Five Things We Learned From Day 1

1) The bookies are literally giving it away. If you haven’t yet signed up with all of them you will find rich rewards for doing so. Yesterday’s treats included a free fiver on the winner of the first race (25/1 thanks very much!) and numerous other introductory offers and deposit bonuses. But even for those of us who have a bookmakers list longer than our Christmas card list, the rewards continue long after the sign up bonus has gone. Yesterday I enjoyed enhanced odds, extra each way places, faller insurance, Mullins insurance and, quite extraordinarily, my money returned (as a free bet) by SkyBet on my loser in the Supreme Novices. Bet365’s webiste now gives you video form of each contender’s previous five runs!

Bet365 now gives you video form for the previous five races of every runner

Yes, I know that these generous incentives exist to tempt us in, and are provided by the accumulated losses of millions of pounds from thousands of punters over dozens of years, but it is still clearly worth taking advantage of. And of course, even when the allure of the Festival has gone for another year, with a full raft of prices at your disposal you can select the best one and swing the margins in your favour. Why would you buy a tin of beans at 50p when the same tin is 40p next door? Anyone who continues to bet with just a few bookmakers gets all they deserve – to be properly fleeced.

2) Times were generally slower than last year, which was also declared good to soft. It seems that nature has conspired to provide a level playing field (if not a level venue) for our Festival, and yesterday no horse should have been significantly disadvantaged by the going at Prestbury Park. I was only just joking last month when I suggested watering could be a possibility, but it seems that our wet winter has held the moisture in the ground. With dry, breezy and warm conditions forecast, though, I would still be interested to see odds for watering later in the week.

3) Pricewise is a genius and it is puzzling why he is not kidnapped by the bookmakers in the run up to major events. Of course, he doesn’t get them all right, but that is not his game. I don’t know the average odds of his tips but I would suspect it is around the 10/1 mark, and even if he’s a genius and their real odds should be half that, 5/1 shots don’t win very often. So, if you choose to follow Tom Segal you have be in it for the long run.

Yesterday was a case in point – his first three selections lost, and many of his ante-post choices didn’t even turn up. But you can read a little between the lines with his succinct and reasoned prose, and it was clear (even though almost all his selections carry the standard ‘1pt win’ investment) that he was very sweet on the chances of Tiger Roll in the four-miler. It was mystifying that minutes before the off he was available at 20/1 when Pricewise had tipped him at 16/1, and even more mystifying that I didn’t back him.

Of course, the nature of the beast (betting both at the Festival and at big odds) is that he could go today, or even the rest of the Festival, without another winner, but that wouldn’t make him a bad tipster. Strangely, given what I’ve just said, I don’t back all of Pricewise’s selections, but that is only some stubborn pride and misplaced notion that I am better than him, which all the evidence clearly contradicts. Ah, the eternal optimism of the punter….

4) On a related note, there is simply no short-cut to punting success. Yesterday I made a half-arsed job of studying the form and paid for it (literally). I would have been better off picking numbers, colours or names than pretending to do it properly. Of course, the Festival is extremely competitive and has big fields which makes the homework harder and longer, but that is also why it is so sweet to get it right. Even then of course, the Gods of Probability will have their fun. Who knows whether Charbel would have beaten Altior up the hill, but my each way hopes would have liked to have seen him try.

5) I am sad to say this, but I was glad I wasn’t there. Footage of punters showed that most of them seemed a bit miserable, and after experiencing the crush of Gold Cup day in 2015 at the start of my absurd 80-day quest I can sympathise with their predicament. The problem I found, and that was no doubt apparent yesterday, is that the horse racing fan is poorly served at big events. Wembley and Twickenham may cater for bigger numbers, but at least everyone has a seat, and actually they just seem to literally serve people better – food, drink, toilets and queuing time for all of those are just much better than at the Festival.

Matt Chapman, roving nonce in his pixie boots and oversized jacket (and he had the temerity to tease a bookmaker about his suit!), asked four ladies sat on a concrete step if they had a view on the Champion Hurdle, “No.” was the simple reply. It looked like the biggest decision they faced was not the winner of the next race but whether to chuck it in early and go to the pub. Not once this year did I think of getting a ticket. I’m certainly getting older, perhaps a little wiser (though not in my betting) and possibly even a little reticent to leave the comfort of my sofa, but actually that is a real choice for all of us.

Yesterday, I enjoyed lunch and a beer (better quality and a lot cheaper than at Cheltenham) when I wanted, went to the loo with freedom, got bets on easily, and watched pretty decent ITV action. Yes, I missed some of the atmosphere and ambiance, but I avoided the racing refugee experience of two years ago when everything was an effort and nowhere felt calm and settled. This remains the biggest issue (among many) that racing has to fix. If Cheltenham is the pinnacle of our sport (and for all its faults, I think it still is) then how can you justify the experience for the average fan when, in my opinion, it is so much poorer than the pinnacles of many other sports that it is competing against?