Paul Townend in the moment of victory after the Cheltenham Gold Cup

Ed Chamberlin: Talk of the Town | ITV's main man reflects on the Cheltenham Festival


ITV Racing anchor Ed Chamberlin reflects on the thrills and spills of Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup day in which Al Boum Photo and Paul Townend were crowned once again.

I'm off to Uttoxeter now after a fabulous week at Cheltenham, and one I feared might not take place at one stage.

We’ve had four days of incredible finishes, wonderful sportsmanship and on ITV some of the best punditry I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside.

I’ve spoken for years now about how I never thought I’d match working with Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher but this week, alongside Sir Anthony McCoy and Ruby Walsh, might just have topped that.

The fun – and challenge – for a presenter is to show a different side to your colleagues. I realised this when first working with Gary, who had just retired having been arguably the most unpopular player in the Premier League.

I quickly realised he was a lovely, family man with a great sense of humour and it was exactly the same with Jamie.

I know I’m biased but I think AP and Ruby were outstanding on Friday. We saw the emotional side of the latter when he couldn’t speak after Paul Townend had won the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Al Boum Photo.

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He was choked as he recalled Paul losing his mum when he was only 12 and how proud he was to see what he’s achieved in the saddle. How fitting it was, in a week when in the media we’ve built the pressure on Paul, talking of how he was having to come out from under the huge shadow Ruby cast at Closutton that he should have won the Ruby Walsh trophy as top jockey at the meeting.

To see the two arm-in-arm on the podium is a photo I hope is across the newspapers on Saturday. Two great sports, two great friends, united.

It was a week when AP even admitted he’d enjoyed appearing on television. He showed his class when jumping off the podium to console Jamie Moore as he returned to the weighing room after the drama of the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

My favourite punditry of the week came mid-way through the Pertemps when Ruby told viewers to “have an eye on Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell” who were stalking each other, following their moves and even talking to each other. Sure enough it was that pair who fought out a ding-dong battle up the hill.

To hear AP and Ruby, arguably the two greatest jumps jockeys of all time, talk about their own mid-race clashes and banter, was genuinely fascinating and I hope the viewers on ITV enjoyed seeing what top notch human beings they are – a different side to these fierce competitors out of the saddle.

Sport makes heroes but also breaks hearts and we saw both ends of the spectrum on Friday.

Goshen parts company with Jamie Moore at the last in the Triumph

Goshen left everyone emotionally shattered when unseating Jamie Moore at the last in the Triumph. The shots of the rider, crestfallen, walking back to the weighing room were hard to watch.

AP said that when incidents like this happened to Ruby and him, which it did, they knew they had other big rides to come, often in the very next race. For Jamie this was his one big gun at Cheltenham 2020.

Man of the day for me was Steven Packham, owner of Goshen, who hugged the jockey with a huge smile on his face afterwards saying “that’s what happens in sport”.

The upside for the Moore team is they know they have a top-class hurdler on their hands and I hope he comes back to the Festival next year to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle. After today, they’ll appreciate it even more.

At the other end of the spectrum the joy on the face of Townend after winning back-to-back Gold Cups was wonderful but I have two worries after that race.

Firstly, the victory of Al Boum Photo, backed up my theory that top-class staying chasers have one big performance a year in them.

Clan Des Obeaux’s came at Kempton on Boxing Day, Delta Work at the Dublin Racing Festival. Perhaps now more horses will be wrapped in cotton wool and have very light campaigns. I hope not.

My other concern is that the racing powerhouses have completely dominated. Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott had seven winners apiece, Nicky Henderson four.

I was so relieved to see 66/1 chance It Came To Pass win the Foxhunters for Eugene O'Sullivan. I don’t think I could have faced seeing Mullins and JP McManus winning the amateurs’ Gold Cup – with no disrespect intended to those great men.

Cheltenham needs the love to be shared to keep the magic alive. Maybe Ruby is right and these things go in cycles but total domination by a handful of big guns isn’t healthy for this wonderful sport.

It’s been a very tough week for everyone in the country and I wasn’t forced to be at Cheltenham – but was pleased to be and happy to be guided by the medical experts.

I hope we gave people a lift of some sorts at such a sad and worrying time and would like to thank all who watched in such big numbers, and got in touch with so many kind messages.

I just hope it wasn’t my last for the channel.


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