It's their loss (but our pain)
Actor Robert Bathurst has heard all the trainers' excuses before – but he still finds poetry in the paddock
Saturday 07 March 2009
The first race at the Cheltenham Festival will be greeted by the traditional roar from packed stands, a roar of excitement but also relief that at last, after weeks of ante-post prattle, the contest is under way.
Interest in this most long-awaited fixture in jump racing is sustained by weeks of confident speculation about the horses, trainers, jockeys, the ground, the trends, the form. The language of racing is democratic; any of us can sound as authoritative, informed, wise, intuitive and swaggering as the tipsters and pundits because we have just as much chance of getting it completely wrong.
The Racing Post runs a competition for newspaper tipsters, a comparative table of their success rate, and it's instructive to note that at least two-thirds of them, usually, are making a loss. It gives us casual punters the notion that we can be experts too and, armed with the tipsters' confident language of certainty, we can lose money just like them.
At Cheltenham preview evenings in the past few days, we've been hanging on every word and shred of inside information from the panels of racing industry figures, hoovering up the prattle and we leave the convention feeling buoyed, with a list of Good Things for the Festival, knowing deep down that most of those cast-iron certainties will be alloyed with doubt come the big day.
If pundits are paid to bellow their confidence, trainers and jockeys have a more measured, cautious approach to prediction. Trainers are masters of the art of sounding certainly uncertain. Their prattle is loaded with an agenda: an implicit message to the horse's owners that it is stabled at the right yard. If a trainer were to express honest pessimism about their horse's chances in a race, it would create the doubt that maybe it has not been prepared to the peak of its ability, however lumbering that might be. Given the likelihood of failure, (they are doing well if they lose only 80 per cent of the time), trainers must prepare themselves for the post-race discussion with owners by forestalling any criticism of their work, giving themselves avenues of escape and blaming outside factors, anything rather than admitting the horse was slow.
Here is some trainers' prattle in verse form, a hymn to the language of racing. I bet every line of it will be used in the paddock at Cheltenham next week...
Gold Cup Prattle
We're very happy with our horse
makes plenty of appeal
could play a big part
fancied to go well
looking in good order
he's been showing all the right signs at home
I'm expecting a big run
hopeful, yes very hopeful.
The horse is progressive
he's well in himself
there's a big whisper for him
he acts on the ground
he's coming into himself
today will answer a lot of questions
likely to be a very warm order
I'd say hopeful, yes, very hopeful
he's well in with the weights
done nothing wrong at home
put in a sound piece of work
doesn't owe me anything
I'm sure he'll run a respectable race
he'll handle the track
the ground is a question
bit to find on the ratings
I'm really happy with him
A brave third.
Hampered three out,
come out of the race well
ran a little green
went nicely about his business
unsuited by the ground
ran his race
he's got a a bit of a leg
unhappy with the ride
found to be lame
murdered by the handicapper
sweated a lot before the race
game as a pebble
he was funny in his wind
But the main thing is he got home safe
that's - all - that matters...
we'll run him again before long and –
Yeah, we're very hopeful.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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