Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Plumpton Festival

It's a sunny Sunday morning and I'm wondering why it wasn't sunny last Sunday morning as we were about to get married. Not much we can do about it except enjoy it while it lasts, which will hopefully be right through Cheltenham week.

Or should that be Plumpton and Cheltenham week? Ahead of the hotly-anticipated festival we have our own jumps highlight to look forward to tomorrow as Lady Suffragette (pictured below with Suze on Saturday morning, accompanied by Martha on the grey Milton's Keen) makes her first appearance over hurdles at Plumpton, which in recent years seems to be our most visited jumps track. It's a lovely country course and there's always the extra bonus of seeing Moppy, my old landlady at Legover Lodge, for whom the house was named (by Michael and Georgie Bell, I think) when Mops was enjoying a particular purple patch in the romance stakes.

Legover Lodge was also inhabited by Christina McKenzie, now Mrs Harry Dunlop, who has two major things to look forward to this week. The most exciting of these is that she has her first Cheltenham runner, Just A Thought in the Champion Bumper, trained by her husband. Much less interestingly, she also appears in a feature on trainers' wives in H&H this week, written by yours truly (if you'll forgive the plug). Loads of really nice wives gave up their time to speak to me and be photographed for the magazine so a huge thanks to Gaye Margarson, Judy Musson, Sara Cumani, Deirdre Johnston, Sarah Hobbs, Barbara Lockhart-Smith and, of course, Christina and young Tom Dunlop for being so obliging. And good luck to Just A Thought as he bids to give the new trainer his first Cheltenham victory.

After the excitement of Lady S (which we hope Aisling will be tuning in for from Dubai), it's off to the Cotswolds for me, sadly solo as I have not been able to persuade my dear husband of only one week to join me. He has loads to do here and I think his reticence is due to the fact that he has returned from the last two Cheltenham Festivals with dreadful colds.

I'm only doing two days which might be quite a wrench as I've managed to wangle the whole thing for the last ten years but with the extra day now it's just making it a bit too long to be away from home. With me in Durcott House in Evesham as usual will be breakfast-maker extraordinaire Ed Prosser, Julian Muscat (what he's doing showing his face at a jumps meeting I don't know), my old (young) H&H buddy Catherine Austen and George Primarolo, Bet 365's gambling guru.

With Muscat in the house, late nights and copious amounts of red wine will be unavoidable. I've already started on the Berocca in an attempt to fend off the inevitable hangover(s). Managed to get off quite lightly after Lou and Charlie Eddis's annual Cheltenham preview dinner on Friday, which was excellent as always. For those of you want a good laugh after the dust has settled from Cheltenham 2007, my five selections in our tipping contest are: Katchit (Triumph Hurdle), Exotic Dancer (Gold Cup), Tidal Fury (place, Arkle Trophy), United (place, World Hurdle) and Fiddling Again (Bumper).

Alan Byrne kindly put us up for the night and didn't force us to drink until 4am à la Muscat. Fortunate as we had to leave London at an ungodly hour to get back for a brilliant Saturday morning at BHS, featuring guest riders Suze Ingle (bearing sausages, bacon and a lovely plant, many thanks), Jamie Trotter (aka The Long Feller), and our two Irish stars Andrew McCarthy and his friend Philip (pictured aboard Jack Dawson with John in pursuit on foot).

Such a lovely morning was a great end to a brilliant week, starting with a windswept wedding, including trips to London for my first meeting as committee member of the British Sporting Art Trust and to Kerry's Primrose Farm to drop off and pick up horses, and ending with falling asleep on the sofa and missing the Grand Military, one of my favourite races of the year. Doh.

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