Simon’s newsagent has acted on our consternation that the Racing Post now only comes out on a Sunday, and has managed to secure a copy for us a day early. Now that’s service for you. We come to terms with the day over a leisurely breakfast in the pub. Simon has the aptly-named large breakfast, in the middle of which he fashions a well to pour in his half bottle of house red (ketchup), before proceeding to savage the poor thing to such an extent that it looks like it has been put through a blender. I opt for the healthy breakfast with only half the calories, and celebrate my discipline with a bonus side order of chips.
Decades ago, we once infamously didn’t talk to each other for the last 7 holes of an incredibly hard fought golf match at Tewkesbury (I won, 1 up on the 18th green, thanks for asking), but we’ve both matured since then and grudgingly spit a conversation at each other, despite Simon’s disgraceful behaviour last night over the Scrabble board. Shamefully, he is still claiming victory, and will not even consider repaying the five pound note that I hurled at him in a fit of pique.
The wife has borrowed my Satnav, so we rely on Simon’s contraption to guide us to Kempton. Interestingly, despite my struggles with accepting my own plastic box, I am strangely relieved that I will not have to plot my own way there. How things have changed over the last three weeks. However, I’ve not yet tuned into this new device and ignore most of its urgings until Simon realises what’s happening and takes on the role of mediator.
When we arrive at the car park a bizarre scene plays out. I hand the man my fiver, and unaccountably he gives me a tenner in change. Am I a bad person for saying “thanks very much!” and driving on? Perhaps three weeks ago I wouldn’t have done, but I’m seeing this project more like a war of attrition now, and decide not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
As it didn’t go too well at Lingfield, we consider immediately leaving and re-parking several times just to replenish our bankroll, but time is moving on and we are due to meet Tammy, Ant and their girls inside. A few days ago Jason declared that no betting system could be truly unbiased, but he’s never seen Tammy in action at a racecourse. Her unique brand of randomness will provide the betting strategy for the last day of my week-long trial, and probably the best chance of winning.
We can’t find Tammy before the first and so have to fend for ourselves. Simon backs a 16/1 winner, which he cleverly secures at odds of 14/1. Momentarily, he seems in shock. Then Tammy appears with family and an assortment of betting slips in hand. She backed the winner too, but that’s not difficult when you’ve had six different bets in a five horse race.
I am in need of a haircut and have forgotten my racing cap, and Tammy says I look like Brian May with my locks blowing wildly in the now-inevitable wind tunnel of a British racecourse. Ant looks me in the eye and declares that the opening three weeks of my journey have taken a heavy toll. I’m not sure I’m enjoying the company of my ‘friends’ in the opening exchanges of the day.
I will forgive them if they produce winners. Simon heads off to get drinks and returns with three steaming cups of hot chocolate as we are examining the card for the next race. “Triple Chocolate it is!” says Tammy. It runs an awful race, but that’s okay because she has also backed the winner which she had neglected to mention previously. This is turning into a farce. I’m not sure how a betting system can operate successfully under this level of chaos and subterfuge, and decide to go my own way.
I’m drawn to Lady Dutch in the third race. It has decent form, but more importantly, it’s Botti-trained. By that I mean that the trainer is Marco Botti, who has had several winners on the all-weather this week. The rest of the crew disappear to watch the race from the owners and trainers seating area, claiming not to have seen the large sign saying “Owners And Trainers Seating Area”, so I watch Lady Dutch win well in splendid isolation. I knew I was better off without these clowns.
Buoyed from my first winner, I select outsider George Cinq in the fourth race. He scythes through the field down the home straight and I’m shouting “George! George!! George!!!” more and more desperately, like I’m searching for a lost child in a supermarket. You’d think this may raise eyebrows at a racecourse, but in the usual bedlam of a tight finish it goes unnoticed. Somehow George doesn’t quite make it, but Ant picks up his second winner in a row with Realize at 14/1 and dishes out some celebratory Skittles.
We find a rare empty bench and Tammy puts on her serious face, whilst clutching a small child to her as a windbreak. “So, how do you think it’s going, Neil?” she probes like a psychiatrist, trying to tease out a stunning revelation.
“It’s fine!” I protest, “Really! I’m fine, honestly!”
It sounds a little desperate, like when I was shouting “George!” in the last race, but I manage to distract her by waving the Racing Post and asking her what’s going to win the next. However, she’s got that look that I’ve seen on a few faces recently, a mixture of sympathetic concern and utter bewilderment at what I’m doing, and I get the feeling that the inquisition is merely postponed.
Tammy secures her seventeenth winner of the six races and goes off to collect her £3.45. It’s time to go, but she later excitedly reports that the bookie gave her £3.50 and let her keep the change. On the way out she encourages her girls to scour the car park for loose change and secures another 11p. At least I can beat that – I was given £5 for parking my car.