At The Races | R. Sole

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Horse racing, like alcohol, has mysteriously aligned itself with all significant holidays in the Irish religious calendar, such as Christmas, Easter and St Patrick’s Day. With the approach of the annual St Patrick’s week pilgrimage to Cheltenham, here’s a few tips on how you can have an enriching experience.

1. Tipping

According to an old joke, you should never work as a waitress/barman at the Curragh because very few people tip well. The fact is, if anybody had a golden tip, they’d keep it to themselves.

Axiom One about sure-fire tips: betting odds are like the stock market; the easiest way to influence which numbers (bettings odds) fall and rise are to spread rumours. So by telling everybody to bet on Horse A, the odds on popular Horse A fall and the odds on less popular Horse B rise. Now, the tipster goes off and bets on Horse B, which now delivers a better payout than it would have before the rumour started. Economists and financiers call it legitimate speculation. The rest of society call it a dirty trick, if not downright criminal. It’ll be interesting to see which version the Supreme Court eventually adopts.

Axiom Two is about sure-fire bets. In the spirit of Nostradamus Roulette, you will only hear about the successes, and only after they turn out to be true. You rarely hear about the thousands of inaccurate predictions/bets that the ‘expert’ made over the years, because that would dilute the legend… and we Irish love a good story. The one exception to this rule (i.e. somebody who does in fact have consistently reliable tips) is Mahon Tribunal attendee Bertie Ahern. Apparently he won a lot of money ‘on the horses’ but was so shy about his astute acumen that he didn’t tell anybody at all about his talents until he had no choice.

2. Tote or Bookies?

It’s a common misconception that the tote (on-track betting) offers better deals than the bookies. It’s also a common misconception that the opposite is true instead. The fact is it doesn’t really matter. In times of recession, the real key is haggling. If the odds are going to change in a couple of minutes anyway, the person taking your bets can hardly say his/her prices are non-negotiable!

Secondly, everybody knows that cash is king and a nod is as good as a wink (except during an auction, in which case it can land you in very expensive trouble). Try offering him a cheque and then see if he’ll offer ‘better terms’ if you deal in cash.

3. The Parade in the Paddock

If you hear the clip-clop of hooves on asphalt behind you, do not open your mouth until after you have turned around. An ill-chosen remark about an ill-tempered breed of animal could easily land you in hospital, so it’s best to make absolutely sure that you’re not within stiletto-throwing range before you say it. The fact is that:

(a) the sound made by footwear/hooves
(b) the shape of footwear/hooves producing that distinctive sound
(c) the firmness of the hind quarters resulting from wearing that footwear
(d) the shiny glossy manes of the contestant
(and in some cases the results of rhinoplasty)

are very similar among equine entrants in the main horse race, and among human entrants in the Ladies’ Day competition. It’s no accident that high heels have a particular effect on the hind quarters of women, nor is the design of the shoe itself an unusual coincidence. It is, however, baffling that intelligent and highly-cultured women, having liberated themselves from the label of inferiority, would actually compete for the honour of winning a title which is basically an appalling joke in really bad taste, and with the location specifically chosen to rub further salt in the wound.

But at least the hind quarters of the contestant are NOT seen as a highly valuable source of information in speculating who the winner is likely to be. Women are not objects, they just compete for one.

4. The Lay of the Land

Just like GAA, the ground conditions on the big day can favour or hinder a particular competitor. Some horses prefer soft ground to absorb the impact when jumping hurdles, others prefer it to be more firm as it provides more grip (and speed) on the flat. The condition of the ground is called the ‘going’. Frequently the ‘going’ is described as ‘good to soft’, so remember that when the going gets tough, bet on a different horse.

5. Bring Wellies

Umbrellas and raincoats are optional, but the wellington boots are vital in protecting you from something other than the inclement elements. If you have to ask why, you might as well find out the hard way… but your friends will never travel with you again without an assortment of fans and air fresheners on standby.