Death, taxes and other certainties

Filed on 25 Feb 2013 @ 17:52

Death, taxes and other certainties

By Ian Carnaby

Well, a van has just pulled up outside. Direct Mobility, it says on the doors and items delivered include wheelchairs, commodes and armchairs. Just in passing I think of the ads during C4 Racing or ITV3 all day, when worrying reminders about time passing are soothed by Michael Parkinson’s quiet insistence that we make sure everything is pretty well tidied up before we go and everyone gets some sort of hand-out.

The Jehovah's Witnesses asked if they could help with anything. The Coral Cup flashed across my mind...

I can bear most of it, apart from the way he says ‘0800’ because I’m sure they don’t pronounce ‘0800’ like that in Barnsley. It was great when Emu tore up his notes and whizzed him round in the chair that time, the ability to laugh at himself not being one of Parky’s more obvious qualities. I suppose they thought of taking it out - hardly any television is live, no matter what they tell you - but the camera crew and audience were so helpless with laughter that they left it in.

In the evenings on ITV3 you get all of the armchair business plus Viking river cruises. A fresh-faced, remarkably healthy-looking cove raises a glass of red wine and toasts his companion, or their life together, or some bargee going the other way. Now, this is a man (the fresh-faced one, not the bargee) who looks as if he’s never put away a glass of red wine in his life and would be drunk on the smell of the barmaid’s apron. But it’s relaxing and we think it could be us and then Poirot comes on again and all the people are assembled in the room. If you were the murderer, would you sit through his forensic analysis of the facts or would you be on your way to Heathrow, or possibly Gatwick or even Herne Bay in those days, thereby escaping the clutches of Chief Inspector Japp - a man born to say: ‘Ere, what’s going on, Poirot?”

Anyway, the van has gone and we think the delivery was probably for next door. The only people to have turned up here recently were the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a nice elderly couple (‘old’ is always 15 years older than you are, by the way; try it) who asked how much I knew about Moses - quite a lot, actually - and politely declined tea, coffee and a glass of New Zealand dry white. I rather liked them, especially when they asked if they could help with anything. The Coral Cup flashed across my mind but I think that might have taken them out of their comfort zone, as people say these days.

Nicholls is bullish about Wonderful Charm - but the value has now gone

To make Cheltenham pay, we probably need to be right about a handicap or two. A month before the race, the bookmakers had only just started pricing up the Coral Cup and Wonderful Charm, though a tentative favourite, was available at 12/1, or 14/1 in a place. Now, we don’t know how much they would have accepted at those odds but it was important to act quickly. Paul Nicholls is quite bullish about Wonderful Charm, who has had a wind operation since winning at Chepstow in the autumn, and mentioned him to me at the Grand National Weights lunch recently.

The word soon spread and it is hard to find better than 6/1 now. The value has gone, this being one of the most competitive races in a difficult week, but there will still be those who want to play on the day. I can tell you that stable confidence is high and Wonderful Charm may turn out to be better than a handicapper. The County Hurdle market has been slower to take shape and there will be any number of plots and schemes afoot. I mention in passing that Emma Lavelle’s Claret Cloak ran a blinder at Ascot a few months ago and probably hated the ground in the very warm Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Most firms offer 20/1 as I write this but Victor Chandler is playing safe on 14/1. It’s just a thought.

The reason I say we need to get a handicap or two right is because the layers have ‘taken care of’ the markets on the highest-profile events. The likes of Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Quevega, Hurricane Fly, Dynaste, even My Tent Or Yours, are priced up as very, very likely winners. You and I know that they won’t all oblige but there is no need to back them yet anyway, because most of them will ease on the day, by which time you’re assured of a run. It’s a point made most tellingly by Tom Segal in the recently published Racing Post Cheltenham Guide.

I reviewed this for the paper the other day and people will say I’m bound to be biased. Well, not really. It’s a remarkable piece of work; I admire the sheer depth of analysis and marvel at some of the data unearthed. But I admit some of it goes beyond what I need. There’s no point in getting older unless you become a tiny bit wiser and my advice, before you come to any hard and fast conclusions (and confidently voice them abroad) is to study the results on Gold Cup day last year, when all of the winners were returned at between 7/1 and 33/1 and, as the afternoon wore on, it was almost as if the bookmakers were writing their own results.

What the RP Guide creates, via analysis that even the aforesaid Poirot would find impressive, is an overall picture indicating clearly enough where value exists and where it most certainly doesn’t. If you think that Dynaste is a good bet in the RSA Chase at a top-priced 9/4, you may choose to disregard the fact that the Feltham Chase has a lamentable record in the race, that only three out of 13 favourites have obliged on the big day, that Segal himself thinks the horse is not even running in the right race and the winner in the last ten years has always run between 24 and 53 days before the RSA. Dynaste has not been seen since Boxing Day. If I weren’t an old curmudgeon I’d say: ‘You do the math’ but it would hurt me so much to set that down in print that I shall just say I make it 77.

As a handicap man I have no strong opinion myself, though I think stable-companion Grands Crus’ poor effort twelve months ago is as irrelevant as anything could be. If Dynaste turns for home with a handy lead, a roar will go up to eclipse anything that happened in the past and he will suddenly become that rarest of birds, a certainty that everyone knew about. It won’t be true, of course, but it’ll feel good - good enough to postpone all thoughts of chair-lifts, commodes and a free Parker pen for at least another year.

Filed on 25 Feb 2013 @ 17:52