After the conspicuous lack of success on Day One I’m twitchy. I need a winner, just to get something on the board, and I need it quickly. Fortunately I have another of those money-back bets on the opener, up to a maximum of 20 quid. All the times I’ve shouted at players to take their point on the basis that, with patience, the goals will come?
Conveniently forgotten in my hour of crisis. I press the nuclear button for the Ballymore and stick the €20 on the 7/2 favourite Battleoverdoyen. Even to my unexpert eye it becomes clear a long way from home that Battleoverdoyen (“built like a tank,” according to Mick Fitzgerald on the telly) is running in snatches and that Jack Kennedy is scrubbing him along. Very soon he is tailed off and pulled up.
Good job it wasn’t my own 20 quid. I forgot to mention that I’ve had two bets on Battleoverdoyen, the second of them as part of a double with Delta Work in the second race. If the double wasn’t sufficiently redundant by the time the RSA Chase comes around it certainly is at the winning post, where Topofthegame — with Paul Nicholls back at the top of his game, snagging his first major Cheltenham winner in four years — sees off Santini and Delta Work in a cracking finish. It is not turning out to be my festival.
Even my silver linings have huge cloudy puffballs, of a type that Gerard Manley Hopkins would have versified about, in them. I have a free fiver each way on the Queen Mother Champion Chase. With any other race this would be fine. With a race involving Altior it is far from fine. It’s like Scarlett Johansson inviting you to go to her debs. With her best friend. I scour the papers and online for a plausible outsider that might plod on into a place about five minutes after Altior has passed the post.
Oh look, there’s Politologue, who was quietly fancied for the King George but produced no sort of race.
He’s probably as worthwhile a shot in the circumstances as anything else. And he is. Politologue runs a blinder. Coming around the home turn he looks a winner. Coming to the final fence he looks a winner. Coming away from the final fence he looks a winner. The thing with true champions, though, is that they’re not sunshine hurlers. They’ll win by ten lengths on a good day — and on a bad day they’ll still get the job done.
Sure enough, Altior guts it out. What a horse. Citior, fortior, Altior. Another extraordinary animal is hot favourite for the cross-country event: Tiger Roll, a multiple winner at the festival and a chap who did me a nice little favour at Aintree last year. Not that I’m going near him at 5/4, obviously, but the back-up plan is equally obvious. Yes, it can only be my old friend, fellow countyman, fellow Springsteen fan and fellow Enda, Enda Bolger. He saddles Auvergnat and Josies Orders.
I toss another metaphorical coin and settle on Josies Orders, who’s been around these houses — and these banks and hurdles and cheese wedges — on a frequent basis. This time the coin lands the right way up. Although Tiger Roll destroys the field, Josies Orders plugs away gamely to finish second. It’ll do. It’ll have to. A 50% return on an each-way bet is better than no return, a sensation I’m becoming a little too familiar with this week. I go looking for value again in the last two races and find none.
Lethal Steps, touted by one or two shrewd observers, runs no kind of race at 9/1 in the 4.50, where the favourite Band of Outlaws provides a first official festival winner for Joseph O’Brien. There will be many more to follow in the coming years. Will the first of them be in the next race? Meticulous is trained by O’Brien, has his brother Donnacha on board and is 7/1. Granted, the experts may be able to choose between Envoi Allen at 2/1 and Blue Sari at 7/2.
But your correspondent, as we’ve pretty much discovered by now, is no expert. There is indeed very little to choose between Envoi Allen and Blue Sari, who contest a driving finish. Meticulous, alas, is out with the washing. I’d call it a variation on the day’s theme, only for the fact that it’s clearly not a variation. Two days down and as the field embark on the second circuit I’m drifting back alarmingly. Another afternoon of this and they may have to do a Battleoverdoyen on it and pull me up.