Cheltenham Preview Nights - A Bluffer’s Guide To Guiding Bluffers

Few parts of the festival build-up are more enjoyable, just don’t imagine you will be given a winner

Mon, Mar 3, 2014, 10:00

Then you have the half-knowers. Racing wouldn’t be their main sport but they go mad for Cheltenham, they love Christmas and they always back four in the Grand National. They know enough for their families (who know nothing) to ask them for tips.

As the years go by, they gradually come to the realisation that racing people don’t know what’s going to win each race, the same as football people don’t know who’s going to win each match.

This came as a surprise initially, as they assumed looking in from the outside that there was some sort of secret to it. That there isn’t becomes vaguely reassuring. Half-knowers make up a good 75 per cent of most CPN audiences.

Finally, you have the newbies. They are full sure there’s a secret and that a CPN will reveal it to them. They take extensive notes on each race and leave at the end of the night already spending the money they assume they’ve just made. We were all this person once.

Jockeys Hate Preview Nights
Actually, no. Hate is the wrong way of putting it. A better way would be to say that jockeys would rather strap a saddle to their own back and take their chances carrying the horses around the Cotswolds themselves than sit through these nights. They start late so they end late, meaning a post-midnight drive home and four hours’ sleep before they’re up riding out.

The more CPNs they go to, the more opinions they hear about horses they’ll be racing against. After a while, it becomes a woods-for-the-trees problem.

As a younger man, Ruby Walsh used to do seven or eight of them in the lead-up to the festival until one year he found himself down at the start of the Supreme Novices’ giving three-quarters of the horses a chance in the race. The following year he did two and no more.

There was a time when they would get a thick enough envelope to throw into the glove box for their troubles but those nights are few and far between any more. Most of them are for charity so a meal and few quid for petrol is about as lucrative as it gets these days.

Jockeys Are Terrible Tipsters
It’s a rule as old as racing itself. Partly, it’s because they’re compromised. Their livelihood depends on keeping owners happy so they’re hardly going to go spouting off to the public that the apple of their meal ticket’s eye wouldn’t win with a fence headstart.

When they say their lad would have a decent each-way chance, very often they’re thinking, “Yeah, as long as half the field falls while I’m out the back.”

The other side of it is that they want to believe. In Swords the other night, Andrew Lynch was putting forward his horse Sizing Europe for the Champion Chase. Sizing Europe hasn’t won at Cheltenham since 2011. At Christmas, he was 15 lengths behind two Irish horses that aren’t even at the head of the betting. No 12-year-old has won the race in 37 years. Yet with Sprinter Sacre gone, everybody wants to think they have a chance. Even cold-blooded professionals like Andrew Lynch.

Better Gags Than Tips
A selection . . .

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