Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir on the box: Strange goings on in Nham

By Billy Weir

It wasn't so much Full Metal Jacket as Lovely Silk Jumpers as the Morning Line kicked things off in unusual style for the Cheltenham Festival.

Resident excitable Irishman - apparently there is quite a shortage of such things in the area around this time of the year - Brian Gleeson appeared on screen, sitting in a darkened radio studio, with headphones on and he bellowed, "Good Morning Cheltenham".

He's more Kenneth than Robin Williams, but he assured us that this was, "the Olympics of jump racing, a four-day sporting extravaganza" and who am I to rock the boat?

"The moment of truth has arrived, to all of you out there with pockets full of cash and hearts full of hope, enjoy every single second of the Festival, good morning Cheltenham," he said again, just in case you hadn't been listening, but all I could think of was that it would be handier to have it in Vietnam for silk-purchasing reasons alone.

As usual there was a cast of thousands on Channel Four and there were more throwbacks to the bygone musical age but this time it was nothing to do with a boy named Sue, but a man called Ruby.

Yes, it was the obligatory Ruby Tuesday start to proceedings, with a bit of cricket thrown in with Alice Plunkett, who is quite posh even though she sounds like she should be a Dickens character, telling us, "forget the Cricket World Cup, it's all about National Hunt Racing."

This was music to Mick Fitzgerald's ears, who probably knows very little about cricket. I mean, he's Irish, what do they know about the game, it's not as if they're still at the World Cup. Oh…

Father Ted Walsh was there too, asked by Alice, not if he wanted a cup of tea, but was Ruby Tuesday, "nonsense or can he deliver" as we pictured Walsh Jnr running in like Bob Willis from the Prestbury Park end to skittle over AP McCoy's wickets in his final over at Chelters.

"It's Cheltenham, not Disneyland," retorted Ted, and he's quite right as Walt Disney would never have created something quite as unbelievable as John McCririck.

With that male (I think) gone, the 'female' is still there in the no-nonsense shape of Tanya Stevenson, later to be reunited with Gleeson after his return from his call of duty.

We were off behind reasonably friendly lines with a trip to the Irish village of Faugheen, which is in Tipperary, a long way by all accounts, where men are men and some of the women might be too, with some wonderful haircuts and sideburns on cheeks on show with interviews conducted in a pub where there was a session going on. No slacks, dogs or stereotypes allowed but the Oirish are always welcome.

And they were to have plenty to toast as we returned to Four later in the day with Clare Balding, too posh to have to get up early for the Morning Line, appearing in a lovely Del Boy coat to reveal that there had, "been a mass invasion from Ireland". Lock up your daughters - and the Guinness.

Back in the studio, Graham Cunningham warned of doom and gloom for the English as, "it's an ominous start to the week when the Irish cricket team has lasted longer than England". I know, you really should appoint an Irish captain. Oh…

And despite Father Ted's protestations, it quickly turned into Disneyland with Ruby Tuesday becoming just that, his wee lad winning three out of the first four races and with a certainty to come in Annie Power, the prospect of seeing bookmakers throw themselves off Cleeve Hill edged ever closer.

Alice, freed from domestic service and now out harassing the shy folk who look after the horses, gave them little comfort either, confidently predicting, "she is a certainty, bar a spaceship coming in and taking her away".

What are the odds on that?

And so, as Annie powered towards the final hurdle, it was all over bar the shouting, only it wasn't as Ruby and equine finished head first in far from perfect harmony in the turf and the gasps of the crowd were only drowned out by the sighs of relief from the bookies.

With the spaceship heading off deep into a galaxy far, far away and an unnamed bookie climbing down from a grassy knoll, the debate will rage amongst conspiracy theorists as to who was responsible. At least Lee Harvey Oswald can't take the wrap this time; he was dealt with by a hitman.

What was his name? Oh, that's right, Jack Ruby.

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