The State of Play


Finally, there’s something to smile about, something to feel good about, something to look forward to. As the vinegar-strokes of Spring burst forth and the new season sprays its seeds over the flora and fauna of my garden and along all the lanes and byways of the sleepy little borough of Lewis Ham the sun, which has been in winter training south of the equator, make’s an early attempt to be over the yardarm before a mid-day thirst engulfs me.

As the sun’s rays stream through the patio doors, shedding shafts of dusty light over last night’s discarded lottery tickets I hear unmistakable sound of my faithful chien noir pawing at the door in a bid for freedom. He tries this every now and then and the chances are he’ll return pronto, but who am I to keep him forever at my side? I open the door to let my four-legged friend out and, as they say in the song, let the sunshine, let the sunshine, the sun shine in.

I stand at the threshold, inhale lung-fulls of chill, spring air, let the pale,weak solar beams wash over my ever-growing face then realise I should have put some clothes on before exposing my ample frame and dwindling genitalia to the neighbours in the surrounding houses and gardens. I quickly pull the curtains, leaving the rays to illuminate the beaks of the blue tits feeding on my nuts, and to dry out the cat shit on the lawn

My mood has been improving gradually over the past couple of weeks, as it tends to do this time of year. The first indicator that winter is over is the clocks going forward, then Boat Race, then the following weekend by The Grand National (that’s a horse race) and the US Masters (a rather important golf tournament) . The National and The Masters, two events separated by the Atlantic Ocean and 20 degrees Celcius, but almost inseparable by their postitions in the league table of sensational sporting events. Both have huge fields of brightly dressed runners, many carrying too much weight for their own good, most immaculately shod and watched by thousands of animated, vocal and knowledgeable fans. Though admittedly there are rather fewer pissed scousers at Augusta than turn up at Aintree (John Daly’s not from Liverpool, is he?).

Over the years both Grand National and Masters have cost me a fair few quid as I pour goodly amounts of my hard earned cash into the open wallets of the bookies while trying to predict who will win. Most part-time punters remember their few National winners, it being such a lottery and successes come so rarely. My love of the race started in 1975 when I had 50p each-way (probably paid for by my mum) on l’Escgargot which romped home at 13/2. This is easy, thought I and embarked on a, thus far, 35 year quest to repeat my success and adorn myself with the riches of the Indus. I waited 30 years for my next win when, somehow, I bet on the 2005 winners, Hedgehunter which won as 7/1 favourite. Hardly odds on which to retire.

Of course, I was nowhere near last year’s 100-1 Mon Mome, not even in the office sweep. No, I was on State of Play which finished fourth, so I just about got my money back. No-one would ever (or shouldn’t ever) bet ‘to win’ on this race, as a field of 40 horses jumping over 30 sodding great fences over 4 1/2 miles is anyone’s race, so my little ‘each-way’ wagers each year have just about kept my head above water.

So it was with curiously mis-placed optimism that I sat down to watch yesterday’s race. I’d spent long hours studying the form, listening to professional pundits and looking for funny names, but eventually I went with State of Play again, (which this time came in 3rd), while my mate Rob (who has absolutely no interest in the Sport of Kings) had a last-minute, completely uninformed and lucky fiver-each way on the winner, Don’t Push It (10-1) and thus went home with a smile on his face and a bulge in his wallet. Oh goody! How I laughed.

Meanwhile, across the pond in Augusta Georgia, The US Masters has for years had a similar grip on both my interest and wages and, up until Tiger showed up, was as unpredictable as the gee-gee race over in Blighty. Any one of the 90-odd players in the field were capable of winning and picking the winner was very much a game of chance. Once Woods came onto the scene, things became a little more predictable, but by no means a sure thing. Nevertheless, in 20 years of handing over my crisp notes to the good bookmakers, I have yet to collect anything back off them by way of winnings. Again, each-way bets would seem to be the key to all this, not that I’ve even gotten a 4th place.

When Tiger zipped up his trousers and decided to make his comeback at this year’s event, I resisted the temptation to put the house (or even a shilling on the side, just to make it interesting) on him. I was banking on the past 6 months of chaos and media frenzy that has followed young Eldrick Tont Woods around would have put him off his stroke (on the golf course, at least). No, I plumped for the plump Lee Westwood of Ing-er-land as this year’s conduit of delivering my money into the safe clutches of turf accountants of the world.

Lo and behold, my man Lee is having a stormer!! After two rounds he was leading the field with his fellow Brit Ian Poulter, and at one stage during the third round he was 7 shots ahead of Tiger, Phil Mickelson or anyone else. SEVEN SHOTS!!! It was in the bag. Lee would have to drop about a dozen shots to drop down to fifth place, to where my each-way bet wouldn’t bring me any money back. But chances were that he was gonna romp it. In my head I began counting my winnings: £10 at 25/1 is…er..£250, plus my stake back, that £260. That’s 86.6667 pints of Guinness in O’Neills (81.25 in The Crown). Even if Westwood stumbled a little and came in, say, 3rd I’d still get a percentage of the odds, enough for a pint and a curry in Khans.

Hang on a minute.

I logged onto to my online bookies, just to make sure I hadn’t put 50 quid on him (I had had a little drinky when I placed the bet) and thus about to become a very rich man indeed.

Sadly I hadn’t bet 50 pounds each-way, or even 10 pounds each way. I had, for reasons best known to God and Arthur Guinness, placed ten pounds on Lee Westwood to win. TO WIN! No-one bets to win on anyone but Tiger. No-one except bad, drunk, amateur gamblers, that is. As I looked up from my computer screen, Lee’s lead had been cut to three shots. The one shot. Then he was level. Then he was one shot behind. Bollocks. By the end of play Westwood was again top of the leaderboard, but by one shot from Mickelson, with Tiger looming ominously only a couple of shots back.

So that’s that, then. My one chance in 20 years to clean up at The Masters gone, duck-hooked out-of-bounds, sliced into the long grass. Unless it isn’t and Westwood holds strong and wins. In which case I shall celebrate by drinking just enough to put on a well-judged wager. Lib Dems at 200-1 one look tempting. On the nose, of course.

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