For 23 years I lived in the North Cotswolds, heart of National Hunt racing country, where March comes round with a quickening of hearts. From Monday night of Gold Cup Week, helicopters bringing racegoers clattered over my chimney pots, en route to the hotel on the hill. Those were the days when the independent bookie, Simon, of Roughley Racing in Chipping Campden, wore a sports jacket and a flower in his button hole. Sadly, his friendly little betting shop was swept away by the rise of the internet and the demise of a lot of old boys who hung out every day for hours, watching the races on his TV and putting 50p on each way here and there. It was all great fun. The pubs and hotels put on Race Nights in the run-up. Everybody talked about horses and the B&Bs were full of the Irish.
Once, my car broke down in the middle of the High Street. In a trice, a Mini stopped alongside and four Irish priests leaped out and started to give me a push to get going. As I was up and running, one of them raced alongside me and yelled through my open window, ‘Doran’s Pride !’ I guess most people would have known at once what he meant and I duly put my money on him. (Sadly, he fell and broke his leg in the Foxhunter and had to be put down.)
A friend went late into a grand Cotswolds hotel after a post-race party. In the foyer was an Irishman sprawled in an armchair, his sports jacket open wide with hundreds of fifty pound notes spilling out of the inside pockets, visible to all. A porter appeared with a rug. He closed the sleeping punter’s jacket together, tucked him up in the rug, and crept away.
I live many miles away now so it all has to be watched on television and it just is not the same, you don’t get the atmosphere, though you pretend you do. But at 1.30 on Tuesday, I shall be standing in front of my box to cheer the jockeys as they file out, the Champion jockey leading, and then to wait until the sound like no other in the world, as they’re off for the opener .. the Cheltenham Roar. Really, you have to be there. The only thing that comes close is if Gold Cup Day falls on St Patrick’s Day and an Irish horse wins.
Things have changed. They always do. A few rules on the consumption of alcohol are in place and quite right. Cheltenham is not the Aintree meeting, thank you. The dress code remains – tweeds, brown trilbys, fur hats. The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly, unstuffy, cheerful – until a horse breaks a leg and the men with the terrible green screens come running onto the course. That is the downside of all NH racing.
I am reminded of it because my ante-post Bet of the Week bit the dust when Thistlecrack was shaded into 2nd by Many Clouds, who promptly collapsed and died, pushing himself just too far in his eagerness. He was a generous, giving horse, as they have to be to win the Grand National. Tough too. But beating Thistlecrack – what a way to go.
Thistlecrack brought me a nice wad of sponduliks when winning the King George, so I went in big on him not only to win this year’s Gold Cup but to do the double. The returns would have bought a few Mulberry handbags and plenty to give away after – which is what you do with race winnings, because it is Fairy money, and that must go on life’s little luxuries and to charity. My rule.
It was not to be. Thistlecrack is out, injured so bang goes – well, never mind. I plan to make it up. I have all my ante-post bets in place, as usual. You get the best prices that way and most bookies are doing Non-Runner No Bet.
Here are mine. I won’t bet on the Gold Cup (which sees three likely winners all at 7-2 as I speak, so anything may happen). I haven’t punted on the race since the glory days of the much-missed Best Mate, Henrietta Knight’s wonder horse. Things haven’t been the same without Hen and Terry, never mind the horses, but then, they were not the same for years after Jenny Pitman retired either. There are very few top of the tops women trainers. I wish Mrs Sue Smith would bring her string to Cheltenham but she is champion woman trainer oop North, and sticks to what and where she knows . (If you want to make good profits following only one trainer, stick with Sue Smith. She bangs in the winners at a great rate, season in season out.)
But I digress. Here’s my list. The money’s been down for weeks. Oh, and just a word of warning… you follow me at your own risk. If I were you, I wouldn’t.
SUPREME NOVICES HURDLE
River Wylde. I took 12-1.
OLG MARES HURDLE
Jer’s Girl (Ruby Walsh rides Limini).
JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE
Two bets on this. Dinaria Des Obeaux and Bapaume. But this is a very tricky race. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mega Fortune win it either but you have to stop somewhere.
ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE
Champagne on Ice
RSA NOVICE CHASE
Cole Harden… I rarely bet each way but I did when he was 33-1 last time out and very pleased I was that I had. No 33s this time of course but I got 14-1 ante post which is good value.
I may have others during the week as we go, but these are all my ante-post bets.