26 MARCH 1977, Page 13


Rigor mortis

Jeffrey Bernard

This Year's festival meeting at Cheltenham will be remembered for the death of Lanzarote more than for anything else. Enough has been written about that event in the newspagers and I don't want to harp on it but I Would like to recall meeting the horse last

I Pay a yearly visit in the spring to Fred winter's yard, not just to see some of the best National Hunt horses in training, but also to Pass the time of day with the maestro who is something of a hero of mine. We went into Lanzarote's box armed with a packet of Polo Mints and—normally fairly terrified of racehOrses—the first thing that struck me about him was what a marvellous nature he had. Almost black in colour, he looked magnificent and I foolishly thought that Fred's eulogy was more than tinged with sentiment. As a result I tended to underrate the horse until his fatal accident last week and I don't think I was alone in that. Apart from his Champion Hurdle victories I shall always remember what cracking races he used to run at Kempton Park. Fred Winter's Cheltenham luck, apart from Lanzarote, continues t° be appalling but that's racing and Fred

knows all about things going wrong. Perhaps Pengrail might give him some sort of consolation in the Grand National, but, of course, he'll never forget Lanzarote.

To turn to the lighter side of Cheltenham, I personally had the worst Cheltenham I've ever experienced.! watched the first two days of it on the most wretched black and white television set in Muriel Belcher's Colony Room Club in Dean Street, financially bled to death and spent the rest of the time removing intoxicated publishers and the like from my line of vision. Almost everything I backed to win came second and almost everything I backed each way came fourth or fifth.

On Thursday I decided to brave the crowds and put my press badge into use. I was driven down to the course by a friend and noted in the car that Meladon and Davy Lad might win. I then did my usual nonsense of changing my mind at the last minute. The only winner! had all day was Rusty Tears in the last, which won at a pretty miserable 7-4. Meanwhile, there was some attractive lunacy in the form of a few hundred drunken Irishmen celebrating St Patrick's Day plus Meladon, Davy Lad and Rusty Tears and there was some incredible hospitality.

Behind the stands there must have been nothing less than a hundred tents hired for private parties. My guide to them was Charles Benson, 'The Scout' on the Daily Express, and his knowledge of parties is encyclopaedic, The Piper-Heidsieck people, who sponsored the Gold Cup, were giving the stuff away in bucketfuls and at that point I was utterly unaware of the fact that one of my companions was dangerously close to saturation point. It wasn't until we all came to rest in Jake Morley's tent that I could actually see disaster. My friend and companion suddenly kteled over a crate of tonics, came to rest in a horizontal position with his head almost bursting through the canvas of the tent and then a remarkable thing happened I've never seen afflict a drunk before. Rigor mortis actually set in although the patient was far from dead. It's tremendously difficult to remove someone who's completely rigid, so we had to leave him to make his own natural and somewhat lengthy recovery. Now what I like about racing people is that it's typical of them that they took hardly any notice of the event at all. I mean, imagine that scene at something like the Chelsea Flower Show. There'd be considerable tut-tutting. At Cheltenham they

just said, 'What's the matter with him?' He's Passed out.' 'Really? Have another gin.' There were further Cheltenham troubles after it was all over. I woke up on the Friday utterly potless and had to suffer the indignity Of walking up to Great Portland Street to ask Victor Chandler's henchman Bill Brett for the measly £13.20 that they owed me on Rusty Tears. That really was rock bottom. We now come to the start of the flat racing season, thank God, and we must see if we can't do a bit better. I suppose it's wise to leave the Irish Sweeps Lincoln alone, but it s there and so I'll have to have a bet. I've already backed Rhodomontade in what looks likely to be an ill-fated yankee, but the nearer it gets to the day the more I like the look of Harry Wragg's horse Fluellen. This one is reported to have done one hell of a gallop last Saturday at Newmarket. He is to be ridden by the champion Pat Eddery and last summer he kept on improving after being gelded and he won two of his three races, the place being a third in the Cambridgeshire. He must have an excellent chance if he's drawn well. Come what may, I'd like to take the opportunity of wishing both my readers a prosperous new season.