Yes, two great days of sports viewing, with a decent amount of beer and wine drinking thrown in! Sometimes it just has to be done…
On Friday, just gone, I took the day off work, with a few friends, to enjoy Cheltenham Gold Cup day. For those of you who aren’t British, or horse racing lovers, this is the biggest day of the year for the National Hunt horses, the ones who leap over fences. Cheltenham is a rather posh West Country town which, for four days a year, becomes the home of the biggest racing festival on these Isles. Half of Ireland seems to attend! The whole festival hosts the best horses in all the different races, but the Gold Cup is the biggest race of all – three miles or so over the big fences. Less of a slog than the Grand National, but requiring stamina and speed to win. The best of the best.
I and my friends gave up actually going to Cheltenham a long time ago. The train journey was awful, the crowds overwhelming, the view, except in the best areas, pretty poor. We decided to have a virtual Cheltenham in London, and we have done it ever since, on Gold Cup day. A good breakfast, a few beers, watch the racing in the pub, cocktails early evening and a curry, which we all struggle to eat, to finish things off. Simple pleasures!
This year breakfast was at AquaShard, 32 floors up the iconic Shard building. Excellent full English, though pricey at £29. You are paying for the view. And it is good.
Thought I’d do them in black and white.
After the Shard it was down to a good old fashioned pub in Borough called the Royal Oak for a couple of pints of Harvey’s Sussex bitter before moving back to home territory in West London. First a pint of the finest London Pride in the pub adjoined to the brewery in Chiswick, the Mawson Arms, where we watched a couple of races; then over to our favourite haunt, Hammersmith, base the Cross Keys, where we watched the races and played a bit of darts. Lychee Martini in a local Thai restaurant and then that curry. We are easily pleased!
The betting was the usual disaster. You have to plan for that – work out what you are prepared to lose, and don’t go further than that trying to get money back. Treat it as part of the cost of the day; and if you are lucky you get a little bonus. I didn’t get lucky this year. My first three bets say it all: unseated rider, pulled up, fell! The latter was Cue Card in the Gold Cup, who looked poised to win, before crashing into a fence.
You lose and move on…
Saturday started with an unexpected delight. On Friday, my mate DC got a call offering him two tickets to Chelsea v West Ham, lunch included. A raffle prize. Awesome. Chelsea’s hospitality, as I have said before, is really good. Very professional staff, excellent food and drink.
I was unusually hopeful about West Ham at Stamford Bridge. We are on a good run, with aspirations for a top four place; Chelsea are languishing in mid-table mediocrity, after a disastrous season, by their recent standards. I wasn’t disappointed. West Ham played really well, with Lanzini outstanding in midfield. The “genius” Payet (see previous blog!) was relatively subdued, but it was still great to see him play, watch how he moved all over the pitch. The West Ham midfield is nothing if not fluid.
Chelsea worked hard, passing a bit awry. But the final 2-2 result was fair, although the late penalty awarded to Chelsea was dubious. It was great though, that West Ham left feeling angry that they had only drawn. We usually get whupped at Stamford Bridge. There is a new confidence at the Boleyn. Great things are possible.
In the evening I was out again, to watch the France v England rugby match at my local in Ealing, the Plough. The Grand Slam on. And we did it, 31-21. It was a bitty game. England were strong, dominating most of the crucial areas of play, and scoring three tries to France’s nil. But a lot of penalties were conceded, which kept on bringing France back into the game. In the end though, another win, and the transformation under Eddie Jones, with almost the same squad that flopped at the World Cup, is complete. Just shows how important good management is.
It’s a fantastic achievement, well above what we all expected. I was hoping for top place, but expecting second, to Wales. England reasserted their power in the forwards, and showed good pace and, sometimes, incision, going forward. Still a bit imprecise at times, but getting better all the time. It feels like, finally, they may take advantage of the flow of promising young players. Every top side, Quins included, has them. If England get it right then the rest of the world in rugby needs to get worried. No guarantee yet that it will happen, but now, it looks more likely. We shall see.