Runners and Riders

Marathon training in full stride, it was great to be invited yesterday to rest my athritic hip and blag some spectator sport as the guest of my sis and her family at Cheltenham Races. (The event’s catchy title was,  ‘Festival Trials Day’, but it’s enough to know that they let total horse duffers in to meets like this.  I’m guilty as charged).

Last time I was at Cheltenham Race Course, you’ll remember that I was actually running.  No horses were involved, and I refused the jumps, but running is the only way you can complete the Cheltenham Half Marathon and get a medal.  Yesterday however,  I decided to stick to the stands and let the horses churn up their own dust and mud without me. Those riding silks and jodhpurs do nothing for my pear shape anyway.

Dressed to avoid hypothermia and looking like a Michelin man (pear shape to Mr Blobby in a shower of layers), I arrive at my sister’s house for a cheeky pre-race breakfast.   Sadly, after all these sibling years  I am to rudely discover that I don’t know her at all.  As bible-thumping Methodists,  even buying a raffle ticket – let alone chomping on a wine gum – was strictly frowned upon by our parents.  You can imagine my disbelief therefore,  to walk into my sister’s kitchen and find her downloading bet365 (other apps are available) onto her smart phone. She looks sheepish and arm wrestles me until I promise not to tell our mother what I’ve just witnessed. Satisfied I won’t snitch (she’s older than me, – although she pretends otherwise – and this gives her armwrestling confidence that she would have done well to test out more thoroughly), she turns to offer her son some punting tips.  It transpires that she’s also got a subscription to the Racing Post these days.  John Wesley, I’m ashamed for us both.

I hand her a tenner to seal my fate and we pick some ‘runners’ (I use the term vaguely) as we drink strong coffee and replenish her hip flask.

As I reflect back on the day,  I realise I did learn some valuable lessons as a racing novice.  If ever I’m brave enough to show my face at Cheltenham again, I shall put this learning to good use.  I share it with you now:

  • Never choose your horse on the basis of its name.  For example, even if your father was called Harry, don’t put a month’s salary on ‘You Know What I mean Harry’ – a) because he’s actually a donkey, and b) because his name is too long to be shown on the screen or for the commentator to bother sharing it.  The same applies for  ‘Storming Home’  (he didn’t) or ‘OnefortheroadTom’ (if Tom was the jockey, he clearly followed the owner’s advice too closely).
  • Get off your lardy backside and actually go out in the rain and view the horses in the paddock.  You might then see if he is ‘potentially useful’ (sic) or whether it will actually, ‘be interesting to see how he figures in market on stable debut’ (what do those words even mean?)  By doing this, you won’t feel so jealous of  your smug brother-in-law and nephew who go out to the paddock between every race and pick some rank outsiders…who then go on to win.
  • Learn what the words and numbers on the race card actually mean before you open your big mouth in racing public.  Shouting, ‘the odds don’t look good at 10-5,’ is only going to be met with derision when you’re told that you’re actually reading out the jockey’s weight.
  • Throw fashion expectations out of the window for the day.  Bright green Harris Tweed is de rigueur and so are mustard yellow corduroy trousers – the women are much more subtle.  While the male:female ratio offers strong odds in favour of meeting a mature single man with money, you will need to have your sights set on a  Mr Tweedy look-alike, with a penchant for Guinness and with less money by the afternoon than he arrived with that morning.  The alternative is to go for a younger – much sharper – Peaky Blinder look, however this usually comes attached to a pretty lass turning blue in the cold and regretting her choice of white strappy heels.
  • If you’re going to smuggle in snacks to avoid Tote style mark up at the race course and to complement the contents of the aforementioned hip flask, make sure your companions have similar  culinary tastes.  I intended my contraband deluxe dark chocolate with 85% cocoa content to be – as advertised – ‘a rich feast of antioxidants’ for my companions, but apparently it tasted like, ‘horse crap’.  Terry, I’m back to your chocolate oranges if I get invited again.
  • Finally, leave before the finish of the last race unless you want to stay grid-locked in the car park for ever.  While in the morning there’s a glut of officious car parking officials to ensure streamlined parking and flow, by the evening, there’s not a high viz jacket to be seen.  A field of four wheel drives are likely to  decide they’ll go flat out to the finish and clear the queues, even if they didn’t clear some winnings earlier.  Not the sport of kings if you value your paintwork.

My saving grace seems to have been my risk aversion.  Backing each donkey £1 each way means that my net loss for the day was only a tenner.  I think I can live with that.  One of my horses romped home third and for a fleeting moment I thought I might have a future in spread betting rather than in the world of education.

This moment has passed, and now I’m just working out what to say to mum when she asks how I spent my weekend.  By the way, if you’re thinking of placing a bet yourself, the odds of my covering for big sis about the racing app look about 40.1.  Harry would know what I mean, he’s probably spoken to mum about it already.  Methodists tend to stick together, even when the going’s rough.

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