As the grey clouds gathered and Gaillard du Mesnil rallied for victory in the last to bring up a double for Willie Mullins, one could be forgiven for thinking this was a Cheltenham Festival like any other.
What had unfolded just an hour before under a golden glow of early spring sun felt like a distant fever dream.
Racing is undoubtedly a sport of moments. Cheltenham in itself is a moment. But this longed-for event, that is talked about for 364 days of the year until it finally arrives, doesn’t begin with the first race.
Sure, Marine Nationale’s win in the Supreme was a worthy festival opener and Corach Rambler’s gutsy Ultimata heroics befitting of the big day. But it was not until that sun-kissed golden hour that Cheltenham 2023 truly arrived.
Finally, all the talking ceased and was replaced by that unique hum of a crowd that has collectively put down its Guinnesses and found itself enthralled. Captured by the best racing has to offer.
Because that’s the point of Cheltenham. Constitution Hill is the best. You could empty a thesaurus and still struggle to find an adjective that aptly summarises his brilliance.
It is a brilliance that cannot be matched. How do you follow a performance like that? A new star toying with his rivals on the biggest stage. Rachael Blackmore knew that Honeysuckle could not defeat the new kid on the block.
But the mares hurdle was anything but an anticlimax. Honeysuckle is the best antidote to Constitution Hill’s ruthless excellence. As the afternoon shadows deepened above Cleeve Hill at approximately 4:16pm, the great mare dropped her head and powered up the hill with the inevitability of years gone by and rounded off a truly remarkable hour of sport.
The clouds soon gathered and Willie Mullins returned to winning ways. But it was no ordinary day at Cheltenham.
This hour is the why. The moment we have been waiting for, the moment we will talk about until next year or think about on our commute into work. This was racing at its most sublime.
And there are three more days left to enjoy…