Pacemaker found wanting in Cheltenham marathon

March 6th, 2020 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

Given my time again  –  a singularly pointless opening conversational gambit  –  I might have delayed a hospital trip following a palpable loss of energy on the way to the Southampton v Aston Villa match. Once sitting down I was fine, of course, we won tidily enough and there was no repetition on the way back to the car.

Still, a man with three stents and a pacemaker is likely to make associations so I braved the throng in A & E at the Bristol Royal Infirmary the following day and I’ve been here ever since. It looks as if the heart is fine, relatively speaking, but an upgraded, fancy-dancy pacemaker is required. A late hold-up on Wednesday saw this Saturday’s Newcastle match become the first casualty and I’m afraid Cheltenham is a non-runner in this corner as well. The first day they can wire me up, so to speak, is the day before it all gets underway and I envisage strong opposition (followed by a period of silence) chez Carnaby should there be any suggestion of a 40-mile trip up the M5.

It doesn’t bother me that much. A Proust devotee to the core, the place  –  any place  –  invariably matters as much to me as the event. My spirits lift when I approach the city of my birth and, whilst Marcel was right to observe that ‘houses, trees, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years’, I know quite a few places in Southampton which have changed very little. Denzil Avenue is a pretty fair example, though the red light area itself has lost its notoriety. At the bottom end, where there is now a Muslim school, Doris Constable offered piano lessons. ‘Doris Constable  –  Pianoforte Teacher’ read the sign outside. A likely story, I used to think in my salad days, though a copper who patrolled the area assured me Doris was a highly-respected and garlanded musician with clients from across the social spectrum. This was a constable who knew his Constables and ignored my polite enquiry regarding the cries of encouragement from the houses on either side.

I could never feel that way about Cheltenham, which for me is simply the place where the great racing extravaganza happens to take place. I worked hard there, interviewing jockeys and personalities for the crowd as well as reporting for the Irish Field, ‘ghosting’ Martin Pipe and preparing all the tapes for Festival TV, but now that I’m very nearly fully retired, I have no great interest in going as a punter. Cheltenham is one of the great modern sporting success stories but it hasn’t been slow to make its appeal count financially  –  and how. Also  –  and I’m speaking now as a racegoer rather than as a pressman with certain privileges  –  if you don’t get up good and high in plenty of time, the view is rather better on television and you save a packet.

Incidentally, I’m sorry about the sound quality on my tipping line. I’ve found a place in the corridor at the hospital where it’s just about clear enough and I’ll keep going for now, though if the device isn’t fitted early next week I’ll ask my daughter or Bex to broadcast the selections. (Look, don’t say ‘Oh, be still, my beating heart’ because it’s a bit too close to home, all right?)

I’m quite keen on Sweet Thursday, a fine, picaresque novel by John Steinbeck and a hit for Johnny Mathis, I seem to recall, but also the third day of the great shindig. I’d like Paisley Park to retain his Stayers’ crown because I like Aidan Coleman and admire Andrew Gemmell but I do think Emitom has been passed over too lightly and is still improving. Also, at a quiz evening a few weeks back where Alastair Down put in a surprise appearance, the peerless scribe seemed to know all about Henry Daly’s Rapper in the Pertemps Final.

Where the opening day is concerned I’d be careful with Epatante in the big one because I don’t rate the Christmas Hurdle form and she was only ninth in the mares’ novices’ a year ago. The best advice is to follow Marten and the team but my friend Mark ‘Couch’ Winstanley  –  not a man unduly troubled by the dictates of political correctness  –  sends me a potted version of information gleaned from his Irish sojourn and it would appear that Gordon Elliott’s Galvin has not been terribly, um, ‘busy’ (have I got that right?) in races leading up to the novices’ handicap. There will be money for this horse from breakfast-time onwards.

So, there you have it. Now, if you’ll excuse me I shall return to bed at 6.30pm and my book of contemporary Irish fiction with a picture of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses on the front. I wonder what she made of that? I should fall asleep around 1am, undisturbed  –  thus far, anyway  –  by ‘the cries of night, the nightmare fears’ of my fellow guests. Sorry. It’s from a Judy Collins song called Sons Of. Puts the great obsession into some sort of perspective; Doris would have liked it.