Magazine article The Spectator

The Trouble with Cheltenham

Magazine article The Spectator

The Trouble with Cheltenham

Article excerpt

By the time you read this, I will either be taking Mrs Oakley out for a well-deserved dinner at Le Caprice or I will be carrying a sack of stones and a pair of leg-irons, looking for a deep river. The Cheltenham Festival will have come and gone, probably taking with it most of my betting money for the year.

This column had to be submitted before the Festival but if by the time you see it Khyber Kim has been placed in the Champion Hurdle, Baby Run has won the Foxhunters, Mourad the Coral Cup and Enterprise Park the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle the unseemly struggle over whether the house should be recarpeted will have been settled in Mrs Oakley's favour. And if Summit Meeting has won the Neptune Novices Hurdle she can carpet it with fivers.

The trouble with Cheltenham is that I have too many bets. Something comes along to distract me from those I have backed ante-post. Then I will bump into Festival acquaintances who insist that the stable dogs have been barking one all over Co. Carlow or trainer friends who will insist, 'We really do fancy this one a bit.' So they get a saver, too.

There are the sentimental bets. 'Oh, Pleased As Punch did me nicely, winning at 8-1 at Sandown last September, I'd better not leave him out.' And then there are the 'story bets'. Unlucky Sam Thomas was nearly killed on Paul Nicholls's gallops the other morning and put out of the Festival by the falling Woolcombe Folly. Wouldn't you just bet that the horse will add insult to injury by winning the Irish Independent Arkle Chase in the hands of another jockey?

A sensible punter holds his fire and does not bet in every race, does not chase losses and does not allow himself to be put off because a horse he expects to win is quoted at a mean price. At Cheltenham I make all those mistakes. But I am, I know, in good company. The best thing that happened to me last week was to get back on his impeccable Lambourn gallops with Barry Hills, who was nearly killed by a fearful illness last year. To hear him fretting, as he has so often done, about the weather holding back the horses and to hear his language as colourfully robust as ever when he leaned out of the car window to give instructions made you feel that God was in his heaven after all. …

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