It’s Wednesday and it’s Warwick. A place I know literally nothing about, other than it has a racecourse. It’s very pretty, I discover, as I eschew a taxi and walk through the centre. I’m keeping an eye out for the castle that the sign at the station championed, but I don’t see it. You’d think you could spot a castle in a small place like this.
I don’t feel like betting today, but I know I will. Black Narcissus has bruised me with her impudence, but punters are a hardy lot. Give us 24 hours to lick our wounds and the money merry-go-round begins again.
I enter the course for free, courtesy of my Cheltenham Festival badge. I’m up already. Sort of. But I can’t count that in my betting profit and loss account. Punters may be optimists but they’re realists as well. If that isn’t a contradiction in terms.
It’s a weird course – a track of two halves. As you look from the grandstand it’s almost entirely flat and normal on the left, but just after the winning post runners encounter a steep hill and then a hidden descent behind trees. It’s almost like they didn’t get planning permission for the right hand side. But I like it. Horse racing would be boring if it were all ran on athletics tracks, and the horses might skid on the tight bends. Perhaps they would have to wear trainers and lycra?
Again, space and time abound. It is 50 minutes before the first race and it’s easy to get a drink. This really is the way to do it. I get chatting to a lovely couple from Pershore and we agree that the first race is not much of a betting opportunity. A 2/7 favourite that I simply refuse to back, 3/1 second favourite that I don’t fancy, and a bunch of no hopers.
But Cleeve Hill Lad catches my eye. Ok, it’s because I used to live there. There really is no other reason. Well, I suppose the Tote’s odds of £187 for the win and £87 for the place look very attractive, even if there are only two places in a seven runner race. The thing with backing an outsider on the Tote of course is that your small bet tends to have a big impact on the price.
The couple knew a man who part-owned a horse called Lady Rebecca. “Lady Rebecca,” I shrieked a little too loudly, but nobody in the bar seemed to mind, “she’s one of my favourite horses!”
We reminisce about the tough little mare who, despite injuries, won the Cleeve Hurdle three times. I think I was present at all of them, and my friend Ivan used to back her as though defeat were out of the question, which it usually was. For her final win he’d had a large one on her and we drank champagne afterwards. Believe me, you need to have had a big winner to drink champagne at Cheltenham. Happy days.
The couple tell me they’d had a horse as part of the Pershore Pessimists syndicate (great name that!) with Charlie Longsdon called Doctor Collins. He had his problems and only raced twice, but they’d had fun at Sandown and Newbury. He’s now a dressage horse. I wonder whether he went through The Racehorse Sanctuary?
Cleeve Hill Lad does well, staying on as the favourite goes clear. The second favourite takes a tired fall at the last, but I think the Lad may have taken him anyway. He finished second and I listened for the Tote dividends to come through – the place pays £22.80 to a £1 stake. Not quite the £87 of before the off, but a nice return from a silly bet in the first. Perhaps my luck is turning?
No bet in the second race – that’s discipline, that is. The third and fourth races are more interesting betting propositions, both handicaps over more than 3 miles on testing going. More interesting, but more tricky, and I get them wrong. The favourite cruises home in the fifth and I’m on him. Not literally. Just into the black again.
No bet in the sixth. That’s good Neil, well done. And then the last race. I could leave ahead. I don’t need to bet. I go to look at them in the paddock but I’m no paddock judge. They all look good to me. Do I lump on this favourite? Third behind Mullins winner in bumper on debut. And Mullins rules the world. He looks a bit jig-joggy, on edge? Remember Paul’s sage #dontlumponthelast.
Walk back to betting ring. 4/5 has become 8/11. Messy odds. Discipline Neil. Walk away a winner. But favourite looks good coming out onto the course. Mind you they all do. Cold now. Hat and gloves time. Why isn’t everyone else freezing? Discipline. Don’t do it. Keep the balance.
No bet. Well done Neil. Well done. Don’t mind whether he wins now. Right call either way.
Pushed along from home turn. He comes second. Warm glow on cold walk back to station.
(In memory of the inspiring writer and sadly missed Jonathan Rendall.)