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 01:00

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

serious contender

makes plenty of appeal

could play a big part

very hopeful.

Highly regarded

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

serious contender

very hopeful.


Fought valiantly.

Travelled well.

A brave third.

Hampered three out,


ran flat

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

never travelled

murdered by the handicapper

sweated a lot before the race

game as a pebble

scoped badly

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.

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