Saturday, 20 March 2010

Cheltenham

In racing, the adage about the king is dead, long live the king is very acute. Kauto Star was expected to win the top prize in jump racing yesterday but I knew that his jumping could be dodgy. I’d tipped Imperial Commander for the Cheltenham Gold Cup to anyone who was asking and so was well pleased to see him win.
The only problem was that, apart from an ante-post yankee which had fallen apart in the course of the festival, I wasn’t on Imperial Commander; I was on Denman, though the old tank wasn’t carrying much of my money.
Myself, Ange and Mick were in one of those ale and pie pubs that are absurdly expensive and make their money out of corporate entertaining. We were there because they were showing Cheltenham on the telly. As I walked in a posh man was at the bar with his son; they were dressed like Princes Phillip and Charles visiting Gordonstoun in 1963, and sounded like it too.
There was a time when I would have sneered at them. But I have little class war left in my soul. The past 13 years of “social democracy” has made me realise we have a great deal more to lose than our aitches, to paraphrase my hero, George Orwell. Or as my mate Butch says: ‘I thought I hated Thatcher till I saw Ed Balls.’
Anyway. One useful thing about the wealthy is that they’re usually tight with money. This puts them in a sort of canary in a coalmine role in the marketplace. Thus, as I approached the bar I heard the older man say, with well-modulated incredulity, ‘I beg your pardon? Six pounds ten for a glass of wine?’
I felt like elbowing him in the ribs and saying in my best Alfred Doolittle, ‘aye, cap’n, a man can’t get himself drunk without laying out a fortune. Tax, captain, tax and brewery greed. It’s how socialism fucks you up the arse twice. Tax.’
The difference between conservatism and socialism, really. Once up the arse or twice.
I watched him shell out the money. It amused me. Perhaps I have got more class war left in my soul than I thought.
We settled down and watched Berties Dream hold off Najaf and win at 50/1 in the County Hurdle. Ange, who is a coincidence bettor, had it in a 25p trixie with Thousand Stars, which had won the previous race at 20/1. So she was £300 to the good already. If her third selection, Balthazar King, pulled it off in the conditional jockeys’ hurdle at 4.40 she would be in for over £7,000.
Both my bets in the previous two, Tito Bustillo, Fionnegas, had gone west. But I didn’t mind because my third top bet of the festival, Soldatino, had won the Triumph Hurdle at 6/1 with £50 quid of mine on its back.
If you’re into racing I think there is three different types of bet: a racing man’s bet, a punter’s bet and a mug’s bet. I mainly do the last two, but occasionally I’ll pull off the first type and it gives me a kick. I saw Soldatino win at Kempton a few weeks back – backed him as a well – and I thought: here’s class. French class as it happens.
The race was for me the best of the festival. Barizan had front run and was at one point 20-odd lengths ahead of the rest of the field. Soldatino was lost in mid-division. Then he came wide and started to slowly reel Barizan in, all the way up the hill, and won. I nearly put the whole lot on Tito Bustillo in the following race. But it was good that I didn’t, because he was beat halfway.
I’d had a racing man’s bet on Sizing Europe the first day and that had also won at 6s. During the week I’d had punter bets on Big Zeb, which won at 10s, Albertas Run at 14s. I couldn’t complain. I’d had a few losers and all my multiples had gone west but I’d made a profit, which I then dissipated with fermented liquor and its ancillary expenses.
As we sat in the pub – me drinking ESB, which is a hell of an ale – I suddenly looked at the screen and saw Denman had drifted to 5/1. I thought: McCoy, champion jump jockey and remorseless winning machine on *Denman*, the barrel-chested tank? At fives? So, even though I tipped Imperial Commander to everyone, including in my role as the tipster Flash Harry in a friend’s publication, I decided to back Denman. I was right in two ways. Kauto Star’s jumping let him down, Denman would be better value than Kauto and Imperial Commander would win it. Paddy Brennan is my favourite jumps jockey, so it was very cheering to see him chin Denman on the way up the hill.
We strolled up to the Ladbrokes to watch Ange’s race. Balthazar King looked good and was having some mighty money punted on him. He opened at 20s and was soon down to 10s. I had a small each way. Ange was nervous. ‘I just want to get this over with,’ she said.
Balthazar King had a talented three pound claimer on him but fell after about four fences. Ange picked her 300 up and we went to the nearby Wetherspoons for a bottle of competitively-priced veuve cliquot.
On our way out of the betting shop we saw Fat Boy and a rather sly Asian youth who is sometimes referred to as ‘p**i on the moon’, for reasons I will explain below.
They are a sort of double act. Fat Boy aged about forty-five, white, with the choleric face and massive waistline of a veteran form lager addict. Sanjif, to give him his proper name, is thin, about 30 and, if the rumours are true, slowly conning his crippled uncle out of his savings. They both only back favourites, to ‘buy money’, which is the most pathetic form of horse playing, in my opinion. They always look miserable when the big meetings come round because they lose their money as short-price favourites get turned over again and again.
They don’t like us, I feel, because we *gamble*, we have sport from it. They could never do this, the pain would be too great for them. They’d rather lose on a ‘certainty’ than win on a proper tilt. They feel more comfortable that way. They both employ ‘prison queue’ tactics in the betting shop towards people they don’t like – “accidental” shoving, barging in front at the betting window.
On my way out I smirked at them – they knew we’d had a win, but they didn’t know how much, so we acted like we’d picked a few grand up, just to annoy them.
The reason for the Asian man’s unpleasant nickname among the pub/bookie’s denizens is that he once borrowed ten pounds off Charlie, the fence and gambler and failed to pay the money back. Charlie said to him in a loud voice in the middle of the Corals: ‘If I don’t get that tenner by Friday, Sanjif, you’ll be the first p**i on the moon.’
Please don’t shoot the messenger; this is reportage.
I’d seen a mug bet that morning. Pigeon Island, in the Grand Annual at a massive price. I’ve always had a soft spot for that horse because it appears to have been named after the popular but unofficial name of that little area outside Tooting Broadway Tube where the statue of Edward VII is and which is home to hundreds of
Anyway, in all the to-ing and fro-ing I forgot to back it. Yes. It did.

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