One of the immutable laws of the Irish Examiner sports desk came into force yesterday afternoon, with yours truly sent out of the office with nothing for protection but mocking cackles ringing in the ears, and a last reminder to hang on to my dockets: “The slip of paper? You know? Don’t throw that away like you did last year.”
Last year I’d been in desperate straits – out of my depth? I’d been so far from shore that Pamela Anderson, Skippy and Flipper combined wouldn’t have rescued me. I’d considered studying the entrails of a chicken or sacrificing a goat to the Greek gods of gambling.
This year I decided to be more scientific. I texted a pal across the water, seeking not so much guidance but the actual names of real horses that might win races.
Clearly my initial text, couched in the terms above, didn’t conform to the approved punting phraseology, as the reply was terse: “De Valira, My Way De Solzen, Brave Inca/Hardy Eustace, Little Brick, Spothedifference, Pouvoir.”
When I texted back to ask if those were all in one race, I got an answer suggesting a course of action with the bookie’s pencil that I could only interpret as metaphorical.
Anyway, Brave Inca or Hardy Eustace? The names were no guide — would you prefer your horse brave or hardy? Eustace had no associations for me at all, while the last time I saw an Inca was in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, when they were facing extinction when they weren’t getting their hearts cut out with a large spoon. (Or were they Mayans? Did it matter?)
That’s the quandary faced by the casual punter — what exactly is the horse’s name telling you? Bloodlines, going, jockey? Fripperies for the foolish. If pushed to it, Hardy Eustace conjured up for me the mental image of a Victorian campaigner against slavery with a secret penchant for saving fallen women; Brave Inca suggested a lone warrior sitting on a mountaintop in Mexico, watching Spanish conquistadores bring the horse and venereal disease ashore to obliterate him and his friends.
That swung it. Eventually I went with the civilisation now vanished from the face of the earth. Brave Inca to win. I said nothing to the nice chap at the counter in Cashman’s Bookmakers on Cork’s Maylor Street, but once I got my money down I couldn’t help saying aloud with feeling: “Montezuma, thou art avenged!”
Unsurprisingly, nobody came next or near me for the next hour.
The day began well enough, with My Way De Solzen winning the second race.
At least that’s what I was told. I slipped home to watch a rerun of Hill Street Blues: there was a random cop-killer at large in the precinct, and Belker was undercover as a bag lady, while Furillo was thinking of buying a house — anyway, I got the phone call from the office about 3.25.
“Jeez, a close one!”
“It was,” I said. “Very close. Phew!”
A pause that could only be described as suspicious emanated from the phone before the inevitable question: “Were you even watching the race?”
With my unerring sense of racing etiquette, I realised that discussing the crime wave in the Hill Street precinct would not bolster my standing as a punter.
“Of course I was. It was the 3.15.”
“Yeah, but what race was that?”
“The, ah” — furious flicking of tv remote by me to find Aertel — “The . . . the Queen Mary Champion Cup Chase. Champion Hurdle Cup, I mean!”
“The Cup Chase?”
“Stop hogging the phone line, I’m trying to get through to my bookie.”
When I eventually learned that Brave Inca had, in fact, almost won my humour didn’t improve, while in the four o’clock my fancy, Little Brick, showed all the athletic prowess you’d expect from an inert building block, and another few bob went west. Spothedifference came agonisingly close to redeeming my each-way punt but came in fourth. As oflate last night, no sign ofPouvoir.
Drowning my sorrows yesterday I outlined the philosophy behind my bold venture with Brave Inca to a sympathetic ear, only to learn the terrible truth: the Incas were in Peru, not Mexico. Montezuma wasn’t their king, he ruled over the Aztecs.
Not only had I ended my first day thirty notes down, everyone in Cashman’s was no doubt laughing hysterically at my shameful ignorance of Meso-American bronze age civilisations.
It would take a Braver Inca than me to ever show my face in there again.
Expenditure: €100; winnings: €63.75. Deficit: €36.25.