Bangor-On-Dee

There was more dissent from my hands-free kit on the long drive. I think it was still sulking from our Chepstow spat. With false sincerity it informed me “I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests at the moment. Please try again in a bit.” Like you’ve got something more important to be doing, you useless piece of junk?

Bangor-On-Dee racecourse doesn’t seem to sit quite right in its environment. The main viewing area faces a bend, and in the home straight the runners finish straight towards the public. It’s almost as though the racecourse was set up before they thought about where to put the facilities. Before the advent of giant TV screens, it would have been almost impossible to work out what was happening at the finish.

But two winners from the first two races endears me to the place, and all of a sudden I have a chance of making proper inroads into my earlier losses. The third race is a tricky handicap chase. I try the paddock for inspiration.

9 keeps looking at me, every time he goes round. 3 looks scrawny and goes to post early. Now 8 is looking at me too! But 8 is looking at everybody, I’m not sure it means that much. Now 1 has joined in, giving me a knowing glance, but 9 seems to have lost interest. What does this all mean? In my confusion I decide on a scattergun approach and back 1, 8 and 9 to small stakes at large prices.

The race is not very old when 1 falls and badly hampers 9 who is pulled up. 8 runs well but can’t catch 3. These horses are making a mockery of my ‘looked at me in the paddock’ betting strategy. Can we have a rule from now on please, all horses that are reading this, that you are only going to look at me if you are going to win? Either that or I’ll have to stop going to the paddock.

The fifth race is the most intriguing. A three runner affair and 13 year old Westwire Toby, with form figures this season of PPPP, can’t win. But Shantou Magic, the odds on favourite was also pulled up last time after bursting a blood vessel. If he’s fit and well he should be well clear of the second favourite Askamore Darsi.

I decide on a complicated strategy. One bookmaker is offering 33/1 on the dual forecast Askamore to beat Westwire. If the favourite bleeds again I’m a big winner. But I also need to back the favourite if his problems have been sorted. I don’t like betting at odds on, but in this race it might almost be value. The only possible way I don’t win is if Askamore wins but Shantou is second. Or if Westwire wins, which can’t happen. This is like printing money! Isn’t it?….. Phew, it is.

Jockey Will Kennedy acknowledges Shantou Magic's performance in the Novice Chase

Jockey Will Kennedy acknowledges Shantou Magic’s performance in the Novice Chase

Cliff Emery bravely stood all the money he could on Shantou Magic. I watched for 10 minutes, soaking up the buzz of the betting ring, the battle of wills between punter and layer, and didn’t see him take a bet on either other horse. He then defiantly pushed the price out to 1/2. I asked him after the race, as I collected my winnings, if it was a big loser for him.

“No, piss poor price weren’t it.”

This hardened veteran had seen it all, and was happy to pay out on a horse that was odds on after bleeding last time, knowing that next time he may not.

I skip the last, leaving ahead for the third time in as many meetings. I’m beginning to wonder whether this ‘quitting whilst ahead’ approach is a strange form of betting cowardice, rather than shrewd investment approach. Perhaps the best opportunities may be in the last races which I am now tending to avoid, and this might be a losing approach in the long run? Anyhow, I’ve booked the taxi to get me back to the hotel for the start of the England rugby match.

I find a sprinkling of interested parties in the bar of the Cross Lanes Hotel – a few defiantly white-shirted England supporters, the majority not, including those who’ve just come in from the Wrexham game in red football shirts.

The French, of course, take the opportunity of playing their best game of the tournament, just to spite us. And all the Welsh in the bar are now French for the next 2 hours. The matter is confused slightly when two real French wander in who seem puzzled by the fact that a twenty point loss for them is really a win if it stops the old enemy from winning the Six Nations title. Despite being widely celebrated for their nationality on arrival, they drift off confused and uninterested.

The atmosphere is lively but warm. The only hint of aggro is from a young kid, no more than twelve, who shouts “you’re not singing any more!” at the English contingent, when we weren’t singing anyway. He is forgiven as an innocent learning his pub-banter trade. And a pulsating game of rugby in good company brings the Six Nations, and the day, to a close. England have won but lost, and I have lost, but won. If that makes any sense.