Cheltenham Preview with Paul Nicholls
The Cheltenham National Hunt Festival is for many all about rituals and traditions. On the back of last year, and this March, a new one has begun to take shape. For the Army & Navy Club preview evening that prefaced the 2020 renewal, members were joined at the Rag by the now 12-times Champion Jumps trainer, Paul Nicholls. On the back of what was a splendid evening. Paul agreed to take part again this year in what, amid the circumstances of lockdown, was a virtual, online evening.
Members who signed up to log on were able to recreate at least some of the signature atmosphere that prevails at Presbury Park by ordering from the club either “Arkle” or “Golden Miller” standard sustenance featuring such pleasures as a Ploughman’s Lunch that might otherwise have been on the menu in the Cotswold’s. Also on offer were the ingredients for a Black Velvet, which was sent to Paul as well to toast proceedings.
The evening began with a quiz on Paul Nicholls’ own Cheltenham achievements, the Festival itself, in general, and some posers about the town, with members competing for a £250 voucher with goods available to that amount from the international, rural footwear and clothing company, Ariat, which sponsor’s Paul’s Somerset yard. With members’ faculties honed on the back of this, Paul joined for an online Zoom chat about his stable’s prospects, past successes and the meeting as a whole. As well as have their personal queries answered, members were able to share in the world of a stable preparing for the most important four days of the winter game as well as revisit the yard’s past Cheltenham glories with the like of See More Business, Kauto Star and Big Bucks.
Thanks to Fitzdares bookmakers, all members who signed up for the evening received a free £50 bet to invest over the Festival’s four days. Paul’s insight prepared all well for the challenge of making the most of this financial float. His insight was also welcome for a Cheltenham tipping competition that Fitzdares supported by providing a bottle of Coates & Seely English sparkling wine as a prize. Members were invited to share their selection for the week’s championship races, the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Stayers’Hurdle, and Gold Cup with their choices carrying a £1 stake and the winner being the person who ended up the the largest profit.
When Cheltenham ends those devoted to the occasion immediately begin to look ahead and anticipate the following year. Of course, a central hope would be that the Army & Navy Club preview night of 2022 will be attended by all in person. But with respect to traditions, Paul Nicholls has already expressed his desire to join members again in March. Hosting the champion trainer – a guest of honour with Cheltenham credentials few if any can claim to surpass – has now become part of the Rag’s own Festival routine.
Colin Cameron, April 2021
“Last year was great, delighted to make the best we can of this time round” – Paul Nicholls OBE