Desperate day at the races has Vinny thinking
Will the lure of a free bet prove too strong?
Liberty Counsel with jockey Ben Dalton on their way to Grand National success on Monday. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA
As Barney’s Bus laboured along the M3, whinnying and wheezing like a milkman’s old dray, Vinny Fitzpatrick experienced a gambling conversion which galloped out of left field, a bit like the little-known winner of the Irish Grand National two hours earlier.
Against the odds, he made a conscious decision to abstain from all forms of betting for the foreseeable future. It didn’t matter whether it was the nags, the football, or the lotto on legs that was greyhound racing, Vinny was going to keep his hard-earned busman’s pay firmly in his pocket.
It would, he knew, be a supreme exam of his mental toughness, especially as three days of Aintree were hurtling towards the sporting conscience, followed by The Masters. “That’s just what I need to challenge my new resolution,” he thought to himself.
There would, he contemplated, be a cluster of plusses to his new found state of reconciliation. For starters, he would spend less time in Boru Betting and more time with Angie and the kids, especially his step daughter, Emma, who was on the mend after her health scare which required a bout of stomach pumping and three nights in hospital. Most importantly, he would spend less. Period.
It wasn’t widely known, in fact it wasn’t known to anyone, that Vinny was on a wretched punting run. The battered biscuit tin under his bed, usually stuffed with notes at this time of the year, was rattling around with coppers after an appalling sequence of losers.
While all around him in Foley’s had cleaned up at Cheltenham, Vinny had lost out after a huge wager on Sir Des Champs in the Gold Cup.
His football bets repeatedly went belly-up – not helped by his blind loyalty to Everton – while his weekly match bets on the US PGA Tour kept bouncing out of bounds.
From an operating stash of €5,000 on New Year’s Day, Vinny was down to his last €50 in coppers. He still had his rainy-day reserves in the post office, which Angie didn’t know about, but was loathe to dip into his emergency funding.
As he snuggled deeper into his lumpy seat, cursing the irregular heating in Barney’s boneshaker, he heard the lads jousting down the back as the games of ‘45’ got serious.
He would enjoy Aintree, Augusta and the end game to the Premier League, Champions League and National Leagues purely as a sports fan. It was time to come up for air and give his pocket a rest.
The final straw had been Fairyhouse. Freezing, fiscal-filching, Fairyhouse. He could never recall an Easter Monday like it. He’d backed eight favourites, all of which got turned over, the last by a lousy head in the bumper.
His outlay had been €500, significant by his standards, and his return had been zilch. It was his worst day at the Irish Grand National meeting for a distance, and he struggled to make any sense of it.
His preparation had been thorough and professional. He’d had an early Sunday night and after digesting the ‘Racing Post’ over a hearty fry-up, felt the Willie Mullins-Ruby Walsh chariot was the one to hitch a lift on.
But from the moment Zaidpour (6/4) was toppled in the opener, Vinny’s carefully mapped out punting plan went awry. Ruby was out of the frame on Tennis Cap (11/8) and the Mullins’ hot-pot in the first of two bumpers, Vedettariat (5/4), never landed a blow.
By the time of the National, which was ridiculously late off at 4.50pm, Vinny’s backside was peering out from his trousers and he was getting desperate. He needed a drink but more importantly he needed a winner, preferably at juicy odds. With the rail bookies laying 10 to 1 the 28-runner field, this was his chance.
Mullins Marsonnian was Vinny’s choice, and he’d placed his biggest bet of the day, €50 each-way at 12/1 on the seven-year-old, which had the expert services of Ruby, Ruby, Ruby. As a saver, he threw a score on the nose on Mullins’ second string, a 25/1 shot, Away We Go.
Aware that poker-faced Ruby never showed his hand until the last moment, Vinny was convinced Marsonnian would win until the pace picked up from Ballyhack on the second circuit and his charge slipped back in the final half mile.
Vinny had been so distraught he hadn’t first noticed his back-up bet, Away We Go, creep into contention before swooping down the stands side between the last two fences.
Suddenly, Vinny found his voice and he leapt off his fat trotters, screaming support. This was the moment he had been waiting for all day, all week, all year; a lucrative winner to get him back on an even keel.
There was only one horse to beat, on the far side. And Away We Go was arriving with a fresh sail. A good jump at the last would seal it. It did. As Away We Go popped the fence, his rival flew, landed running, and kept on galloping to the post. There was half a length in it between them at the line; there might as well have been a mile.
As Barney’s Bus turned left at Whitehall Church, Vinny was vaguely aware of excited chatter from down the back. Soon, he felt a tap at his shoulder. It was Brennie, eyes shining.
“Have you heard the latest?” he grinned. “Charlie Vernon cleaned up today, including the cards, and he’s giving us all a free €20 voucher from Boru Betting for the National at Aintree. What do you think of that?”
Vinny smiled and turned his head back to the window. “Tell him thanks, but no thanks. I’m having a breather from betting.”
As the bus shunted down Collins Avenue, Vinny’s mind drifted back to Charlie Vernon’s offer. If he plucked out a National longshot, it would certainly ease his financial plight and he fancied a three-time Topham Trophy winner, Always Waining, at 40/1. There was also the fact that he was not exposed to any financial risk.
As he squirmed in his seat, Vinny felt the old familiar tingle in his fingers and toes, which had nothing to do with the fluctuating temperatures in the bus. “Brennie, come here for a minute,” he said, a sly smile breaking out on his jowly features. Like the horse he fancied for Aintree, Vinny’s resolve was waning too.