should try a Saturday night in casualty," she smiled.

And finally . . . the fangs for the memory award

Bookmaker Gary Wiltshire, who readily accepted a set of false teeth, reportedly valued at pounds 700, from a punter in lieu of cash who did not have 200 readies to hand for a bet. The toothless gambler later returned to retrieve his gnashers from Wiltshire's bag and settle his losses.


(Clockwise, from above): Dean Gallagher after the Champion Hurdle; Paul Carberry, who gave the ride of the week on Frenchman's Creek; Fiona Needham sports her tatty silks; and Jamie Spencer, who flew to Dubai straight after lifting the Bumper
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 16, 2002
Previous Article:Irish success eclipsed by farewell ovation for Istabraq.
Next Article:A hell of a victory, even on sober reflection; Gold Cup star `bubbling and in excellent shape' after Cheltenham exertions but Knight is not tempted...

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