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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

The Festival is closing in. Be careful of what you search for

Robin Gibson chases the dream as the digital countdown accelerates

It's almost that time of year again, and the excitement is building . . .
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It's that time of year. Corbyn is a Soviet spy. Brexit is betrayed (but not by spies). Boy hurls puppy off cliff into crocodile-infested water. KFC runs out of chicken. Apple speakers stain expensive furniture.

All headlines, all shocking and true* – and all irrelevant to racing folk who, for the next (consults Cheltenham website) 18 days, 22 hours, 35 minutes (at time of writing) will attend only to Cheltenham.

Was it always like this? There didn't used to be a big clock, but was the Festival always the exclusive focal point?

You read here that the web was invented in 1989 and presented to the public in 1993. The first website, which is pretty boring, states that the World Wide Web (or 'W3' as the option was given, but not taken) is a "wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents". Overuse of 'universe' there, and unnecessary use of 'large', but that's not the issue.

W3: the first web page

Has the web coincided with the rise of Cheltenham, or is it instrumental? No one is going to answer that in just under 1,000 words, but you can't deny W3 has made people more partial to information for the sake of it.

It seems you can barely move without coming across Cheltenham info now. But is that just perception? Google 'When is c' and you get Chinese new year, Christmas Radio Times (!) and Champions League draw. No Cheltenham. 'Ch' adds cheapest time to fly, 'Che' gets you Chelsea flower show. Only by adding the 'l' do you arrive at Cheltenham Gold Cup.

This doesn't answer the question either – sorry – but, as anyone who has watched Ted 2 knows, pursuing 'What people are searching for' rarely ends well. Search Cheltenham Festival in full and you're on solid ground.

Still even the best efforts of The Festival™ can't stop advertisers, and this time the 'above the fold' search results don't even reveal the official site. You get at the top, which is an ad, but also a thoroughly populated site.

However for the casual browser it's lame, bland and out-of-date, like these peanuts I'm eating. You can consume it, but there's no point, and it might make you nauseous.

At time of writing the top post was seven days old, headlined '2018 Cheltenham Festival Tickets: five reasons why you should visit the festival'. The five reasons are the history, the stadium (?), the people, the atmosphere and the racing.

Around this is a huge web of articles, decaying and moribund in places. Under Gold Cup tips you'll find Tony McCoy's tip for last year's Gold Cup. Under Champion Hurdle tips we also have McCoy's tip for last year's Gold Cup, as well as a 'verdict' with no verdict, just a general overview, as if the jury in the Joseph 'Skinny Joey' Merlino mistrial had returned triumphantly with 300 words on the courtroom decor (actually it was a hopeless deadlock). 

Then there's 'Pricewise's expert tips' (cheeky!) which would be good, considering he hasn't done them yet. But they're for last year too. There are some up-to-date portions, but it's a patchy show.

In the top corner it says " is an official partner of the Jockey Club". So it must be, although I couldn't find it on the list of partners at the JC site or the Festival one.

Never mind. The real Cheltenham site is as good as ever and has improved its home page, with a great video clip of the leaders clearing the second-last in last year's Gold Cup. Not running to the finish, but stopping just as Sizing John is set to power on, it's a lovely, slow-motion scene that captures the drama, excitement and anticipation perfectly. Brilliant.

On the other hand, hype, continually huffing at the houses of drama, excitement and anticipation like an overfamiliar and boring wolf, is never far off. The next frame features a bombastic aphorism: "Dreams are necessary to life. The Cheltenham Festival is the only place to fulfil them." Try that one out on Nelson Mandela or Nicki Minaj.

Away from dreams, assuming you are awake, there's time to study statistics. And festival fans floundering in the ocean of Cheltenham stats, trends and Pricewise tips for last year, should reach out for Gaultstats.

Flagged previously, the work of Bryan Gault is a labour of love and near-obsession that never fails to engage. I counted the words a couple of years ago and there were about 35,000.

All you need to know is that there is a chunky, absorbing section for every race, packed with stats and trends. Take the Coral Cup, my nemesis and scene of many near-triumphs and bitter disappointments. There are 2,400 words on this, with barely a syllable of slack. That's going to help.

There's also plenty of general fact-finding, a good section on disappointing bookmaker offers, a forthright assessment of Racing Post tipsters and a quiz marginally less impossible than last year. Gault's tangential racecourse tour is enjoyable too. Did you know they ask an extra quid for gravy if you buy a pie at Chester?

The site is unencumbered by advertising and Gault asks for a charity donation; last year he raised £2,500 for the Samaritans. This year it's Guide Dogs for the Blind.

In another area, interesting trainer John Berry has a new website. It's good, with loads of pics, news and a blog. There's a lot of blogging going in the Berry quarters, with the trainer's Stable Life also worth checking out (here on the mooted championship racing), along with Emma Berry's Unstable Life.

Berry doesn't like the term 'racing industry', never mind 'pointing industry' (who does? Industrialists?), and in his welcome to the site says: "One can easily forget that racing was devised to give people pleasure." But one shouldn't.

*Some subjectivity involved in some headlines

Twitter: @surfnturfRP

If you enjoyed this, read more Surf & Turf:

Vision of the betting future is an endless virtual rat race

Simply the best? Contested case of Arrogate proves more complex than that

Dublin debuts festival-plus while Cheltenham fans watch the clock



Hype, continually huffing at the houses of drama, excitement and anticipation like an overfamiliar and boring wolf, is never far off
E.W. Terms
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