Time for a Toblerone?

May 10th, 2019 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

There was a moment at Punchestown when it looked as if a major betting treble had just escaped us. I retired from the Irish Field after 32 years as British correspondent, Ruby Walsh called it a day and then we heard there was momentous news from Downing Street.

This could only be Theresa May finally tiring of the whole weary business and we wondered what the odds were about these three things happening in the space of half an hour. To be honest we were quite relieved when the final leg concerned Gavin Williamson because there are very few people in Ireland who have ever heard of him and none of them is a bookmaker.

Something similar happened in Liverpool on an April evening in 1982. Animal rights protestors set fire to two of the Grand National fences, Ken Bates bought Chelsea for a pound and Maggie sent the troops to the Falklands. The next day Lord Oaksey danced in the rickety old press box on the roof of the County Stand as Grittar started to go clear and Peter Bromley, his view partially obscured, was very annoyed with him. As I’d backed the 7/1 favourite for a decent sum, I observed the whole episode with mild amusement.

They’ve both gone now, of course, as indeed has Maggie – Grittar too, I suppose – though those of a blue-tinted hue often remark that the current shambles would have her spinning in her grave. That would be a neat trick because she was cremated, not that we should let a minor detail spoil an intriguing mental picture.

I failed to make a profit at Punchestown, even though Kemboy struck me as a very good bet in the Gold Cup, as did Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle. The ‘problem’ concerned his stable-companion 0 0 Seven, who actually ran very well in the Topham at Aintree, only fading from two out. We should be grateful for every relevant fact appearing in race reports and the official form book, though the fact that 0 0 Seven bled that day probably stopped people, including me, from backing him in Ireland on Wednesday. 16/1 (24/1 on the Tote) looked way too big and, as usual, the point was hammered home by how comfortably he won.

With the passing of the years one is over these things more quickly, though it was something to ponder as we exited the course, briefly considering two giant Toblerones for five euros and wondering how much they cost in supermarkets. It’s always Toblerone, year upon year. ‘Please mister confectioner please, give me Toblerone’, not that you will remember that jingle from long ago.
If I was out and about with no pocket knife to hand and had to use my teeth, I invariably found that the pointy bit scraped against the roof of my mouth but even so, two for five euros sounds all right. Roald Dahl would approve; he had lots of chocolate bars in his grave, maybe even in his coffin, I forget now. Crunchies, Mars Bars, Kit-Kats, you name it. All smaller now, of course, especially the Kit-Kats. Supermarket profits bigger, choccy bars smaller. Every little helps.

Why do the French say ‘Plus ca change’? Lots of things change, as you know from looking in the mirror, but every now and then you see what they mean. I was looking at the tips for Chester on Wednesday and noting how many experts had gone for Technician and Top Breeze. Far be it from me to criticise because I know how difficult finding winners is; I’ve been trying for 60 years, or 65 if you go back as far as Ashurst Wonder in the 1954 Stewards’ Cup.

But in a race like the Chester Vase, with Aidan O’Brien up and running, all anyone needed to do was go back to the Sandown trial and note Technician’s decidedly awkward head carriage in the closing stages to save themselves a few bob. As for Top Breeze, ah, mon brave, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. ‘It is hard to imagine’, comme disent-ils les anglais, ‘it is hard to imagine a 6lb higher mark stopping him after the way he won at Newmarket.’

Mais ce n’est pas vrai. It’s the easiest thing in the world to imagine, because the task is 6lb harder, going round a bend this time on much softer ground. It will be MUCH more difficult and in this instance it proved impossible, because Top Breeze finished unplaced. He started at 5/2 favourite while Technician (who looked iffy at Sandown and found Chester’s charms distinctly overrated) was miles adrift at 11/4.

I am not a ‘time after’ merchant and I wouldn’t have found either of the winners. Much as I love the game, it’s had the better of me over the years. But it’s worth bearing in mind that, on Saturdays and other big racedays, the bookmakers are sometimes betting to around 127 percent at least. And as long as they can lay horses like the above two at those sort of prices, they will never starve.

‘Let’s be careful out there’, as the station sergeant used to say In Hill Street Blues. Otherwise you’re much better off with a Toblerone. Or two for five euros.