The Road to Cheltenham

Eight days to go.

Champion Hurdle favorite Constitution Hill is out.

Arkle favorite Marine Nationale is out.

Who’s next?

The Cheltenham Festival pressures owners, trainers, jockeys and horses. There is a horse running in Great Britain named Heltenham. No doubt, many have walked out of Prestbury Park muttering those sentiments.

Valdez represented Riverdee at Cheltenham twice. A fifth in the Arkle, no disgrace, he ran hard, made us proud. A novice chaser with low mileage and a smooth engine, the sky was ahead. Four years – and just three starts – later, we took a stab and tried him in the Grand Annual.

Jumped right, held up, swerved to avoid fallers 2nd, jumped right and unseated rider 3rd (op 20/1).

The gallant chestnut continued, jumping right, careening and caroming, crossing the finish line in front. It wasn’t what I thought it would feel like when your horse crossed the wire in front at Cheltenham. He was fine. I was not. Heltenham. No doubt.

I go back this year. No runners. Just a fan. A writer. A losing bet or two, a queue or two, the closest I’ll get to Heltenham. For Constitution Hill and Marine Nationale’s connections, they’ve already been there this year.