CHELTENHAM is upon us. The wallet is feeling light already. Only one thing for it: the Curve Ball Idiot's Guide to Saving Your House, Wife and Marbles ...
A is for ARMCHAIR EXPERT. The type who will tell you with a straight face that ARKLE was the finest horse to ever win the ARC. A is also for ACCUMULATOR -- don't even ask, they never materialise.
B is for BANKER. Ever remember that John Cusack film, The Sure Thing? Well, this is the equine equivalent -- she is hot to trot, so to speak, and everyone wants to lay ... a bet on her. Like all bankers, though, she will probably rob you blind in the end. B is also for BERTIE, who won all that money on a horse, apparently.
C is for the COTSWOLDS. Cheltenham is in the heart of the Cotswolds whereas your supposedly adjacent hotel is somewhere entirely else -- the far side of Birmingham, to be precise. C is also for Cheltenham CHASE (of the two-legged variety) and CHASER, too many of which will hamper said chase.
D is for DRINK, FECK, ARSE. The three primary reasons why half the Irish nation embarks on this annual exodus to Prestbury Park. Racing comes a poor fourth, one which the bookies aren't paying out on.
E is for EXPERT. They don't exist. They are all spoofers. Trust us.
F is for FOOT-IN-MOUTH. Suffice to say, every 'Cheltenham expert' will put his size-ten in his even larger orifice at least once over the four days, within earshot of everyone in the office. F is also for FOOT AND MOUTH, whose perfectly-timed outbreak in 2001 spared the rest of us from these 'Cheltenham experts' for one year at least.
G is for GOING. As in, "How are you going?" ... "Oh, I'm going really well, two grand up already" ... "Ah, will you stop pulling my chain, or are you going soft in the head?" ... "Not at all, my friend, just good-to-soft."
H is for HORSE -- apparently it wouldn't happen without them. H is also for HEAD -- as in winning by a head, or using your head by not backing a horse purely on the grounds that you (a) like his colours, (b) like the sound of his name or (c) closed your eyes and used a pin.
I is for INQUIRY. As in Steward's Inquiry. And also Government Inquiry into how this country is broke and everyone is moaning about wage cuts and we're still flashing the cash in the Cotswolds.
J is for JOE CANNING. The only 'sure thing' this week is that Smokin' Joe will have scored in the region of 2-10 at Croke Park by close of play this evening.
K is for KLEPTOMANIAC. By Friday, sad to say, you will have become one. K is also for KING HENRY, the original two-legged thoroughbred going head-to-head with his young rival, Smokin' Joe, in the only two-horse race that matters this week.
L is for L'ESCARGOT, who clearly wasn't as slow as a snail since this Irish-trained Francophile won back-to-back Gold Cups in the early 1970s.
M is for MILLER. As in "that horse is a miller to go". We refer, of course, to Golden Miller, who claimed five Gold Cups in a row between 1932 and 1936. And since the 1931 race was abandoned because of frost, and ditto the '37 race because of flooding, this miller-to-go was surely deprived of a magnificent seven. Now, enough boring trivia ... we're starting to sound like a Cheltenham expert.
N is for NON-RUNNER. The only guaranteed way NOT to lose money at Cheltenham. N is also for NOVICE -- of the punter variety.
O is for OFFICE BORE. A subspecies of the Novice Punter, one who mistakenly believes (a) that he knows it all and (b) that the rest of us are actually interested.
P is for PHOTO FINISH -- too close to call, but Murphy's Law dictates that your horse will finish second every time. P is also for PUREBRED HORSE (self-explanatory) and PUREBRED DONKEY -- the altered term of endearment for your purebred sure-thing that ambles in Paddy last, after which you could only sell him for a PONY (25 quid sterling).
Q is for the QUEEN, who is very fond of the horses (even Camilla).
R is for RETURN, that elusive dividend, the promise of which keeps you throwing good money after bad. R is also for RETURNING HOME from Cheltenham, with empty pockets and sore heads.
S is for STRAIGHT SIX -- a wager to correctly select the winner of six consecutive nominated races. S is also for STRAIGHT SEX with the SURE THING of your choice at Cheltenham -- about as likely as winning a Straight Six. Finally, S is for SHERGAR ... if only he could jump, the IRA might never have caught him.
T is for TRICAST, TRIFECTA and TRIXIE -- they're actually bets, as opposed to Geldofs. T is also for TOP WEIGHT -- your new-found condition on the return flight. "For the life of me, I can't understand why that button won't close. Sorry love, I'll have another Stella and one of those lovely Ryanair cheese burgers. Hiccup."
U is for UNDER STARTING ORDERS. As well as UNDER ORDERS from Her Indoors, to the effect that "if you dare spend any more of our hard-earned dosh on the horses, you'll end up like Shergar. That's a promise!"
V is for VERY NEAR THE END. Thank God.
W is for a word that rhymes with your BANKER when he falls at the first fence.
X is for X-FACTOR. Every 'A to Z' needs an X-Factor, otherwise you'd never get to the finish.
Y is for YAHOO. It's what you shout out loud in the office when the 100/1 outsider you're pretending to have backed crosses in first place. Y is for YAHOO, the noun used to describe aforementioned loudmouth chancer.
Z is for ZIGGY, who played guitar but didn't ride horses. Mind you, his alter ego, David Bowie, had no problem dressing up in outrageous silks. Maybe he should have been a jockey after all.