The symptoms usually start for me the day the guides start to appear through the letterbox and the racing papers start to get prominent positions on the shelves. Cheltenham fever is a strange condition with only known cure found at Prestbury Park. The beauty of Cheltenham and its Festival is that for those 4 days you can submerge yourself in a parallel universe which, if you so wish, has no footprint on the outside world. Even better than that is the fact that the outside world and all its distractions, frustrations and often its disasters can cease to exist for all those who enter the bubble. Once those guides and previews land then normal papers and novels are better employed as kindling for the fires that keep us warm as the winter clings on. Bed time reading that once was the latest Nordic noir or an educational history tome is replaced with vital facts about 12 yr old horses trying to win Gold Cups and the record of French breds in the Arkle. Come the week of the Festival, the daffodils start to pop their heads up and the world disappears. Cheltenham envelops you like a comfort blanket; it’s all that matters. As you get in the car and the signs switch from Birmingham to Worcester to CHELTENHAM, the radio magically changes from Radio 2 and Jeremy Vine to Cheltenham Festival Radio and the dulcet tones of Lydia Hislop and Steve Mellish discussing the Pertemps. Park up and all of a sudden a mysterious force has changed the gender split from 50/50 to a solid 90/10. The only paper you see is the Racing Post, pub customers are spilling onto the pavement at 10.30am and everyone is walking in the same direction – towards Prestbury Park. The comfort blanket tightens and your child’s grades are forgotten, financial woes disappear, North Korean and Iran and their nuclear capability; who cares? For these 4 days the mind is on only one thing. Scores of visits to the best hypnotherapists couldn’t remove this level of stress in a stroke, but you’ve found it; Cheltenham. Harsh gutteral voices shout out “Any spare tickets, I’ll buy or sell”. Travelling women thrust unwanted heather at your lapel, you start to see the horse boxes with those familiar names emblazoned on their sides. “PN Nicholls” “N Henderson” The pulse quickens, you’re here. Nothing else matters. Cheltenham Racecourse is another world where horses rule. The beautiful paddock contrasts with the hell-hole that is the toilets. You don’t care, you’re here. It’s about to begin. Suddenly there are 20 runners circling in the distance and then the ROAR. It’s deafening and just like a Tornado taking off it means “We’re up and away”. 27 races, the best jumps horses in the world, brave jockeys and grooms who have invested years of their lives into this single week. Heroes are made, wallets are decimated. You may as well be on Mars for all that the outside world has to do with it. Then,as quick as it began, it ends. It changes. Perhaps Nicky and David didn’t win their fathers’ races; it doesn’t matter. You walk out of the course and join thousands walking away from 4 days of amazing sport. You see buses that go to other destinations, you see billboards giving you the news that inflation is up, you speak to your wife and say you’ll be back home soon. The real world begins to matter once again but only until next March. Follow Jeremiah on Twitter @jcatskill.
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