On Sunday morning, I packed a bag for Prestbury Park. It doesn’t contain a whole lot: a change of clothes far less dignified than the get-up I sported the day before, and a laptop to enable me to put into words what I’ll witness.
For all that Cheltenham comes around every year, sometimes we need to drink it in. People like to get hyped up about the Super Bowl, the World Series or a World Cup final, but attending The Festival is no less impacting. It is, after all, the pinnacle of jumps racing in the world and that means something.
This will be my first trip to the Cotswolds, as things never quite worked out – whether it be trying to scamper annual leave together or financial imbalance. But this year is my year and history will be made before my eyes.
I’m working Sunday – my full-time job is being a football researcher for a Chicago-based statistics company. So, avoiding sport is next to impossible. It’s in the quiet hours – which are few and far between in that gig – that the thoughts of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle encircle my mind.
For the last decade, I’ve tried not to fall in love with a likely runner in this race, and this would make ten unsuccessful attempts on the trot. Elixir De Nutz is going to get an uncontested lead on good to soft, soft in places and will take three lengths out of them at the bend. Fingers crossed.
When I finish work at 11pm on Sunday night, I’m back into work the next morning for 8am, hence the overly optimistic bag-packing date. From there, my train to Dublin awaits, where I’ll undoubtedly end up trying to reassure myself of my selections by filing through preview comments and form.
My best mate is coming from Cork, and we’ll meet before our flight the next morning. Undoubtedly, we’ll disagree on everything. But our increased Irish pride will make the journey across the Irish Sea to Birmingham – following in the footsteps of the next Champion Hurdler in Apple’s Jade.
Originally, my interest in horse racing was strictly for gambling purposes, but the more time you put into the research side of things, the more you learn to appreciate just how unique the sport is, as well as how differently its many colourful characters presents themselves.
I come from Limerick – the home of Enda Bolger and JP McManus, so it’s hard to ignore the equine love affair, especially as, prior to last year, the last thing Limerick was successful at was harbouring more kebab shops on a single street per capita than anywhere else in Europe.
We’ll stay in Brum and commute down. I generally find public transport to be the best place to switch off and just focus on whatever thoughts pop into your head. Which means I’ll end up changing my selections for the day’s handicaps over and over again by the time the 40-minute train journey finds its terminus.
I’ve a couple of different tipping sheets to file for newspapers and websites over the course of the week, and I’ve a podcast going out on the Monday evening. There’ll be no place to hide from ill-fated overconfidence come Tuesday. I’ll manage my bets by allotting a confidence level respective to the selection’s price prior to arriving at Cheltenham so I don’t end up chasing losses. It’s also worth noting that Tuesday usually goes well and being excessive with your stakes come Wednesday is highly inadvisable.
And if you’ve been unlucky by the time the Grand Annual comes around, I can assure you that I’ve never met anyone whose week’s punting was saved by that race. Hopefully I come away with some profit, more importantly – I come away with memories, because nobody realises just how lucky we are to witness something of this magnitude.
If Elixir De Nutz comes in, I’ll be fine for the week and can afford generous punts on generous prices in handicaps midweek. If Elixir De Nutz loses and Apple’s Jade gets headed, Wednesday’s punting may not even happen, as I’ll elect to be responsible with my bankroll rather than doubling down on Delta Work.
That’s the thing about Cheltenham though.
This is one story whose ending will be taken out its author’s control. Every single formline and race you’ve obsessed over for the last 11 months will now find justification or be exposed as fabrication. The narrative of your Festival is so exclusively yours, and the collective of the individuals is what makes this week special.
If your narrative needs a shake from writer’s block, my best bets are below. And whatever way your money goes this week, make sure to make memories if nothing else.
Oh, and if anyone can let me know a way to watch Wednesday’s action in BHX, please do feel free to share.
Bankers: Sir Erec (Triumph Hurdle), Benie Des Dieux (Mares’ Hurdle), Defi Du Seuil (JLT Chase).
Too Short: Al Dancer (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle), Tiger Roll (XC), Paisley Park (Stayers’ Hurdle).
Value Punts: On The Blind Side (RSA Chase), Saint Calvados (Champion Chase w/o Altior), Thistlecrack (Gold Cup).
NAP: Elixir de Nutz (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle).
Next Best Bet: Brio Conti (Coral Cup).