Racing: Fame accorded the finishing touch: Greg Wood reports on Cheltenham's homage to the greats of National Hunt racing

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The Independent Online
WHEN AN American football player is elected to the Hall of Fame, the induction ceremony involves tears, prime-time TV and more cheerleaders than you could shake a pom-pom at. Thus it is perhaps a cause for relief to find that the Cheltenham Hall of Fame, which opened last week, would struggle to accommodate a jazz combo, much less a marching band.

The name owes more to enthusiasm than emulation, and the location more to a corridor than a hall, but this museum of jumping excellence still offers racegoers a worthwhile alternative to the bar in the dreary dead zone between races. Attractive, articulate displays celebrate the horses and people - from trainers and jockeys through to punters and bookies - who have made Cheltenham such a uniquely exciting venue, with information packaged to suit any attention span. 'You could look round in 10 minutes, or read everything in two hours,' says Jeremy Martin, one of the Hall's organisers.

Racegoers with a bookmaker to visit are likely to fill the former category, and there is no shortage of quick visual fixes to accommodate them. The colours of every Gold Cup winner, hanging from the ceiling of the bright, glass lobby, are particularly good to look at, while a head-and-shoulders hologram of Desert Orchid is as diverting as it is corny. Anyone who has mislaid their coat or binoculars at the course will want to inspect a showcase full of the detritus that the crowds leave behind, while further on, continuous video loops of famous finishes confirm that it is impossible not to go weepy when Dawn Run and Jonjo O'Neill land the big one.

It is no surprise to find that partnership also featuring among the first 12 names inducted to the Hall of Fame. Indeed, the list's distinct lack of surprises is a slight disappointment, for while a Hall of Fame's principal aims are to inform and commemorate, an inevitable secondary role is to stimulate animated, even bitter, argument over deserving candidates.

The judges effectively disqualified a certain grey horse by ignoring the last five years - true fame, after all, must stand the test of time - but for the most part an Olympian nit-picker would struggle to find fault. The other founder members are:

Arkle and Golden Miller - both multiple Gold Cup winners; Sir Ken - three times champion hurdler; Fulke Walywn, Vincent O'Brien, Michael Dickinson, and Fred and Mercy Rimell - the outstanding post-War trainers; Fred Winter - the only man to train and ride a champion hurdler; Peter O'Sullevan - The Voice; The Queen Mother - knighthoods all round; and Dick Francis.

Dick Francis? Here, at least, is scope for discussion. As his citation says, Francis has 'taken steeplechasing into millions of homes worldwide', but then so has Red Rum and he does not merit a mention in the exhibition.

For this is very much Cheltenham's Hall of Fame, and Aintree might as well be in Luxembourg as Liverpool. A little competitive insularity is understandable, but since one display focuses on chasing in the rest of the world, it makes no sense to ignore the rest of Britain.

When the Hall's next entries are revealed, Red Rum's name could only add to the authority of a clever and stimulating exhibition. It costs nothing to walk in and judge for yourself, any day of the year.

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