The Mug’s Game: Photo finish - but I end up a winner

My ducks, as Nicky English might have said, are drowning. The first three days have gone depressingly badly. I’ve had one or two placed horses here and there but not a single winner, not even anything that ran sufficiently well to lose by a nose or a short head. I cannot hit the woodwork, never mind put the ball over the bar.

At least I have a couple of free bets again. After all my strictures about staying away from short-priced favourites I stick my money-back 20 quid on Sir Erec in the opener. Yes, he’s evens but at this stage needs must. I am not choosy. I cannot afford (literally) to be. The way things are going I’ll soon be lucky to afford a cup of coffee.

I opt for two bets in the Gold Cup. Apologies for the startling lack of originality but both of them go on inmates of the WP Mullins stable. Willie has, as the world and his mother seems to know, never won the Gold Cup. On the law of averages, of which I’m a paid-up disciple, this cannot continue. Not for a yard with such ammunition. Not for a man of his genius. Not with three – no, four - candidates going to post today.

I’m on Al Boum Photo (being about as quick as some of the nags I’ve backed this week it took me two years to realise the name was a pun) at 12/1 because I ran into someone a couple of weeks ago who’d met Paul Townend and said that Townend was very sweet on this lad’s chances. My free Gold Cup bet of a tenner I stick on Kemboy. I therefore have two chances in four of a Mullins winner. That’ll do me.

The Triumph Hurdle is – ah look, I’m not going there. You know what happened.

We all know that these things occur from time to time in National Hunt racing. One is left with a hollow feeling nonetheless, all the more so in view of the way the TV pundits had been rhapsodising before the off about what a beautiful animal Sir Erec was.

It is time to leave the Bat Cave. I’ve been cooped up here since Tuesday and the place is beginning to resemble the kitchen at the beginning of Withnail and I. I may even be entering the arena of the unwell. I wanna feel sunlight on my face, or at any rate such sunlight as the Irish weather in mid-March bestows. I head to the bookies.

Inside is the usual cross-section of humanity, including a guy in a sombrero, a secondary-school student, a beautifully dressed woman in a cerise dress and a chap in a dickie bow. Wedding guests who’ve nipped out to watch the Gold Cup, presumably.

And they’re off. Oh, and there’s a casualty at the first. Kemboy. Of course. Those feckin’ ducks.

At least I’m not on Bellshill, another Mullins contender. He makes a couple of bad mistakes and is pulled up before the ninth. The lady in the cerise dress leaves the betting shop. Either she wants sunlight on her face too or she was on Bellshill. Or both.

But lo, what is happening here? Yes, Al Boum Photo is going nicely.

Very nicely.

He’s always within striking distance and after jumping the fence at the top of the hill Townend visibly takes a pull. Around the home turn he’s a bit squeezed for room, he doesn’t jump the second-last brilliantly but he’s forging ahead anyway and a clean jump at the last seals it.

Al Boum Photo has won the Gold Cup. Willie Mullins has won the GoldCup. I have won the Gold Cup.

Okay, I have backed a winner. But after the week I’ve had it feels like I’ve won the Gold Cup. Like Withnail I want the finest wines available to humanity, I want them here and I want them now.

Paul Townend looks towards the heaven and rejoices. “Why does this mean so much to you, Paul?” the ITV Racing dude with the microphone on a stick asks him. “It’s the Gold Cup,” Townend replies. Quite.

One of my ducks has finally transformed into a beautiful swan. The day is saved. The week is saved. I leave the betting shop, toddle out nto the drizzle and resume normal life.

Closing balance for Cheltenham 2019: +€122

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