A lot of City Slickers will head home this weekend licking their wounds or counting their winnings. Of course, the average punter will never tell you exactly what the state of play is. He prefers to keep schtum about his losing bets, and will only crow about the 33/1 outsider that came in with a 'monkey on the nose'. But I find it faintly reassuring that, just after the latest Greek bailout we can still concentrate on the only game in town - namely the Cheltenham Festival.
It's one of the weird unintended consequences of global financial turmoil that, once the futures and currency markets have stopped reacting, yo-yoing around like a bunch of demented Hobbits on crack, there follows a deathly calm on the dealing floors of doom that would put the mood music of your average local lending library to shame (I know we don't have many left these days, but you get the picture).
Investors are spooked like a race-horse in its box, and no one wants to do any trading. So these days most of us bond gurus are sitting around nervously, twiddling our thumbs. This is when an event like Cheltenham comes in so handy - because at delightfully placed 40 minute intervals there is always another race upon which you can stake anything from £10 each way to a big wad on a whole array of doubles, trebles, each ways, and the odd infamous 'cross double' too.
Now a rank amateur like me can find it hard to make up his mind, so I find myself listening to all the hype about each particular nag, and then end up backing three in the same race, or even more. Clearly such a hedged strategy can only make me oodles of money if they all come home at the front.
Every so often you hear a strangled cry from one of the punters on the trading floor: 'Go on my son! Whip him up!' (or words to that effect). You spend time between each race checking out your colleagues' picks, and then the adrenalin rush kicks in for the next one . The City sits there all week, hooked to the drip, drip, drip of action, like recovering addicts on methadone. Of course, our total stake in each race is nothing more than a rounding error in the great scheme of things, especially compared to the cool Euro 130 billion we just loaned Greece.
But by the end of this week of classic racing, and finally the Gold Cup itself, we almost believe that nostalgic crap about Denman, Kauto Star, Imperial Commander, and the like. I mean I practically want to get my nose into a bag of oats myself! Every nag is poetically described as a 'good 'oss with a great heart'. Sure. They're all great when you've backed them the year they win at long odds, aren't they?
Anyway, however badly I do this week, I won't come close to the Irishman I saw there last year. He looked like an alcoholic tramp and was earnestly berating someone down his mobile phone: 'Look Padraid', he yelled, 'Wire me over another 20,000 Euro. I've fooked the lot'. Compared to that, my more honestly declared £500 loss seems remarkably good value for allowing me to be a bit player in the only game in town.
Now who's got a good tip for the 3 o'clock at Lingfield ?