Want a festival tip? Sit back and enjoy jumps’ greatest spectacle
Since this week’s Cheltenham Festival is one of those occasions when even those normally impervious to racing’s appeal tune into the gee-gees, those of us able to feign some level of familiarity with the game get plagued with the inevitable “any tips?”
There’s expectation behind it too. Like the logic which dictates that a scribbler, phone-line advice pony, or any member of that gelding occupation known as “consultancy” wouldn’t have to indulge in such activity in the first place if their opinion was consistently profitable when it comes to jump-racing’s biggest shop-window.
Still, even the greatest chancers can sometimes hit the bulls-eye. That tantalising hope, combined with a confident manner, can often con the gullible into thinking Cheltenham’s financial holy grail is just the next race away.
For an opportunist, the “any tips” query can be a green light. To those less fluent in the language of bullshit it’s a quandary.
Not unreasonably Ruby Walsh gets the “any tips” line more than most. He hates it. If the great jockey doesn’t fancy one, he can’t pretend he does, although he knows the racegoer chancing his arm mostly just wants a name to be able to boast to his pals that he was talking to Ruby who likes such-and-such a horse. It doesn’t matter what horse, anyone will do.
Even those of us maintaining a vastly more flimsy pretence of ‘expertise’ get tagged with the “any tips” line. Recently this corner took pity on such a punter, pointing out that aiming to make money on one of those few weeks of the year when everything’s trying is a tough ask. And that maybe his judgement might be questionable in the first place, given who he was talking to.
But it wasn’t the inquiry about whether or not he should be in possession of an up-to-date driving licence that worried him. It was the bit about trying – “what happens the other weeks?” To which one could only reply – hmmnnn.
Well, officially, what happens is that racing’s authorities watch like hawks for any horse that might be, in the parlance of the betting ring, “not off,” as in not exhibiting all of its talent in the pursuit of better odds and a lesser handicap rating in the future. And on those occasions when a culprit is identified, the weight of officialdom comes down hard on the connections of said horse, all in the pursuit of protecting vulnerable punters from dodgy horsey types.
That’s officially; just as in officially, all the citizens of this broke, wet rock are treated equally, irrespective of wealth, influence or power; and zeitgeist entreaties to feel more patriotic pride aren’t simply a privilege for those able to afford such “paaaasitive” self-indulgence.
Reality, as per usual, is much more nuanced, and when it comes to politics, finance or the comparatively trivial pursuit of one horse passing a red lollipop in front of another, it is self-interest that normally grabs a good hold and all the official stuff dutifully trots into line behind it. Certainly in the complex link between racing and those betting on it, self-interest is essential.