Mid-November is not only my birthday but the time of my annual visit to my local racecourse. It's Cheltenham Open Meeting time and it's a bit of a tradition that I pop along and throw away a large sum of money. Gambling and me just don't go together – well, I did once win 20 grand in Las Vegas while really drunk and walked out of the casino with it – but that's for another day. I mean betting on horses – we just don't go together. Apart from a couple of lucky wins on each-ways in the Grand National over the years, I'm a born loser. It got so bad one year that my companions used to follow me to the bookie and simply bet on the horses that I hadn't backed. I like to spread my bets and tend to go for four or five per race. These unlucky steeds tended to fall immediately and were often surrounded by the little tent and dispatched to Horsey Valhalla for good measure.
Obviously, I have no system. I occasionally try to do the right thing and pop down to watch the horses being paraded round the ring before the race. The problem is that they just all look like horses – four legs, a big nose and a little midget on their backs. I inevitably rely on finding something that I can relate to in the name – maybe the horse is called "Big Fat Loser" or "Get A Proper Job". It makes little difference – they are doomed the moment that I put my money down.
The biggest bet that I ever put on a horse was not my money. One of my very first jobs in television was as a researcher on the first Mark Thomas Comedy Product. It was decided that we would put the entire budget of the last show (about 80 grand if I remember rightly) on a horse. If we won then we'd host the last show live from Las Vegas in extravagant style.
If we lost then we'd do it from Mark's front room with one camera. Obviously we were all very keen to make the trip to Las Vegas and did some pretty good research and got a very good tip for the race. Unfortunately, come the day, Mark got very excited at the racecourse and decided to ignore our advice and put all the money on a horse ridden by a jockey called M Nutter. Mark was playing my dangerous game of being attracted to an amusing name. Obviously Mr Nutter brought his horse in last and we lost all the money. We interviewed Nutter afterwards and he turned out to be a very nervous 17-year-old in his first race.
He nearly fainted when we told him what had transpired. The really annoying thing was that the horse that we had got the tip on romped home in first place at 12-1 ... oh the humanity.
Back at this year's Cheltenham Open and I was desperately trying to pick a couple to go with in the first race. I hung around the bookie leafing through the papers trying to decide.
There were a couple of "townies" nearby who had decided to don the full tweed look. If I didn't know them to be the urban poseurs that they were, I could easily have mistaken them for gentlemen of the turf with a great knowledge of this, the sport of kings. I gave up and hung around them subtly, listening to their bets and then simply matched them pound for pound.
To my delight, I won a quite considerable sum of money. I couldn't believe it. I did the same for the last three races and things went swimmingly. I couldn't quite work out how this was happening. Maybe the donning of the correct togs was more important than I originally thought? If you turn up in the right gear then maybe you are taken aside and given the winners? I have subsequently paid a little visit to a weird little shop in Cirencester that provides the ludicrous pink trousers and mustard-coloured jumpers of the landed gentry. I have selected my tweed and a bespoke jacket is in the process of being made for me. Next year I shall arrive at Cheltenham resplendent and ready for some lackey to sidle up to me and hand me a note with all the winners on it. If only somebody had told me about this earlier.
Wilkinson's living in a dream world... I'd rather be in Cipriani's boots
Listening to Jonny Wilkinson's new spoutings about how "being in the England team isn't the be-all and end-all any more" is a bit weird. He is clearly moving on from his hair-growing scientific enlightenment period on to an even deeper plane of spiritual discovery. I have a funny feeling that it won't be long before he become the next David Icke and announces that we are all lizards and Bill Beaumont is the Lizard King. Expect a book called something like – "Why we're all going to die in a flaming ball of fiery lizard poo" by Wilkinson in the shops for Xmas.
Meanwhile Danny Cipriani takes his place in the squad, plays like a wizard and squires Kelly Brook. Call me old-fashioned but I know which kind of enlightenment I'm after...
Advertising hoarding has me head over heels
Watching New Zealand against Ireland last week I couldn't help noticing that most of the pitch-side "Paddy Power.com" advertising banners were upside down. Some kind of "down under" joke or just shoddy attention to detail? I have no idea but I'm writing about it so maybe it worked...