This year's Gold Cup excited more attention than a horse race has had in years, but racing still struggles to find sponsors. Plus, Premier League indifference to the FA Cupby Geoffrey Wheatcroft / April 27, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
Dreaming of Cheltenham
A few nights before Cheltenham, I dreamed about the Gold Cup. I’ve never undergone Freudian analysis, perhaps because my own dreams are usually so banal as not to be worth interpreting, and they are never sporting. But this time I saw very clearly the colours of Kauto Star and Denman battling up the hill. What I couldn’t for the life of me remember the next morning was which of them had won, and so I couldn’t follow those, from Jacob and Laban onward, who have acted on the basis of preternatural information.
The head to head between Kauto Star, last year’s winner, and the contender Denman meant that this year’s Gold Cup attracted more attention than any horse race for years. But that only emphasised the sad truth that racing remains a minority sport. At a time when every football club, mighty or meagre, has a sponsor (even Newcastle, who have been condemned to play through this season with “Northern Rock” emblazoned across their shirts), there has been a painfully long search for a new sponsor for the Derby.
Another wave of excitement really ought to sweep the country as the Two Thousand Guineas approaches on 3rd May. I’m reminded of that by the arrival of Racehorses of 2007 (Timeform, £75). As someone who has written about the great new editions of the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, I can confidently say that this series, published by Timeform for 60 years, constitutes one of the great reference works of our time. It is, if you like, an equine DNB, comprising entries on every horse that ran on the Flat last year, ranging from a few sentences to long, detailed and learned essays. It was founded by the late Phil Bull, one of the more remarkable people I have ever met, a former maths teacher, a militant radical atheist, a cantankerous minor genius, who made a fortune backing horses based on scientifically accurate timing, and then shared his expertise with other punters.