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Early Bird Catches The Worm

Hey everyone,

So, let's talk about leg 8 of the Around the Courses in 80 Days challenge. It was a journey to none other than Cheltenham—yes, the home of National Hunt Racing in the UK. But before I dive into the details, let me set the scene for you.

Leaving my pals Derek and Jenny's place in Sunbury-on-Thames—where I stayed after Kempton—I hit the road bright and early, in fact at 6am. The drive to Cheltenham in Gloucestershire was a bit of a haul, but hey, I'm used to it. The Jockey Club insisted I get to the course by 9 o'clock sharp for security reasons, to have me well out of the way in plenty of time.

Now, walking the course at Cheltenham was an experience in itself. Let me tell you, it's a maze out there! Old course, new course, cross-country course—they all seem to crisscross in every direction. I swear, I have no idea how the jockeys keep their bearings sometimes.

But despite the confusion, being up close to all that history was something else. Standing at the last fence, looking up that iconic hill, memories came flooding back. I mean, who could forget Dawn Run winning the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup? Or Desert Orchid defying the odds and the mud to win the Gold Cup and one of my all-time favourites in Denman winning the anticipated clash with stablemate Kauto Star? Those are moments etched in my memory forever.

I managed to photograph a couple of gentlemen known to us racing fans before my battery ran out, so I missed a selfie opportunity with Jonjo O'Neill after he asked me about my shirt and the challenge, which was a lovely moment for me. So here is AP McCoy presenting a trophy, bit blurred sorry and Mr Andrew Gemmell, who is such a character in our sport, which is incredible considering his blindness. He is most famous of course for owning Paisley Park, who won the Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle in 2019 at The Festival.

Now, onto the disappointing part of the day. Cheltenham, with all its charity tie-ups, did not allow any promoting or bucket donations, which is understandable but still a bit of a blow, right? But hey, I tried to set up shop outside the course, after racing only to find someone had the same idea and beat me to it. So, in the end, it was not a great fundraising exercise - sorry DementiaUK. Don't worry the funds will come

I also met up with Rita Heard, a friend on Facebook with some of her girlfriends, who told me they'll be looking out for me on many of the legs, I think they are my new groupies. Good to see you ladies - they certainly love their racing.

At least I got to see some good racing! And let me tell you, seeing Paddy Brennan win his last race and retire from the saddle was a special moment. That guy's been a legend in the saddle for years and I never forget him riding the gorgeous Cue Card on many occasions. The crowd and fellow jockeys gave him a great send off and here he is on his last ever winner; Manofthepeople, a very fitting name.

So, yeah, not the most successful day in terms of raising funds, but hey, that's life. I've got some busy days ahead, despite a day off tomorrow before hitting Fontwell Park on Friday, Brighton on Saturday and Windsor on Monday. And hey, if you're up for it, come join me at any of the venues along the way. It'd be great to have you there.

Oh, and before I sign off, a massive thank you to everyone who's supported the cause so far. We've already smashed through the £2,300 mark, and I've got a feeling we'll hit £3,000 in no time. You guys are amazing!

For those wishing to donate the direct link to the Just Giving page is:

Alright, that's it from me for now. Thanks for reading, take care and catch you later!

Graham Arnold

17th April 2024 "Together We Can Make A Difference"

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