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Bits and Pieces
I think we have established beyond any doubt that I am not someone to whom you would naturally turn for gambling advice. These columns, as I frequently point out, are for amusement only (reader's voice - 'we'll be the judge of that').
It was a little disconcerting therefore to be put on the spot before a live audience on Saturday morning and asked for guidance on the afternoon's investments. I was on stage in a panel discussion at the London Sportswriters' Festival - I may have mentioned I have a book out, Sit Down and Cheer, currently holding down the big 11,521 spot in the Amazon chart, not that I'm compulsively checking or anything - when co-panellist Miles Jupp, author of a very funny cricket book, Fibber In The Heat, asked me, "Do you know anything about gambling?"
"Well, I sort of know how it works," was the shy confession from a man with six online betting accounts. "Ah, well," said Miles in his charmingly insouciant way, "I've had this one thousand pound free betting voucher for some time, and I was, er, kind of wondering what you do with it." (Miles is the Bertie Wooster of comedy, but with an edge. If you have never seen his stand-up or his appearances on various TV panel shows you are missing a treat)
I assume he came by the voucher as an award for his fine book - which incidentally languishes at 15,367 in the Amazon chart, not that etc. etc. - from a leading High Street bookmaker, whom I won't name in deference to my other five accounts, but who sponsor the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
My book was also entered into the contest as it happens without even making the long list, to the chagrin of my agent, although I did warn him. I told him I never win awards, as I learnt over four or five years when the then sports editor of The Guardian kept entering me for sports journalism awards, to no visible effect.
I mean, when one entrant has written a series of meticulously researched articles uncovering a drugs scandal in sport, and another a powerfully argued think-piece about the future of English football, you are hardly going to give the prize to the guy who's written 900 words about Des Lynam's trousers.
Maybe this year, though, I can sneak into some Best Tipster award, because - and a small but enthusiastic audience will back me on this - without a moment's equivocation I urged Miles to slap his voucher on the nose of Olympic Glory in the Queen Elizabeth at Ascot. I, not being the holder of such a voucher for reasons already discussed, contented myself with a tenner, placed before leaving my home in the North for London.
On what, you may be wondering, was my uncharacteristic confidence based? Well, the previous night I had been watching a bizarre programme called Get In on the At The Races channel co-presented by ex-jockey Jason Weaver and pundit Luke Harvey where, in between a lot of cackling and reading out of staggeringly unfunny tweets, Jason said that if there were some give in the ground at Ascot it would favour Olympic Glory.
Now, one of the few pieces of valuable wisdom my father passed on to me before he died, along with 'never eat at a restaurant called Mama's,' was 'never trust tips from a jockey.'
However, regular readers - if such creatures exist - will know I have not been well of late, and among the medications I am taking is Warfarin, chiefly known as a rat poison - I am also taking some slug pellets just to be sure - but which also acts as a blood thinning agent. It means that should I fall over and bleed it could get messy, so I was paying particular attention to the going as I stepped out for the station in the morning. The moistness in the air and the slippiness underfoot told me two things; to be stepping carefully, and that an ex-jockey's advice could come in handy on this occasion, and so it transpired.
In the interest of balance, and to avoid any other William Hill prizewinners approaching me, I ought to stress that my big race record is not unblemished. In the Cesarawitch for example a couple of weeks ago, I had the unique experience of my horse not only being unplaced, but unmentioned.
I had backed Recession Proof, whose progress as it turned out was not dissimilar to mine in journalism awards. I gather it spent most of the race somewhere near the rear, but I would have welcomed a "given a reminder," a "trying to make progress," or even an "under pressure" just to reassure me that the animal was actually an active participant. Not once, though - and I watched it back just to be sure - did the name of my horse pass Simon Holt's lips. That's never happened to me before, as the old saying goes.
Maybe I should stick to something I know about. So, prizewinners, my advice is to bang your voucher on Tamera Foster to win ITV's Saturday night karaoke contest, X-Factor. She's a hot favourite, 7-4 at time of writing, but seems way better than the others in that she can actually hold a tune - if that counts for anything, which may be the fatal flaw in my carefully considered advice.
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