Brendan Duke: I’ve Cheltenham closure but that won’t stop me having a good time

El Duke is back in the black after an incident with a sniffer dog and has a couple of early double-digit fancies for the weekend...

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I have returned from Cheltenham. Was fortunate in more ways than one. The sea was generally quite rough during the week. Luckily, when we sailed, it was becalmed. The punting went well. Won something small over there, and a couple of ante-post tickles bore fruit. Good old Paisley Park. I’ve spent this week musing on my perilous financial position. Decided the main reason I find myself in this pickle, is down to backing horses that don’t go by the name Paisley Park. Still, mustn’t grumble. The coffers have been somewhat replenished, it’s a beautiful day outside, and the Irish Flat season kicks off on Sunday at Naas. It will be evening meetings, short sleeves and the smell of barbecue, in next to no time.

I almost got an even more rounded Cheltenham experience. Sadly for this piece, and my insatiable quest for anecdotes, I managed to talk my way out of it. A few good eggs of my acquaintance came up with tickets, meaning I managed to avoid paying in on any day. This makes a serious dent in the week’s expenses. Admission to racing in the UK is expensive. I was waiting outside the turnstiles on Friday. Unfortunately, as one of the aforementioned eggs discovered, there is no facility for leaving tickets at the course.


‘We wouldn’t have anywhere to keep them’ was the reply to his request. My friend did try to point out that the dimensions of an envelope probably wouldn’t overload storage capacity. All to no avail. Anyway, as I waited for my ticket to be passed out to me, a dog pawed at my lower leg. Recent dog-sitting experience has left me more relaxed around man’s best friend.

‘She’s very friendly’ I said to the man on the end of the leash. For some reason, I think all doctors are male, and all dogs female. Probably because I’m an imbecile. ‘He’s a sniffer dog’ came the reply. ‘Have you been around any drugs recently?’ ‘I don’t think so’ said I. Curiously enough, just before the pawing, I had been considering a small, win only, bet on Might Bite for the Gold Cup. Kept this to myself though. He’d probably have assumed I was under the influence of hallucinogenics.

‘Would you mind submitting to a routine search sir?’. I started to empty my pockets, but discretion is highly valued in England. Quite right too. Apparently they have a room where these searches are carried out. The seedy glamour of a Vegas backrooming sprang to mind. ‘Certainly, but can you give me two minutes, as I’m waiting on a ticket to be handed out’ I said. He then asked me could I ring my man on the inside. This is when I talked my way out of it. My friend was busy, and doing me a massive solid. I didn’t want to send him back, and then ring again after I got the all clear from the search team. Also, it was the last of four hectic days. My feet hurt, my head hurt, and his request smacked of multi-tasking.

As we know, multitasking is a myth. It’s just doing more than one thing badly. A rapid recounting of my woes, which probably did sound like somebody under the influence of cocaine, followed. Having given my reasons why we had to wait two minutes, the dog handler said it was fine. Man and beast pottered off. Bewilderment was still in the air though. The deliverer of the precious ticket rang. He was outside, beside the town crier. ‘Can you hear bells ringing’ he asked. I could. Unfortunately that was because the phone was to my ear. Once I put it down, the bells were silenced. Luckily he found me, and yanked me out of the rabbit hole. The room remains a mystery. Always next year I suppose.

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We must move on. Cheltenham is over. We’re in the futures business here. No matter how significant the previous week, it’s the next we must focus on. I tried to crack the Irish Lincoln at Naas on Sunday. That would be a pleasant start to the new season. Unfortunately the harder I looked, the less appealing the race became. We will stick to the jumps.

Henry De Bromhead continues to impress as a trainer. Two festival winners bolstering his reputation. He looks set to launch another raid on English shores this weekend. Havingagoodtime is entered in the juvenile handicap hurdle at Newbury on Saturday (2.40 pm). This filly had looked fairly useless, before winning a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse. She backed that up with a better effort at Naas. Band Of Outlaws and Coko Beach were in front of her that day. They gave that form a very favourable look at Cheltenham.

Havingagoodtime didn’t receive a sex allowance that day either. I would expect to see another improved effort on Saturday, and the handicapper looks to have given her a real chance off a mark of 125.

We can’t be sure she will run, but this doesn’t smack of a random entry.

I imagine it has been the plan. If you’re so inclined it’s probably worth taking the price now ahead of Friday’s declarations. It’s not hard to envisage her going off a good deal shorter.

The staying handicap chase at Kelso looks interesting too. The front end of the market is worth taking on. Adrien Du Pont isn’t to be trusted. Blue Flight got a stone for winning a conditions race at the course last time. So, Gold Opera appeals against them at a double-digit price. He has done really well on his first couple of starts for Keith Dalgleish. Going up 4lbs for a couple of runner-up efforts isn’t ideal. When you delve into the form though, the rise seems lenient. He looks well handicapped.

The problem is his unproven stamina. He has tried longer trips before, but was usually beaten before stamina became an issue. It looks a risk worth taking. The field for this race should hold up. Wiser to wait until after declarations on Friday.

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