Time flies for the Secret Racegoer at an “Irish” look at the Festival
The Secret Racegoer heads to deepest south London for Ganley’s Irish Bar’s Festival craic
Up and down the country there have been Cheltenham Festival preview nights. Many have built up a loyal following, not just with the audiences but also with the panelists.
That’s the case with the preview at Ganley’s Irish Bar in Morden, south London.
You may not know where Morden is. Indeed, many people in south London would be hard pressed to tell you where it is. It’s not helped that it doesn’t have a London postcode. It is, however, the civic centre of the London borough of Merton. Doesn’t help really, does it?
Its claim to fame is that it is one of the few places south of theThames that has a tube station. In fact, it’s at the southern-most end of the Northern Line, a few stops on from the gateway to the south, Balham.
Across the road from the tube station, on a shopping parade, is Ganley’s Irish Bar and, on a wet Thursday evening, both regulars and once a year visitors braved the elements to get their pre-Cheltenham fix of discussion, tips, Guinness and Irish stew ahead of the Festival.
The Secret Racegoer, who is not a once a year visitor to Ganley’s, was there. So too were Luke Harvey and Mick Fitzgerald, of ITV and Sky Sport Racing, Paul Kealy, of the Racing Post, Joe Chambers, Rich and Susannah Ricci’s racing manager, and Martin ‘Lofty’ Chapman for sponsors Star Sports.
The starting time of the preview was advertised as 6pm. Now starting time in this case was not when the discussion and tips were set to commence. Nor was it when the consuming of Irish stew and Guinness was due to get underway. That had already begun and would continue uninterrupted for the rest of the evening.
If it was the start of anything, it was taking possession of seats around the platform where the panel would be located. A handful of seats towards the front were reserved and it seemed the criteria for occupying these VIP positions was if you were some of the tallest and broadest people in the bar.
The Secret Racegoer was one of the earlier partakers of Guinness and was pleased that a pint cost £4.50, but was less pleased that the minimum spend for contactless payment was £5. The Secret Racegoer had £30 cash on him, so he might have to be a tad abstemious.
Exactly when the tips and discussion were due to commence was not entirely clear. This meant being disciplined with the Guinness so as not to put the bladder under too much strain now that a good seat had been secured.
To while away the time there was a large screen showing racing from Newcastle. Every so often this evoked a response from the packed audience, typical of which being “Go on. No. Bollocks.”
From time-to-time there was tapping heard on the sound system. As it got closer to the start, whenever that was to be, the tapping grew louder. Then it became a nasty crackling sound.
And then, just after 8pm, the panel assembled and tips and discussion got underway.
Luke Harvey, assuming the role of chairman, said “We’ll start with Keals whilst he’s still able to talk.” Keals said he was keen to take on Envoi Allen for the Supreme.
We soon moved onto the Champion Hurdle, and Keals was still able to talk: “It’s the worst Champion Hurdle you’ll ever see” he said.
“But a good race for punters” said Harvey.
“If you want to back Portland Hills, after he’s finished second behind Ballyandy” said Keals, “you’re a f*cking idiot”. Concurring, but less strident, was Mick Fitzgerald “There’s no escaping how empty he’s been”.
Lofty, from Star Sports, said “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if three long-priced horses filled the first three places.”
Before we knew it, the first handicap was being tackled with Fitzy keen on Discorama in the Ultima Handicap Chase, saying “He’s been laid out for this”.
Opinions on the Festival were briefly put aside because the big screen with Sky Sport Racing was showing a promo for Luke Harvey and Jason Weaver’s Get It On programme, with the two of them ridiculed for wearing large shades and looking like CIA agents in a low-budget movie.
Much schoolboy humour was made of “Getting It On” and somehow, and the Secret Racegoer is not quite sure how, Francesca Cumani’s name was mentioned. Discretion is the better part of valour, but the last remark of this distraction was Luke Harvey saying “I’ve a better chance of riding Luca Cumani.”
Back to the racing, and the RSA came under scrutiny with the favourite, Champ, not getting much support. “The trouble with Champ” said Harvey “is there are fences in front of him”, going on to say “he’s as thick as a plank.”
Fitzy was less dismissive. “He’s good, but very, very risky.”
The tips and discussion skipped along and, before we knew it, Luke Harvey was suggesting a five-minute break, citing that he had a bladder the size of a Guinea pig.
For the Ganley’s license-holder, five minutes was probably too short by at least 40 minutes as more Irish stew and Guinness needed to be sold in order to cover the evening’s costs. The Secret Racegoer had no objection.
And, after a good 45 minutes, we were onto day three with Fitzy saying that Itchy Feet’s owner had told him everything was going to plan for a tilt at the March Novices’ Chase: “They’re very happy with him” he said.
As the second half got into its stride, another bottle of white wine was put in front of Paul Kealy. “We’ve only got about 30 minutes to go!” he said.
“Better put another bottle in the cooler” said Harvey.
“Lydia Hislop is probably still on the Supreme Hurdle” someone said, referring to the Racing TV presenter who was taking part in the London Racing Club’s preview across town.
At Ganley’s, they had now turned to the Gold Cup, with Harvey saying “The only reason you cannot fancy Al Boum Photo is down to the stats.”
“Nobody knows who owns Kemboy” quipped Joe Chambers, “In fact, everyone in this pub probably has 20%.”
The time had come for some questions from the audience.
“According to my figures” said one member, at which point the eyes of one or two panelists rolled into the back of their heads. The audience member then went on to reel off various bits of form.
“I bet you are single” said a panelist, signalling it was time to think about finishing.
“Mad as ever!” said Harvey to the Secret Racegoer as he headed home.
More for Cheltenham
Key runners in the Festival championship races http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3vE
Key runners in the Grade 1 novice races http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3vh
Key runners in the Festival handicaps http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3vs
Festival jockey stats http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3uo
The Cheltenham Festival Betting Guides http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3xl
The Secret Racegoer plans a Festival shopping spree http://wp.me/s8e3Dl-13518
Gary McKenzie’s early look: novice races http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3r1
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Cheltenham: the early years http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-1EQ
Getting to Cheltenham http://wp.me/P8e3Dl-h4