[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t looked a bit thin at Cheltenham early on, as well as cold and wet, or was that because of, at least that was the pessimistic view. By the first race what we’d always known became apparent, National Hunt fans are a hardy lot and started teeming out of the bars impervious to the inclement conditions. Sadly the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle wasn’t a scintillating betting heat with Apple’s Shakira a prohibitively hot favourite to all but the seemingly near extinct plastic bag men. Star Sports offered betting both without the jolly and the distance in a attempt to take some money. Of course anyone who wanted to lump on the short one would be accommodated should they so wish.
There were no takers with us but the jolly did shorten from 2/11 to 1/7 before the off. Anyone who did get involved got their money’s worth of excitement with Look My Way giving the filly a run for her money but eventually Apple’s Shakira won fairly cosily.
The going changed to ‘Soft, Heavy in Places’ between the first two races. Betting was a lot more competitive for the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Steeple Chase. The office laid £100k – £20k Mister Whitaker but we saw nothing like that on course. At the off our bogie was Theatre Territory after a bet of £3,000 – £420 that’s 7/1 with fractions, come racing.
Needless to say the winner was a catastrophic result for the firm but a small winner in the on-course book. I informed ITV’s Matt Chapman of the Mister Whitaker bet, his response ‘Good!’. Commiserations weren’t expected.
The next up, the Crest Nicholson Chase was the first big handicap of the day. Star Sports had no opinion so punters could take their pick and try to find the winner in rapidly deteriorating conditions now officially described as heavy.
The office laid a single bet of £15,000 at 7/2 the jolly Coo Star Sivola while Andrew at the helm on the rails described the business as ‘steady’ but modest.
It may have been modest but the ‘Bryony Frost’ factor has already started to kick in on Saturdays on course. Her mount Frodon was all the punters wanted to be on, watching the combination draw steadily away was no fun losing four-figures in the book. Having said that, only the most granite of hearts would begrudge the sport’s new ambassador her continued success as she shouted to well-wishers ‘It’s him not me’.
The betting for the feature race of the day, the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase, centred around favourite Bristol De Mai.
The office laid a single bet of £65k at 13/8 while the pitch on the rail got to work and managed to attract some decent bets at 7/4. In short it was Star Sports v Bristol De Mai.
One for the good guys, Definitely Red winning at 7/1 was a cracking result, especially after the bogie looked threatening turning for home. The fight back had begun.
The betting was lively for the Ballymore Classic Novices’ Hurdle with favourites flip-flopping after good support for Mulcahy’s Hill from 9/2 into 11/4 deposing Pacific De Baune. The punters made the book, so at the off we had three losers, Slate House the worst in the book.
Over the last it looked like the fightback was going to continue with 8/1 shot Black Op looking set to win and cop a nice few quid in the book. We’ve all learned not to count it up the Cheltenham hill but it’s still gutting when you get done as we did when 4/1 second-worst in the book Santini got up close home.
There was a minute’s silence in memory of Richard Woollacott before the running of the Cleeve Hurdle. It was lovely to hear it very well respected in Tattersalls and Members, it was just a shame some in the Dawn Run Stand saw fit to continue with their football style chanting.
The first box I passed on the motorway coming up from Devon was the one from the Woollacott yard. I, along with I’m sure most others was hoping that the old punting adage to back the first horse box you spot would prove correct with Beer Goggles. There’s sentimentality in gambling too, the firms snapping at the 6/1 the recent Long Distance Hurdle Winner ensuring it went off the absolute bogie at the off.
Sadly there was no poignant win for Beer Goggles and the Woollacott yard, instead honours went to Lizzie Kelly and Nick & Jane Williams who train just up the road in George Nympton. The 9/1 chance was a good winner in the book but sometimes it’s honestly not about money.
The last heat on the card was the Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle where betting was once again steady with Le Patriote heading the market.
At the off Clondaw Castle and Our Merlin were the two four-figure losers in the book. The jolly was a small winner, the punters left us out as we followed the market. 20/1 Remiluc winning was one for the bookies, aye aye, who will no doubt keep it dry until the Festival. See you in March.
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Simon Nott is author of Skint Mob!: Tales from the Betting Ring