A little over a year ago, a savage storm battered the Devon coastline and destroyed the track at Dawlish. Yet as I travel west past Exeter on a calm and social train to Newton Abbot, there is little evidence of the destruction that was wreaked. There is a sense of rebuilding – the human spirit to overcome and persevere is omnipotent.
Me too. I feel rejuvenated after a couple of days at home and ready to go again. It is a bright and sunny Wednesday and spirits are high. I wonder if my mood is inextricably linked to the vagaries of the weather. The first two ports of call on my maiden voyage were taken in a shroud of clinging cold and cloud, and I wonder whether I may have judged both Cheltenham and Uttoxeter unfairly, but both undeniable crowded too.
I noticed last night that my nemesis, Black Narcissus, was running again today. There are various good reasons to back her that I wont bore you with, and many obvious reasons not to that you already know. But I didn’t want to be thinking all afternoon of whether I should put my faith one last time in this cruel temptress. So I backed her last night on an online account, to a good sum at 9/2. Job done. Now I can concentrate on today.
The trains have been kind to me so far, and this journey along the Devon coast was particularly pretty. With an hour until the first race I venture up to the Paddock restaurant when a sign for the Carvery elicits a Pavlovian response in me. I weakly justify the roast beef on account of the carrots and cabbage, and the fact that I walked past a hog roast outlet to get to it. And very good it is too.
I head to the bar and ask for a Tribute, but the barmaid ignores the obvious opportunity to celebrate my many and various qualities and instead pours me a pint of bitter. I settle next to a couple and get chatting. They hope I’ve sat down to give them a list of winners, but I quickly dispel that myth. I tell them of the Black Narcissus debacle. They are knowledgeable racing people, and we discuss her occasional moodiness and chances of winning today over an extra three furlongs.
“She’s by Westerner” the lady says astutely, although I’m not quite sure what this means. I have enough trouble keeping up with the form to worry about breeding, in a horse sense anyway. Perhaps Black Narcissus has special dispensation to act truculently because of her lineage? I’ve now got over my initial reticence of promoting my project and easily talk of my absurd quest and hand out a business card. The couple head to the paddock and wish me luck.
Suitably refreshed I head towards the betting ring. I’ve had time to study the form properly on the way down, and there really is no better way of finding winners. Hard graft in the purely black and white pages of the Racing Post is the only way; anything else is a shortcut as far as I’m concerned.
The afternoon progresses in predictable fashion – a nice winner, a few near misses and a few of my selections that run as though they are two drunk racegoers in a pantomime horse costume. But this is all a preamble to the main event. At least this horse has kept me at the course until the last race.
I really thought that Black Narcissus would either refuse to race or win. In the event she did neither. She jumped off fine, travelled really well through the race (much better than at Exeter when she won), and looked comfortable throughout. Perhaps that was the problem – it was too slow a pace, and Newton Abbot seems a tight track. On the final circuit the jockey Rhys Flint decided to move forward and force the issue. I can see why, given her abundant stamina, but she had won so well at Exeter coming from behind.
Neither Rhys nor I have the benefit of hindsight here. I don’t think there was too much wrong with the idea. Perhaps it was just the wrong race for her. She didn’t look like winning from two out and finished third. Taking the positives, at least I avoided backing her again on course. I’m not sure what the future brings for me and this unpredictable mare. Three and a half miles on testing going with some fierce pacemakers and a start nowhere near the stands. And odds of 25/1 or more. Then I might be interested, old friend.
So the reconstruction of my bankroll is still a work in progress, but we punters have an ability to endure, much like the brave men and women who rebuilt the Devon coastline. Rome wasn’t built in a day. In fact the train line to Newton Abbot took two months, which is about what I’ve got left.