The day starts well. (Spoiler alert: it will not continue in this vein.) Firstly, it emerges that there is more in one of my two online betting accounts than I imagined; I’d completely forgotten that I’d backed Bournemouth to beat Huddersfield Town to nil — ie Bournemouth win and Huddersfield don’t score — last Saturday.
Ah, the glamour of it all. Next it emerges that both of my online accounts are offering all sorts of free bets and money-back offers. When you have 50 quid per day to go to war with, every little bit helps.
First race: The Supreme Novices Hurdle. As ever. The consensus is that this is a below-par renewal. Why not Fakir D’Oudairies at 6/1, then?
He’s getting an eight-pound allowance as a four-year-old, he’s a course winner and Joseph O’Brien is clearly a champion trainer of the future. The weight of support that forces him into 9/2 joint-favouritism at the off indicates I’m not the only person thinking this way, but the reality proves to be different. Fakir — typing out his surname takes too long and he’s hardly going to mind — is prominent early on, fades going down the hill and finds a second wind to finish fourth.
I should have paid more attention to Ruby trumpeting the chances of Klassical Dream in the Examiner, shouldn’t I? Fortunately this was one of the money-back races, so no harm done. Being the keen student of the formbook that I am, my research for Cheltenham 2019 has consisted largely of, um, watching Cheltenham 2018 on YouTube. One horse caught my eye: The fast-finishing Paloma Blue in the Supreme Novices, who this time around is going in the Arkle. Paloma Blue is trained by Henry de Bromhead in Waterford. Does de Bromhead fancy him, I wonder?
There is only one thing for it. I make the requisite phone call. No, not to the trainer, but rather to Kieran O’Connor, that fount of knowledge on all matters Déise-related, whether hurling or otherwise, in Dungarvan. Kieran marks my card about Paloma Blue, talks about another de Bromhead inmate, A Plus Tard, in the 4.50 and in passing mentions Tower Bridge, Joseph O’Brien’s candidate in the same race. Hmm. One of the papers claims that Paloma Blue needs to smarten his jumping in order to figure at the business end of the Arkle.
One of the papers is correct and, alas, he doesn’t, with Duc Des Genievres scooting home to bring up a quickfire double for Willie Mullins on the opening day. It’s just like the old days. I sit out the 2.50, the handicap chase. Cheltenham is a four-miler, not a bumper. Not being possessed of the kind of bank balance that makes backing short-priced favourites common practice I come up with a cunning plan: €20 on an Apple’s Jade/Benie Des Dieux double. I also discover I have a free fiver each way on the Champion Hurdle.
Good, something might run into a place at generous odds. I mentally toss a coin between Espoir D’Allen, which a chap in my WhatsApp betting group had a nibble at back in early January at 33/1, and Sharjah. The coin lands Sharjah side up. Bah. Apple’s Jade being well beaten a long way from home, my double is dead. Thus it is with equanimity that I greet Benie Des Dieux’s tumble at the last with the Mares Hurdle at her mercy. It is Annie Power Redux. Now that was one that hurt. The memory pains me even still. And many of you too. Just like the old days, alright. Fair play to Harry Skelton, under whom Roksana makes the most of her good fortune to win.
“You’re never home until you’ve jumped the last,” he philosophises. “You have to take days like these. Some days you are on the right side of it.” Quite. Hay, sun shining, etc. ITV grab Rich Ricci, for a few words. He owned Annie Power too, of course, and like Skelton is in the mood for some existentialist musing.
“The horse is great, that’s the most important thing. Ruby is fine, that’s even more important. I just don’t want the trolls to attack Ruby.”
Don’t bet on it. I should ring Kieran O’Connor, estimable fellow that he is, more often. A Plus Tard, which I haven’t backed, wins the 4.50 by a country mile; Tower Bridge, which I have backed each way at 8-1, finishes second. I make a small profit on the race. I’ve enough left to chance a fiver each way on the last. Whisperinthebreeze is deemed to be overpriced at 20/1 but falls at the 13th when prominent in a predictably attritional National Hunt Chase. So, that’s it for the day. Could have been a little worse, could have been a lot better. Thank goodness for the free bets, eh?