independent

Monday 21 October 2019

Cheltenham - Festival of triumph and trolls

I PROPOSE a new meaning for a word in the English dictionary.

Cheltenham - A word to describe a state of mind to which otherwise perfectly 'normal' people descend for four days every year, and not just the name of a race course and meeting in the Cotswolds in England.

Very strange things happen to people when Cheltenham rolls around. Gone are the calm and reserved individuals of our workplaces and in their places are these drooling, nervous, mad-eyed savages whose mouths drip with words like 'form' and 'each way' and 'hands' and 'going'.

The world of the jump racing horse opens up to the common man and woman when Cheltenham looms into view.

The talk of the Irish against the English (with the occasional mention of those French divils, usually with their bay horses, infidels!) strikes a definite chord in the Irish psyche and we gather together our scarce funds and enter the realm of the bookies.

Hungry eyes hoover up details from tacked up pages, mini pens are pocketed by the millions, countless dreams are etched on to small slips of paper that are then fed into the machine behind the counter while commentators command fierce attention with their telling of the precious race.

This is the world of the 'tip'. Someone knows someone else who knows someone who knew a lad who once talked to a jockey and they said that he said such and such is a sure thing or an each way chance but you didn't hear it from me or don't take my word on it or don't blame me when he finishes last. But the damage is done.

A tip is a tip and the fear of not betting on it and then the tip coming good is a fear worse than the dread of death itself.

There's no respect to be had by saying 'ah, I said I'd keep me few bob' when 'Hoof Hearted' (best name for a horse ever, ever) has romped home at 33/1 and the crowd in the bookies are getting naked with delight and drinking champagne off the bare backs of hairy men.

Some people follow a jockey, some a trainer, some the weather. Some know a thing or two about the game, some know absolutely nothing, and often it's very hard to distinguish between the two.

The seriously affected go in for yankees and trebles and all that sort of jazz because the possibility of a rollercoaster of good luck is too good to refuse. Grown men roar and shout at small television screens in bookies offices with 'go on' being the most popular command.

And lean machines known as jockeys ride these fine creatures around in loud colours and to us on those three days they're heroes of the highest calibre, warriors, princes one and all and they discuss tactics with over-coat wearing trainers and slap the winner on his back.

And some punters win and some lose and some say they'll never bet again and that it's a mug's game and that only the bookie wins, everyone knows that.

But for four days in March everybody forgets that and they are struck down with Cheltenham fever.

Speaking of fever, the online reaction to jockey David Casey was something horrible to behold last week.

Casey, who was given the ride of 'Briar Hill' after Ruby Walsh fell and injured himself, failed to guide the horse to glory and suddenly he was enemy number one.

A pleasant individual called Shane O'Dwyer @shaneod91 tweeted 'I'll kill David Casey if I ever see him' and the delightful sounding George @GeorgeJoness95 threatened that he 'might go all the way to Cheltenham now just to punch David Casey in the face'.

Internet trolls are nothing new in recent times and where once these vicious people would fall home drunk and mouth obscenities at the stars or anyone unfortunate enough to be in their vicinity they now possess a portal to the world, a loudspeaker of sorts to vent their spleen and spout vicious threats towards anyone they feel has wronged them.

But they don't suffer from Cheltenham, they suffer from a far more serious complaint, and they deserve not only sympathy but, where possible, solicitors' letters. That would soften their coughs.

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