I recently watched a very good film which would be enjoyed by any sports fan. Closer To The Edge is an interesting story about mad men in a mad sport. Following the lives of seemingly ‘normal’ men (and one lady, who was brave for a girl) from around the world who would seem relatively normal if encountered at a Wetherspoons bar (apparently), they lived for one thing; to enter their van, head for the Isle of Man, straddle their motorbike and attempt to tame the world famous Tourists Trophy. Many crash, many bleed, many die; but it appears an insatiable drug that eats away at its participants until, unfortunately, they are pushed to the edge, and often over.
One of the most memorable elements of the film though is the main study of the documentary, Guy Martin. He quietly remarks about the commonplace of exaggeration and hyperbole in today’s world. “Unbelievable? That’s not unbelievable”, he bemoans. “It’s totally overused. I’ll tell you wants unbelievable; a man who can eat his own head. That’s unbelievable”. And Martin has a point. Largely due to Chris Kamara’s influence the phrase is often misused and therefore devalued.
Sport does have an innate ability to lead to hyperbole, largely due to the fact that those speaking the big words are touched so deeply by the sport. It’s moves us, riles us, blinds us but most importantly gets under our skin and excites us.
Today begins the Cheltenham Festival. It is the greatest festival of horse racing. It is the hallowed turf where the true greats have been made, their names carved into the Cotswold stone and spoken with hushed reverence in every corner. This is unarguable, fact created through time-honoured tradition.
And there is one horse everyone with an inkling of racing interest will be looking for – the yellow and green colours of Kauto Star. A Champion at the pinnacle of the Festival twice already, and many other heavyweight belts to his name, he is undoubtedly the best of his generation. At the age of 12 he is in his twilight years, but the heart he shows makes everyone with an interest dare to dream.
The author wrote as the season began that the young pretender, Long Run, champion of last years Festival and with many years on his side, had the ability to eclipse the greatness of Kauto. Yet with the stomach to fight in a way only known by a true Champion, Kauto Star has returned like a ruddy faced Spitfire pilot, pipe alight and moustache twirling below an eye of crushing determination, refusing to be beaten by the younger Baron who he duels with at every corner, every fence, returning the punches with a heart that knows no limits.
This is his greatest stage, his skies, his place to shine. The most romantic amongst us would love nothing more than a Kauto victory. After a crushing fall last month on the gallops at home, his preparations and his participation were cast into doubt. He has returned though with added vigour, described by his ever-knowing trainer and unrivalled jockey as “awesome”, as good as ever, if not better.
For Kauto to come back from losing the Gold Cup last year would be incredible. Looking a past Champion, and compounded by his interrupted preparations, his victory would be as incredible as the sport can muster. It wouldn’t be unbelievable, not to Martin. But to the rest of us, the romantics, it would be unbelievable. One of the moments to dream of, something to say I saw that, or to the lucky 60,000, I was there.
So throw off those leathers you big ponce and put on some jodhpurs, tune into the Festival and dare to dream. Tuesday starts four days of dreaming, of the thundering of hooves over emerald turf, unmovable birch brushed bent and broken as cavalry fields charge to glory. Many will drink as they win, more will drink as they’ve lost, but one thing will bind many together, the hope to win, the hope to watch others win and the hope that one special horse wins.
by Daniel Polak