Country mouse goes to Cheltenham

When all the world goes mad-terrifying tsunamis, civil uprisings, earth-quakes-some things remain constant. The Cheltenham Festival, a stirring celebration of quality horses and dashing horsemanship, which has cheered the nation through the aftermath of war and recession for 100 years, is one such. Footballer owners, the Guinness village and lunatic shamrock-shaped hats may not have been around in 1911, but courage, sportsmanship and generosity were, and there was plenty of them last week.

On ‘Ruby Tuesday’, jockey Ruby Walsh overcame injury to win the Champion Hurdle; on Wednesday, the beleaguered Irish (who later flattened England at rugby) joyfully escorted home six winners; on Thursday, there was a history-making third victory in the World Hurdle for Big Buck’s, whose owners, the Stewart family, are raising money for spinal-injuries charities after their son broke his back.

And on Friday, in an emotional Gold Cup, the talented Sam Waley-Cohen became the first amateur to win for 30 years. His horse, Long Run, gave five years to old heroes Denman, second, and Kauto Star, third, who gave their opponent a brave race right to the finishing post. It was racing-and sport-at its best.