- James Bowen adds a bottle of champagne to the collection
The chirpy weatherman on The Racing Post video who assured us there would be no more than a millimetre of rain at Cheltenham yesterday, would appear at best to have been misinformed. From arrival until leaving it didn’t stop and the only change in the sky being between shades of grey. Such conditions did nothing to dampen the spirits of more than 30,000 race goers who attended Prestbury Park for BetVictor Gold Cup Day.
Nor did it lessen the enthusiasm of our group of three making our first collective visit of the season to Cheltenham. We operate under an established structure where each has defined roles-I’m the banker – and a type of race to pick the winner in – I’m the hurdles man. All money is pooled and a stake agreed. Our backing expert then elbows his way through the crowd, while studying the bookies’ boards to ensure best odds are achieved. It’s fair to say my friends take a more analytical approach to selections than me; our most learned member will look you in the eye and tell you with evangelical conviction that the spread sheet is the greatest invention known to man.
I couldn’t see past Gumball in the Juvenile Hurdle, but opted for Eragon De Chanay as the value bet. The unexposed Apple’s Shakira romped home and was quickly installed as favourite for the Triumph Hurdle. The selection in the Novices’ Chase fell to our backing expert and the money went on West Approach, in a depressingly small field of three. We found ourselves still without a winner, but it is was hard to resent the increasingly impressive Bryony Frost victory on Black Corton. Still only 22, Bryony’s smile when returning a winner is always a sight to lift even the most down cast of spirits. Black Corton is now unbeaten in five and looks like a decent punt at 25/1 for the RSA.
The Spreadsheet King, whose real name is Martin, selected Perfect Candidate in the BetVictor Handicap Chase. I don’t know how he picked out the 9/1 winner, who to me looked to have no form at all, but I guess that’s why he has a PhD and I don’t.
Our backing expert, Mark, picked Tully East for the Gold Cup and set off to place the money. Whilst negotiating the crowd, Martin mentioned Splash Of Ginge. His name had been raised on the journey up and we all had a Splash Of Ginge story – mine centered on a conversation I had with a particularly vocal redheaded Irish woman in a packed train, whilst on my way to the Festival in March. In a clear breach of all our established governance rules, it was agreed we would have £5 each way on the outsider. Having delivered instructions to Mark, he then through skilful navigation secured the bet at 40/1. For a while it looked as if both our on the nose and each way bets would provide returns and it wasn’t until two from home, that I fully appreciated Splash Of Ginge might actually win. By this stage Martin was in a state of animation that denied any signs of the hangover he had earlier confessed to be nursing. We all know anything can happen on that final gruelling climb to the winning line at Cheltenham, but approaching it in the lead, he held on. Just.
Mark reported that receiving our winnings was a rare exchange with a bookmaker, where both participants were pleased with the outcome and having previously been spotted collecting on a 9/1 winner, found himself being asked for tips on his return to the enclosure.
Success didn’t follow in the listed Handicap Hurdle, where victory went to the short priced favourite, Thomas Campbell. His rise in weight from recent victory at Cheltenham, was largely wiped out by 16 year old, James Bowen, riding on his final day of having a 7 lb claim. I watched young James politely receive a bottle of champagne as the winning jockey, even though he’s not old enough to consume it. I suspect by the time he is legally allowed to drink, he will have quite a collection.
I’m not sure even the greatest master of the spreadsheet, could have picked the winner in the impossibly tricky Intermediate Handicap Hurdle, but we managed to come out evens with an each way return on Mischievous Max.
There was little science in our selection in the Bumper, where we backed Dory largely on the basis of “That Warren Greatrex, he’s rather good at Bumpers, isn’t he”. Looking to have every chance until the final furlong, he quickly faded, with favourite Posh Trish finishing a comfortable winner.
As I sat in the back of the car on the journey home, digesting a post race curry and a decent amount of celebratory wine; in the front conversation progressed from spreadsheets to databases and pivot tables. What I didn’t say was that I thought our success was probably largely due to it being a day when the Racing Gods chose to smile down on us, through a leaden Cheltenham sky.