DAZED AND CONFUSED: Tim Davey
THIS time next week I'll be about to waste an ill-judged amount of hard-earned cash on tons of horse flesh. It's an annual occurrence but I swear, unless you have been to the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival, you won't know what you're missing.
It's one of our great sporting occasions and, yes, I know you shouldn't bet. It can be a mug's game, no doubt about it, but I console myself about such wastefulness with the thought that, for example, I don't smoke.
So any money I waste in the direction of a bookmakers is only leaving me breathless temporarily.
And that's only when something I've selected actually crosses the finishing post ahead of the rest.
Normally, I go on the opening day of the Festival and travel by train.
A few years back I was on a ludicrously over-crowded train heading out of Bristol Temple Meads to the still quaintly named Cheltenham Spa.
It had begun its journey much deeper down in the south-west of the country and was heading for Edinburgh.
On any of the morning and early evening trains running on this line on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, you find yourself sitting or standing far too closely to those around you. In just such a situation, the nearest lady passenger, a genteel soul, enquired why the train was so busy midweek.
"It's the Cheltenham Festival," I said.
"Oh, who's playing to attract a crowd like this?" she asked. I could have said Tony McCoy, Paul Nicholls, David Pipe, Paddy Brennan and a few others but I guessed she would have thought I was just listing members of some super-group.
Anyway, I always like the opening day because of the sheer elation of hearing 100,000 thousand souls all cheer as that very first race of four days racing kicks off.
It's one of those glorious moments in the sporting calendar.
and, of course, it is always nice to come back with more than you set off with, in cash terms, that is.
Or, if you can't achieve that, then a return home with roughly the same amount in your wallet is a close second.
It is not something I achieve very often, to be honest, but I intend trying a new tactic which worked wonderfully for a colleague who came to the Festival last year.
Standing in the queue to place his bet he, like any punter, mused over the selection he should make.
Ahead of him were a couple of fellows from the Emerald Isle where they know a thing or three about National Hunt racing.
In turn, each of them placed a considerable sum of money on a horse which was not one of the firm favourites. It wasn't an outsider, either.
My friend, eavesdropping on the seemingly bold race selections being made in front of him, wisely thought that he'd do likewise with his less sizeable wager.
Suffice to say it paid off handsomely.
So, my top tip for Cheltenham has to be: Eavesdropping. On all four days.