Racing: Serious bettors are undemonstrative but insistent. They don't expect a strike every time but their boundless optimism can be contagious

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Unfamiliar though many are with the geography of Prestbury Park's sprawling acres, distracted as right thinking people must be when surrounded by numerous bars and oases offering other forms of sustenance, racegoers rely on the animal instinct of the horse player and find their unerring way to points of financial investment.

There they yield up their worldly goods as though it is their intent to salve whatever wounds have been previously inflicted on the bookmaking fraternity and restore in a single afternoon the money spent on improving Cheltenham's gilded fleshpot.

The serious bettors in this motley crew are undemonstrative but insistent. They don't expect a strike every time but their boundless optimism can be contagious. Getting around a lot makes them less susceptible than most to current influences, but it doesn't make them immune to the scourge of misinformation.

A friend who falls into this category, giving a great deal of his leisure time to the quest for winners, warns against taking the advice of trainers and jockeys and placing a bet just for the sake of it. The daft thing, and there are always plenty of woeful anecdotes at Cheltenham to confirm a fairly common affliction, is that he always has an ear cocked for the grapevine.

A confident whisper from one quarter on Tuesday was that Erzadjan, a contender for the last race, the Hamlet Extra Mild Cigars Gold Card Handicap Hurdle (the names grow longer and longer) might provide some relief from sufferers. If pains were taken to make sure that this was not put about generally, it didn't matter because Erzadjan failed to figure in the placing.

Shortly before they went off in the first race yesterday, the Royal SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle, a case could be made for the Jimmy FitzGerald-trained Agistment, as noted by this paper's tipster, Hyperion, who was in cracking form with two winners already to his name including Make A Stand in the Champion Hurdle.

Fortunately, my friend was on hand to advise caution, which only goes to show the sense in listening to people who know what they are talking about. His view was that Agistment, a big horse, needed softer going and that the race was stitched on for the J P McManus-owned Istabraq, who brought in a considerable amount of late money. Brilliantly ridden by Charlie Swan, it turned out to be Ireland's first winner of the meeting.

This did not diminish my faith in Hyperion, who tipped Flimsy Truth, the 33-1 winner of the National Hunt Chase. The race showed just how things can turn for or against you. Agistment, the winner of its last three races, went at the first hurdle, giving Richard Dunwoody a nasty fall.

A traditional tendency of punters is to be fairly content with modest gains when they are winning but, when losing, to insist on betting more than they can afford in an effort to recoup. For bookmakers, this can be described as the hidden percentage as distinct from the ordinary percentage. As Istabraq was the first favourite to succeed in 31 races at Cheltenham, it can be imagined that bookmakers have great faith in this psychological ace in the hole.

A big issue is the state of the going, which does not appear to be in accordance with the official description. Apart from playing havoc with form, it is causing a great deal of consternation among trainers. For example, Gordon Richards was exceedingly put out when General Command - another of my losing bets - pulled up lame on Tuesday in the Astec Buzz Shop Handicap Chase and will miss the Grand National. A course that continues to produce records is not to Richards' liking.

We shall have to wait and see whether the ground causes Michael Hourigan to withdraw Dorans Pride from today's Gold Cup, but unquestionably in view of the imponderables, it is an event to be approached with the utmost caution.

Incidentally, in the opinion of some respected veterans there could be a further endorsement of Martin Pipe's method in the performance of Challenger Du Luc. It may all go to show what an idle rumour can do.