The car gets tedious after a while and is bad for my back, and Carlisle doesn’t have an airport, so I bite the bullet (an expensive bullet it is too) and get the train. I effectively gain 10 hours of my life back and to a time-starved man the small fortune seems well spent. It is not impossible to study form whilst driving, but it’s not that easy or entirely legal either, and boy do I need to have a good betting day to recoup my expenses.
The Racing Post announces a major review of jump racing, addressing in particular the significant decline in the number of jumps horses and owners compared to the flat. However, today’s meeting contradicts the argument that the fixture list is too big for the current racing population. A bumper eight race card offers opportunities for no less than 84 horses to shine in the Cumbrian sun.
Possibly the biggest adrenaline rush of my challenge so far arrives when I casually check that I am changing at Birmingham New Street, and not Birmingham International that I have just pulled into. The slow-motion 3G reveal confirms…. Sh**! Get off! Get off! I frantically stuff the paraphernalia of a day at the races into my rucksack, remember my coat in the overhead shelf at the last second, and leap from the train with my laptop power cable slapping wildly against just about everything and everyone on the way out.
As the train pulls away I discover I am the only one on a deserted platform. A strange sinking sensation drains through me. Have I misread the screen and the whole thing has gone to pot? Carlisle is tricky enough to get to without improvising halfway up. I recheck my phone – no, phew, this is right. Although I later discover that I could have changed at New Street anyway.
I settle in to the new train. The comedy voiceover in the space-age loo makes me smile as it urges me not to flush away anything inappropriate such as unpaid bills or goldfish. And the scenery past Preston does get truly stunning as sun-dappled valleys and dry stone walls lead on to fields of gambolling lambs and fissured rivulets. But the train is late and I’m not going to make the first race. It’s ok – the winner is 14/1 and has form figures of 7857 this season.
The taxi driver asks me whether I’ve been to the course before, and I quickly spill the beans on my whole ludicrous venture, and the fact that Carlisle has given me the biggest planning headache of all of them, necessitating a 600 mile round trip.
“You’re mad!” she says, and I concur. “You didn’t go to Aintree on Saturday did you? You did? Did you have the winner?”
I feel this is leading somewhere, and I’m right. She backed Many Clouds in the National, £1 at 38/1, which sounds like a Betfair price to me.
“I just liked the name. I’m quite lucky in the National. That Mon Mome, I ended up getting £300 odd back, cos me daughter did it online and it were an outsider, weren’t it. She opened this Betfair account with £30 and once she got up to £60 she took her original 30 out so anything in there has cost her nothing. She went to France with it one year!”
I ponder whether I’ve missed a trick with these eighty days. Perhaps I should be looking for completely different angles: laying off bets on the exchanges for guaranteed profits, lurking at the Tote windows just before the off to spot any spasms in the returns, or even robot-scouring the odds to find the holy grail – an under-round market that will guarantee a profit if you bet a certain amount on each possible outcome. But that’s not betting to me, that’s drudgery. You may as well have a day job.
The sun is shining as I step from the taxi, and the place has a nice open feel to it. The second race is a toss up between two greys. I choose Knight Valiant because jockey Challoner and trainer Butterworth have a 67% record when teaming up at Carlisle, but I’ve got to stop going for weak relationships based on small sample sizes, as he finishes last but one. The other grey in the race, Tiger O’Toole, wins.
All of a sudden I’ve lost my Racing Post in the freshening breeze, and despite retracing my steps it can’t be found. I feel like a toddler without his security blanket, and plead mournfully for another at the front desk without luck. Shamefully, I even resort to searching the litterbins and asking people if they’ve finished with their copy. It seems like begging and they seem unimpressed, even when I explain my sad predicament.
After a pleasant start the course has turned into another blooming wind tunnel. It’s almost like the management realised I had turned up, and quickly phoned the emergency invisible-fan contractors. I retreat inside and get chatting to an old boy with wild white hairs sprouting from his chin, nose and ears. We have a five-minute exchange where I understand about three words that he says, but can’t fit them into a pattern coherent enough to establish a meaning. I quite enjoy it though.
I’ve been dabbling so far but, confident from my Ffos Las approach, I fancy a big bet in the fifth race. The favourite is Bearly Legal (that’s his name) at 11/4, and he’s improved since being tongue-tied four races ago (and by that I don’t mean he had nothing to say for himself when asked to take a long hard look at his performances). His form has an obvious reason for changing, and I’m hoping it continues.
The second favourite Vasco D’ycy is 3/1. I’d backed him at Wetherby and he couldn’t go the pace over 2m6f and just stayed on into second. I don’t see why he should win over 2 furlongs shorter here, and I’m right. Bearly Legal travels beautifully through the race and wins easily. I bank the second decent meeting in as many days. Am I getting better or is it just luck. Frankly, I suspect the latter, but as the old phrase goes, I’d rather be lucky than good.