"Wash your hands and business as usual" is a phrase that sounded as if it would haunt British Prime Minister Boris Johnson the moment it left his lips, particularly with many interpreting "business" as the operative word. 

Business in the British racing industry doesn't get any bigger than the Cheltenham Festival. Figures from the Levy Board reveal that eight of the top 10 races, in terms of betting turnover, came over the four-day Festival in 2019. 

The prospect of the British Horseracing Authority cancelling the meeting was unlikely, even as the coronavirus crisis escalated. 

The BHA followed and follows its government's advice, but heeding advice seemed inadequate when an edict from higher office was required. 

If criticism of policy makers who may have abdicated responsibility was understandable, ire aimed at racegoers was arguably less so. 

Aspects of the criticism, and the quarters from where it came, were troubling. The anti-racing lobby and anti-gambling sentiment have gained momentum in recent years, and some of the outrage smacked of never letting a good crisis go to waste. 

One antiquated portrayal of racegoers in a national newspaper saw them lampooned as rakish figures, stock characters who could have just stepped out of a Georgette Heyer novel.

Debate and elements of the criticism were warranted, but it all got rather unedifying at a time when we require displays of empathy rather than ridicule. 

Clues abound

The fact that most of the horses running at the Festival are attempting to peak makes the meeting the best future form guide of the National Hunt season. 

It's not just what you see, but what you hear as well that's worth carrying forward. 

If sport is one of the things that has replaced religion as the opiate of the people, the build-up to Cheltenham allows fans to mainline on Festival for weeks beforehand, and it's all too easy to overdose on content of questionable merit.

However, if the pre-race chat leads to confusion as much as it does clarity, the post-race interviews are among the most candid and illuminating in the calendar. The euphoria of a high-profile win or the pain of an unexpected defeat seem to act as a truth serum, with one victorious jockey at a Festival past breathlessly admitting to having to bite his lip at preview nights to avoid letting slip his "ride of the week".

Ones to watch

Elixir D'ainay - Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Tue)
Mark Walsh was one of the top jockeys in the weighing room before the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and remained one afterwards. However, his ride on Elixir D'ainay is likely one he regrets. 

They didn't hang about in the Festival curtain-raiser, but Walsh's mount was still travelling conspicuously well when frontrunner Asterion Forlonge jumped to his right, delivering a shuddering bump to Elixir D'ainay in the process. To add insult to injury, Asterion Forlonge barged his rival at the very next flight, with the horse falling and bringing down Captain Guinness and Rachael Blackmore. They too had been hampered at the earlier hurdle and were still in the race. 

That 'fall' looks an ungenerous official description of what transpired, when 'brought down' exists in the form book. 

It's easy to be wise after the fact, but such a scenario could have been envisioned before the tape went up. 

Asterion Forlonge jumped right the first time he ever cleared a hurdle in public at Naas in January and exhibited the same tendency at Leopardstown on his last start before the Festival. Walsh rode in both those races, making his choice of route in the Supreme all the more baffling. 

Chasing home Envoi Allen at Naas and running well for a long after racing freely over 2m6f at the Dublin Racing Festival was always likely to read well, and Elixir D'ainay did more than enough in this spot to send the message to connections that the minimum trip is the optimum trip. Projecting his finishing position if his race hadn't ended early is a matter of supposition, but you'd fancy he'd have finished someway ahead of the eventual third, Chantry House. Gold, silver or bronze - who knows? 

What of the Asterion Forlonge? The rascal! If he races again this season, a prospect which becomes more unlikely by the day due to the pandemic, we'll almost certainly see more of the same. Next season should reveal all. If his propensity to jump right is a mental quirk, then it's something that even a master like Willie Mullins may not be able to coax out of him. However, it could be a physical issue that's prompting his bad behaviour, a minor injury and one that's too subtle to detect. It may not even be an injury, it's not just humans who suffer from growing pains. A leg may be slightly too long, a tendon too tight. Another summer on the grey's back promises to reveal all. 

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Ravenhill - National Hunt Chase (Tue)

Ravenhill defied quite the drift in Tuesday's finale to see off Lord Du Mesnil, with a yawning gap of more than 30 lengths back to Lamanver Pippin in third. 

The lack of support for the Gordon Elliott-trained winner was hardly surprising, given that his handler and his form indicated a preference for faster ground. 

Ravenhill holds a Grand National entry but wouldn't have made it to Aintree even if the race hadn't been called off, due to his perch in the weights. 

Next year could be a different story. The race has been going to classier and younger types in recent years and Ravenhill will be 11 next April. However, he's got very few miles on the clock for his age, with this win coming from just his seventh run over fences.

Easywork - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Wed) 

Envoi Allen rightfully garnered all the headlines in the Ballymore, but stablemate Easywork ran a huge race while doing a lot wrong. 

A strong early pace should have helped Easywork to settle, but that wasn't the case, with Rachael Blackmore visibly struggling to restrain the son of Network as he raced prominently. 

Those antics could have seen him fade badly in the closing stages, but it was only approaching the last that those exertions finally took their toll, with Envoi Allen leading home an Elliott one-two. 

Fences may beckon next season and the larger obstacles could see him to even better effect. 

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Ferny Hollow - Champion Bumper (Wed)

A Hollow victory proved anything but for Willie Mullins on Day 2, with the trainer recording his very first win of the week in a race that he has farmed for more than two decades. 

Ferny Hollow delivered a 10th bumper win for Mullins. Had he underperformed, favourite and stablemate Appreciate It would have ensured the same feat as he came second. 

This was a victory for potential over form, for what the clock can't record over what it can, with Appreciate It having galloped his rivals into submission in a fast time at the Dublin Racing Festival on his most recent outing. 

It may have taken Ferny Hollow three attempts to shed his maiden tag under Rules, but the Cheveley Park-owned gelding lost little in defeat, even if his backers did. Horses who pull as hard as he did aren't meant to win races or even finish in the runner-up berth.

The application of a hood brought about the required effect on his penultimate start, but only to a degree, and he still travelled more strongly than ideal under Paul Townend, as he followed in the hoofprints of Envoi Allen 12 months after that star scored in the very same colours. 

Anchored at the back of the field, he made stealthy progress before Townend finally asked for an effort rounding the home turn. It speaks volumes for Ferny Hollow's ability that after overracing, his rider still didn't need to reach for his whip until hitting the front well inside the final furlong. 

Stepping up beyond two miles is the logical step for a Champion Bumper winner, but much will depend on if his enthusiasm can be tempered. 

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Burning Victory - Triumph Hurdle (Fri)

Four to follow and one to possibly swerve. 

There have been a number of high-profile departures of would-be winners at the final flight at Cheltenham in recent years, with Goshen the latest to elicit groans from favourite backers in Friday's opener. 

Gary Moore's charge was matched at a low of 1-25 on Betfair before unseating the trainer's son, Jamie, allowing Burning Victory to capitalise on the duo's misfortune. 

A number of sketchy jumps resulted in the mare occupying a place at the rear of the field. It may not have been by design, but that proved advantageous due to the brutal pace scenario which was playing out up ahead. 

She's clearly unexposed of hurdles and has plenty of talent, but she looks the type to be overbacked next time out. 

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