Cheltenham debriefs should always be viewed whilst wearing sceptical glasses; one cool blue lens to filter out the stomach churning joi de vivre of the writer who couldn't stop backing winners; one rosy lens to soften the jagged misery of the loser who spent his week pacing the living room whilst cries of angst and despair echoed mournfully from the coving.
You may be able to guess which of the two groups of homo sapiens I belonged too, but don't let that put you off reading on. Statistics and bitter experience suggest that whilst the first class of Cheltenham folk may be more vocal, the second is the larger, and so these scribblings might be a form of stress-relieving therapy for those of us who ended the week poorer than we started; like being allowed to take out your frustration on life-size cardboard cut outs of David Cameron, Edward Milliband, and Nicholas Clegg.
I'm going to pass over the racing, since clearly I have no wisdom to impart there, and major on Channel Four's coverage. Let's start with Nick Luck. I know some people regard him as the Tony Blair of racing television, but I like him. The best presenters are like football referees. You don't notice them until you need to, they do their stuff, they let the thing flow. Nick managed all that.
But whilst the Nick Luck Band was made up of a number of solid percussionists, skilled violinists and the occasional dedicated triangle clanger, they were all bashing away independently, frequently hitting bum notes and only occasionally managing to produce a tune.
Clare Balding alternated between brusque matron and simpering sycophant. She should stick to the bracing questions, the commanding tone, and cut out the nonsense about how lovely everything is. I'd like to hear her hosting The Today Programme at some point. Politicians need a dose of Balding.
She was paired with Mick Fitzgerald, who has clearly studied the BBC pamphlet, 'Racing Cliches and How To Employ Them' and seems to think that being in possession of an Irish accent, an autobiography, and an affable manner will suffice. It will not.
In the booth, Jim McGrath was Old Father Time to Graham Cunningham's Excited New Boy. Graham clearly knows his onions, but he kept cutting himself off in mid flow in order to end his observations in a punchy fashion, as though forever on the brink of wrapping things up before an ad break, which was Nick's job, not his. And he kept turning around to look at Jim for reassurance.
The practice of waving a microphone on a stick under the noses of jockeys is an enduring ritual, but how did it start? Who thought it was a good idea, and does anyone know why they're still doing it? Do we really need to hear the thoughts of an exhausted, mud-spattered, bruised jockey straight away? Much as I enjoyed hearing for the twenty-seventh time that week that everyone in the yard has worked very hard and that the horse never gave up on him, surely this stuff could wait till later? Or not at all?
But the main problem wasn't so much the band, it was the tune they were trying to play. The whole thing was dripping in honey, and cloying sentimentality was everywhere. Coverage stopped every thirty seconds or so to remind us that
Cheltenham is wonderful.
There’s nothing quite like Cheltenham. Isn't Cheltenham marvellous. Look at all the people. A lot of them are Irish! How marvellous.
There was maudlin music, repetitive interviews with trainers in their homes, a truck load of human interest stories in which no-one was interested, since all we wanted to know about were the horses we were considering investing in, and there was Alice Plunkett, giddy as a teenage girl at a One Direction concert, wittering on about how marvellous everything is.