Racing: The hardy boys take the laurels

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MEMORY recalls a time at Prestbury Park when surrender was announced in a crowded bar after three days of unrewarded endeavour. With only one race left on the card, an acquaintance loudly let it be known that he had reached the limit of his daring. 'My bottle has gone,' he cried out woefully.

Never mind scenic charm, the crack, and the fact that Cheltenham figures with increasing prominence on the corporate calendar. For fully-fledged truth seekers it is simply a renewal of hostilities and if there is a more one-sided conflict it has not come to attention here.

Among various agencies enthusiastically assisting in the process of providing bookmakers with their cruise money are dedicated students in the employ of national newspapers, tipsters who are prepared to reveal all at a price and jockeys so blatantly subjective they would pronounce a donkey capable of running a big race, stable-speak for an outstanding performance. Even if poverty is imminent it is advisable to avoid all contact with the latter.

Stabbing through the later races on Tuesday, hunch players kept groping for a good thing to make up for previous disappointments. As a remedy this is not to be recommended but desperate measures are frequently called for. This especially applied to the Irish contingent who took a savage blow in the opener when Winter Belle and Sound Man trailed in behind the 50-1 winner, Arctic Kinsman. 'That's me done in for the day,' said a man from Donegal. Needless to say, Arctic Kinsman had not intruded upon the pre-race assessments. Except for those collecting on the basis of a birthdate or a lucky number the pay-out windows were places of deserted quiet.

I know an enthusiast of long standing who has yet to set foot inside Prestbury Park but regularly risks marital disharmony in his enthusiasm for remote locations. He is a man worth listening to. While alleged experts were doubting its ability to act on the going, his big fancy yesterday was Monsieur Le Cure which could be backed in the sure and certain knowledge that a superior mind had been applied to the possible outcome.

When necks turtled into the upturned collars of topcoats yesterday, the clientele quailing under the wind's lash, chances are that regular punters merely glanced at the threatening sky, asked themselves what was so unusual about the conditions, and continued their deliberations.

In any event, fortunes improved dramatically for the Irish when Charlie Swan brought home Danoli in the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle, landing a big gamble as the 7-4 favourite and making a romantic figure out of trainer Tom Foley, who had forsaken Irish pastures for the first time. Another great Gaelic cheer went up when the legendary Irish gambler, J P McManus, returned successfully to the fray with his Time For A Run in the Coral Cup.

People who spend their lives poking around racetracks get a view of human nature which is at once more tolerant and less rosy than any endorsed by the clergy, as well as a fondness for certain places. This does not seem to be dependent upon architectural or horticultural attractiveness, on setting, or comfort or even the quality of racing at these places.

Creature comforts are all very well for invited guests who probably do not see daylight from the moment they are deposited in the Gloucestershire countryside, but for the hardy players inconvenience is all part of the pleasure. Don't ask me why, but they love to suffer. They never appear happier unless they are being elbowed and trampled and bruised in cramped places where the air they breathe has already been breathed several times, and sinking hopelessly deeper into debt.

When a fully paid-up punter has nothing to complain about except the trainer's incompetence and the jockey's driving habits, he may very well give up the game and just stay at home and kick the cat.