I FIRST attended the Cheltenham Festival in 1974, the year Captain Christy won the Gold Cup. Not quite 10 years of age at the time, horse racing had already interested me for quite a while and I was well and truly hooked after watching Red Rum’s battle with Crisp in the Grand National the previous spring. Responding to my pleas to go to Cheltenham, my mother took me out of school and we went for two days, watched Terry Biddlecombe ride in his final race (to great applause from his local crowd) and heard the loud groan from the stands when High Ken brought down Pendil in the Gold Cup.

I was perched on a wooden railing close to the bar in the centre course enclosure, now called the Best Mate, while my mother, an attractive and apparently single woman, dealt with various admirers. I’m not sure if my parents were together at the time, and the Festival visit may well have fallen during what my father calls his “first period of exile.”