Memories are made by shared experiences like this
Former MP Esther McVey with a personal reflection on the 2017 festival
Who'd have thought the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup would have provided me with one of my life's most memorable moments.
I could understand it if you're a jockey, a trainer or an owner – of course it would provide such a moment – but for me, a mere enthusiast, who'd have believed it?
And it wasn't because I backed the winner, which I did, well kind of. The win wasn't even big – mind you, I never bet that much, so never win or lose big – but it was how the bet came about that made my heart sing.
I have a lifelong friend who is dying. I'm betraying no confidences. I'm not breaking any news. She knows it, she talks openly about it, she elected to take herself out of hospital and return home to be with her husband, in her house, surrounded by things she loves and looking out of her bedroom window at the beautiful scenery, watching the birds fly by and the trees now turning green.
I sent a text to her and her husband and asked if they fancied a flutter. She has a dark sense of humour so earlier in the week she asked for a tiny bet on Tombstone – I obliged. It didn't come anywhere. I did the same with Death Duty, God's Own and Flying Angel. None came close to winning – all too macabre obviously!
Then on the final day of the festival on Friday I texted to them: "Last day – anything for the big race?"
Her husband John replied as Lee is now only awake a few hours a day. The wonderful Macmillan nurses come round every day and as her pain increases so do her morphine doses. Sleep fills the gap between night and day.
John wrote: "It's probably the worst nag in the field, but Lee wants to back the horse with my name in it, Sizing John."
So I did.
The race came on. John told me Lee was asleep face down when it started, like a child's rag doll in the bed. But they've put a TV in the bedroom and they watch it to spend some easy time together. He can be at her side, read the paper to her, watch the TV with her, and she joins in when she can, but less frequently now. So, John had the race on, and should she wake, they could share the moment together.
As the race got exciting, John got excited. He could no longer be contained in his seat. He stood up cheering the horse on, walked right up to the TV screen as Sizing John became a serious prospect and potential winner of the race. Who'd have believed it, Sizing John was up there with a chance!
Lee was awake for the final circuit, and she was transformed and transfixed by the race, sitting up and cheering. John turned round, Lee was now next to him cheering Sizing John on! She hadn't been out of bed for some days, at least not without the assistance of him or a nurse. John had his vibrant, fun wife back for the race. The pain had melted, the tiredness gone. Together they cheered as Sizing John crossed the finishing line. The 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.
He called me immediately, whooping and hollering. I spoke to Lee, who was transformed for a few moments before exhaustion took hold again.
He texted me later: "Thank you for the fun. Thank you for a final memory of the woman I married. Memories are made from shared moments like this."
You see, all the earlier horses we'd backed, from Tombstone to Death Duty, weren't right at all. It was the love of her husband John that delivered the winner.