Friday, 13 March 2009

Why The Long Face...? - Cheltenham Festival 2009 Special


Friday 13th March 2009. 4.30pm – Emotionally drained, worth slightly less and reflecting on what could have been; it can only be the aftermath of another Cheltenham Festival, but what led to this point…?

Day 1 - Tuesday 10th March 2009

I awoke with the sort of feverish excitement usually only experienced by Max Clifford when he sees the opportunity to exploit the worst in humanity.

The week’s coverage of the 2009 Cheltenham Festival began with Channel 4’s ‘The Morning Line’, my excitement amplified further as I saw the legend that is Derek Thompson introduce the show.

To be honest the first ‘Morning Line’ of the week was a bit weak, although Ted Walsh’s rather festive jumper and John McCririck’s Emu face did bring back memories of last year and help build the excitement further.

After months of build up and anticipation would the Cheltenham Festival live up to the hype or turn out to be a bigger anti-climax than ‘Watchmen’.

Sadly, after the exploits of the previous 2 years there were very few bookies I haven’t already opened accounts with to claim the plethora of free bets they make available during the festival to entice gullible mugs like myself into betting with them.

There are also very few aliases left for me to use in order to get round their one free bet per customer rule… There are only so many times you can use the name ‘Robert Mugabe’ before you arouse suspicion. So it looks like any gambling this year will actually be coming off my own meagre bank balance, a worrying prospect given my luck with the sport of Kings.

So how would day one of the festival unfold…?

12.30pm – Channel 4’s excellent coverage begins. The waiting for the first race is almost unbearable – God knows how the jockeys must feel!

First on the card and on the TV coverage it’s the williamhill.com Supreme Novice’s Hurdle. I’m on the favourite Cousin Vinny and the lightly-weighted Torphichen.

1.32pm and the first race is underway, the famous Cheltenham roar is deafening. Simon Holt is calling them home, hearing his voice always makes it feel like a big race.

Go Native wins the race, an ominous start to the festival for me…

Up next is the Arkle, named after the legendary horse of the same name, I’ve gone for the Paul Nicholls’ trained pair of Tatenen and I’Msingingtheblues in this race, who’ve both done me proud in the past.

Calgary Bay’s trainer Henrietta Knight is being interviewed, she’s obviously come in fancy dress as Hyacinth Bucket.

Tatenen falls a couple of fences in… This is going to be a long week…

Is there anything worse after a loss than watching a bunch of pissed Irish dickheads celebrating? My other fancy for the race, that I neglected to back, Forpadydeplasterer wins. And I’m 0 for 2.

The William Hill Trophy’s up next and I’ve gone for Nenaphur Collonges, a horse I should have backed last year when it won at the Festival, no doubt now I have backed it, he won’t win… I’ve also had a cheeky punt on last year’s Grand National hero Comply or Die, who’s at silly odds of almost 40/1.

The race begins with another false start, that’s two of the three so far hat they’ve had to call back - what’s going on today?

Nenaphur Collonges runs a place in 3rd; unfortunately I backed it to win. Comply or Die ran a good race but didn’t place as the Glen Campbell referencing Wichita Lineman leaves it very late to snatch victory on the line under an awesome ride from Champion jockey Tony McCoy.

My big bet of the day on short-priced favourite Binocular in the Champion Hurdle is looking increasingly important and increasingly worrying given my luck so far today…

3.13pm and the Champion Hurdle is about seven minutes away, you can cut the tension, in this room, with a knife.

Punjabi wins the day’s big race in a thrilling finish, he thoroughly deserved the win but it means I’m on a complete duck… The joys of the Cheltenham Festival eh? That’s me done for the day.

The last televised race though is the most unintentionally funny race of the day – The Cross Country Chase. In which the horses negotiate what looks more like someone’s garden jumping over all kinds of shrubbery – I’m just going to sit back and try and enjoy this one, in spite of my very empty wallet.

A fine day’s coverage comes to an end and although I’m worth slightly less than I was this morning, a good first day to the week’s proceedings I would say… but what a choice of song to close out the coverage with – 'Greatest Day' by Take That. Talk about rubbing it in.

Mug’s game this horse racing lark.

Day 2 - Wednesday 11th March 2009

Day 2 again begins with ‘The Morning Line’.

After Ted Walsh’s clothing choice yesterday, today I’ll be launching a new feature; Walsh Watch – so we can chronicle the attire worn by this fashion icon. How will he follow up Tuesday’s Christmas jumper?

Well, how else can you follow up a Christmas jumper – by dressing like Sean Connery that’s how. Today Walsh went for a black turtle neck with a grey jacket over. He also managed to commit a TV sin when his phone went off live on air, these racing types are so professional!

Derek Thompson has really been the only thing keeping ‘The Morning Line’ entertaining thus far. The coverage so far has all been a bit serious, his links from around the course were a highlight last year and his cheeky chappy persona is a constant source of humour again this year.

John McCririck’s sleazing on Irish bookie Ellen Martin continues to make my skin crawl, his attempts at flirting with her this morning were some of the most disturbing scenes I’ve seen on TV since, well, his attempts at flirting yesterday morning.

So after yesterday’s rather awful start to the week, can day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival see my luck change?

Channel 4’s coverage begins again at 12.30pm.

Alastair Down’s recap of the previous day was typically witty and gets the coverage off to a nice start.

Up first is the National Hunt Chase, I’ve gone for Can’t Buy Time and Parson’s Pistol, although after yesterday’s finger burning session I’ve rather limped in with the bets today.

Tricky Trickster wins the first, Parson’s Pistol falls near home and Can’t Buy Time trails home a weary fourth. Another ominous start…

Karabak’s up next for me in the Ballymore Novice’s Hurdle.

Karabak’s second and I’m shit out of luck again. Ruby Walsh wins it on Mikael d’Haguenet.

Up next is the RSA Chase which Denman won two years ago on his ascension to the Gold Cup crown and I’ve gone for What A Friend which is co-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.

I’ve also had a little nibble on Massini’s Maguire @ 10/1 who’s won for me in the past, so hopefully I’ll finally get a bit of luck and pick my first winner of the Festival…

…But I won’t bank on it!

Ruby Walsh wins again on Cooldine. My run of bad luck continues. Massini’s Maguire comes in 3rd.

Up next is the day’s big one, The Queen Mother Champion Chase. With Master Minded such a long odds on shot, there’s no way he’s backable for my meagre stakes.

I decided to sit the big race of the day out and just enjoy the exhibition that the highest rated horse will no doubt put on.

There’s a nice little ‘Master Mind’ spoof before the race.

But the two false starts to the race must be worrying for Master Minded backers.

He did it though, if I’m honest, it didn’t look quite as impressive as last year but was it really ever in doubt? My pick for second Petit Robin was beaten into third by the old warhorse Well Chief, so I’m quite glad I refrained from this one. It was kind of nice to watch a race with no financial investment.

Sadly I haven’t learnt my lesson and I’m back again for The Coral Cup which is the last televised race of the day with Channel 4, and you may find this hard to believe but I actually had the winner of this race last year.

I’ve got The Polomoche as my main hope in this one and I’ve also got little bets on Lough Derg and Pierrot Lunaire which has Ruby Walsh on board – who no doubt won’t win this clusterfuck of a race after winning the last three, especially now I’ve backed him.

Ninetieth Minute wins and my duck continues into day 3, thankfully my losses for today are less than they were yesterday so I suppose that’s an improvement! But I’ll be back again tomorrow…

Day 3 – Thursday 12th March 2009

As always, ‘The Morning Line’ begins day 3 – World Hurdle Day.

John McCririck talking about how he makes love in his wellies was enough to almost bring my cereal back up.

Walsh Watch: Today Ted Walsh partnered a nice blue suit with a light blue shirt, nothing to make fun of today unfortunately.

Thankfully McCririck with his sex wellies on the wrong feet and Ellen Martin who decided to dress as Cruella De Vil for day 3 provided the laughs in the fashion department.

There was no Derek Thompson today which meant that the laughs were at a minimum but they did have Champion Hurdle winning jockey Barry Geraghty on who was quite an impressive guest booking.

The unintentional highlight of the show was Mike Cattermole interviewing a very untalkative stable hand, an interview that redefined the term getting blood from a stone.

And I just wanted to add that I’m loving the new 118 118 advert with Ray Parker Jnr.

Day 3’s coverage begins at 12.30pm. Ugh it’s Ladies Day. Fashion ‘Expert’ Marietta Doran is on the C4 team today, bringing back nightmares from last year.

The Irish have been dominating so far at the Festival so for the first I’ve gone for Irish duo Kia Kaha and Tranquil Sea.

Alastair Down’s day 2 recap was again a very dry look at the previous day’s proceedings.

Paul Nicholls takes the day’s first with Chapoturgeon, yet another ominous start to the day for me.

When you’re seething after a loss, the last thing you need is fashion tips - am I watching Trinny and Susannah or Horse Racing?

I’ve got Ballydub & Buena Vista in the next as things get increasingly desperate for me.

A nice history lesson in between races here with Jim McGrath, as he profiles Golden Miller, a horse that achieved the unbelievable feat of winning The Gold Cup and The Grand National in the same year.

Kayf Aramis wins the second and my losing streak continues. Buena Vista comes second struggling up the Cheltenham hill.

The Ryanair’s up next and therefore, so is Voy Por Ustedes. Needs must and I’ve had a considerable sum (by my standards anyway) on him at evens. If this doesn’t lead to my first winner then there’s no hope!

My third Coral account under an alias secures me another free bet and I’ve lumped it on to Punchestowns in the big one of the day The World Hurdle which is up after the Ryanair at 3.20pm.

Imperial Commander wins impressively as Voy Por jumps like a donkey. I can’t buy a break! Another bloody second!

The big one: The World Hurdle’s up next. I’ve fancied Punchestowns for this since he won for me before Christmas, hopefully he can do me proud and hand me a much needed first winner.

Kasbah Bliss from France is the hot favourite for the race though.

Ruby Walsh wins again. Big Buck’s for Nicholls, another second for me as Punchestowns is narrowly beaten into the silver medal place. Odds on favourite Kasbah Bliss is disappointing in fourth.

I’m back on Barry Geraghty for the last televised race of the day with Fingeronthepulse, who won impressively at the festival last year. A win for me here would put me up for the day, albeit very marginally. Can the third day end on a high – I won’t hold my breath.

Something Wells wins the last of the TV races and my almighty Cheltenham duck continues into Gold Cup day when surely my luck has to change, doesn’t it?

I’ve got ante-post money on both Kauto Star and Denman so it’s a big chance to claw back some of the money I’ve bled this week. So I’ll be back soldiering in to tomorrow and the last chance saloon…

Day 4 – Friday 13th March 2009

Will Friday 13th prove to be lucky for me? Well it sure as shit can’t be anymore unlucky than Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Actually I say unlucky, the reason I’ve had a poor week isn’t anything to do with bad luck, it’s down to the canny ability I have to pick horses that don’t win!

All told it’s been a very enjoyable Festival this year, if slightly costly and this is what it’s all about: Gold Cup day. If we’re honest, the rest of Friday’s racing is pretty poor but the sheer spectacle of the Gold Cup is enough alone to make this the most thrilling day of the meeting.

The day kicked off with ‘The Morning Line’ on Channel 4, who had Christian Williams, rider of Neptune Collonges in the Gold Cup, as a guest, who looked, and acted, like he’d just come off tour with Oasis. Sadly there was no Derek Thompson again, which ended ‘The Morning Line’ in an appropriately lacklustre style. All week the show has been disappointingly dull and really hasn’t been worth getting out of bed for.

Walsh Watch: Since Walsh Watch began on Wednesday, I’ve wondered if Ted Walsh has somehow subconsciously picked up on this feature as his wardrobe choices have improved gradually as the week has gone on. Today he looked very smart pairing a suit with a shirt and hideous tie. The Connery look has still been my favourite of the week though.

John McCririck in his ridiculous Channel 4 tea cosy hat referred to Ice Cube as Cool Ice when discussing the possible omen that shitty movie ‘Barbershop’ is on ITV tonight and The Queen’s Gold Cup horse is also named Barbershop. What a prize tit John McCririck is, without him and Thomo though, Channel 4’s coverage would be almost as dull as the BBC’s.

Channel 4’s Gold Cup day coverage begins at 12.30pm and they’re already all over the fact that the Royals are at Prestbury Park today, if Barbershop wins it’s going to be unbearable.

They’ve just aired a nice interview with Paul Nicholls, who you can’t help but like, even when he manages to screw me over.

A highlight of the week has been the Paddy Power ads with Richard Dunwoody, but their new one with Carlton Palmer in the bath is even better!

A definite lowlight of the week has been Alastair Down’s ‘a la carte’ interview with Martin Pipe, Ted Walsh and Mick Fitzgerald, it’s been boring, uninteresting and self-indulgent and we’ve been exposed to an instalment each day of the Festival.

The Triumph Hurdle’s up first and I’m on Walkon, who’s been backed into favourite, that doesn’t seem to have meant much this week though!

The Cheltenham roar sets them on their way for the first race of the Festival’s last day.

Fucking second again! Walkon battles Zaynar all the way up the hill, but ultimately doesn’t get there. Zaynar had been my ante-post pick for this race, I should’ve stuck to my convictions…

For what seems like the millionth time this week, I’ve backed Champion jockey Tony McCoy in the next on Sunnyhillboy.

Ruby Walsh wins again! This time on 20-1 shot American Trilogy, I’ll forgive him if he does the business on Kauto Star later though. McCoy’s nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps a race too late, I’ve backed Ruby Walsh and Nicholls in the next with the favourite Pride of Dulcote, the horse that claimed Walsh’s spleen late last year.

The Albert Bartlett Novice’s Hurdle is up now, come on Ruby! Forty minutes and counting until the Gold Cup…

Second again as Weapon’s Amnesty wins, if I’d been backing each way this week, I’d be quids in.

My bank balance and pride is left hinging on the Gold Cup. Can Denman or Kauto Star save my Festival? We’ll soon find out…

The build-up to the race has been excellent, but the wait is agonising… This promises to be an absolute blinder of a race, regardless of financial interests.

KAUTO!

Ruby does me proud as Kauto Star makes history. Denman comes home second with a brilliant run. Finally a winner’s enclosure moment I can enjoy!

Talk about saving the best for last, I avoid a complete duck for the week with my old mate Kauto Star saving me. Even when I don’t have money on him, I cheer that horse home maniacally, there’s a serious love affair there.

I couldn’t be happier, what an end to the week!

I’m glad they gave a recap of the race, it was all a blur! Second viewing confirms that it never looked in doubt for Kauto Star.

I almost forgot there was another race on TV today but the Foxhunter Chase rounds out the Channel 4 coverage.

I’m still recovering from the excitement of the Gold Cup so I’m sitting out this one as a mere spectator!

Cappa Bleu takes the last TV race of the day.

And that’s it, another Cheltenham Festival draws to a close and what a week it’s been. All the losses and lows of the week were forgotten about when Kauto Star pinged that last fence and made history by reclaiming his Gold Cup crown.

So as they start mopping up the spilt Guiness and sweeping up the losing betting slips down at Prestbury Park, I can get back to my normal life and reacquaint myself with fresh air and the people of the world who aren’t associated with Channel 4 Racing coverage…

…Until next year at least.


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