School. Can’t do without it. Cannot be bothered.
History, Mr Walsh, American Revolution, George Washington.......aahh, George Washington! What a mercurial character you are. Million-pound yearling, Guineas winner, disdain for archways (loves his right angles, does George)...As Mr Walsh launches into a speech on the greatly improved weaponry that George Washington used in his battles against the English, little does naive Mr Walsh know that George shot blanks.
Music, Miss Mahon and the wonders of Mozart. As the rest of the class get lost in Don Giovanni, I re-live the song of my heart, the song of hoofprints on a firm summer turf as the majestic Mozart, conducted by Mick Kinane, composed the most wonderful concerto in the July Stakes, and came to a magnificent crescendo in the Nunthorpe. Yes, Mozart really was music to my ears.
Maths, Mr Brew, The law of probability, As he launches into another speech about how X is certain, I feel a sense of deja vu - just last week Marwan was a supposed certainty and he’s still running.
I am a demi-god. Ok, let me rephrase that in deference to the man upstairs. Once a year, I am a demi-god. This may seem a statement vain in the extreme, as I am just your ordinary spotty-faced, twig thin, shirt-untucked, shoelace-untied teenager. I have a problem, I am addicted. Not to alcohol, or to the brain-draining, soul-destroying communication medium that is Facebook. I have tried them both, and remain elusive to their tantalising grasp. I am addicted to gambling. Yes, my first childish utterance was ‘yankee’ and my last will probably be advice to my son to sell the hours I have left on Sporting Index. How does this addiction make me a demi-god? Well, the answer comes every year......Punchestown.
My school is normally a racing-free, gambling-free, mentally tormenting hellhole, but it has one redeeming feature – we get the week off for ‘Fun’chestown. Instead of my normal role of pushed-around nobody I become a prophet of horseracing knowledge not seen since the days when “Mohammed” Tom Segal and Matt “Jesus” Williams were schoolboys in short pants. Teachers give me no homework for weeks before for fear of interrupting my vital study of the form. Classmates hover round to pick up crumbs of information from my daily diet of form study and I head to Mass for I know I’ll need divine assistance this week if I am to deliver.
But this year’s Punchestown will be like no other. I am stuck in school, mock exams at every turn.
Exams. What is the point in exams anyway? The only test I want to see is if Captain Cee Bee will handle the extended three miles this afternoon, but alas I am bound by shackles of stupidity and must sit my mock History exam today. History will indeed be made as yours truly falls victim to an education system which puts pen and paper before bookies chalk and the dash for the cash.
History. I stare blankly at the test paper: the only history I can think of is that of the Kerrygold Chase and that’s not much use to me now. I’m interrupted....a text! I glance up to check the whereabouts of the supervisor. Years of getting the best price in the ring has given me the uncanny ability to spot an opportunity ....she is looking out the window so I steal a glance at my phone “Notre Pere 16/1 get on” from a source I would love to reveal, but if I did I would have to shoot you, your family, your friends, and, worst of all, your pet dog. Yes, this information is so good it pains me, and I have to get on.
I raise my hand and request a toilet break with my most charming smile. Result - within seconds I am out of the exam hall and in the corridor. My heart is pounding, the race is off at 3.20: I have exactly 13 minutes, but they’ll be looking for me in the exam hall before that. How to get on? The internet is not an option after the in-running Southwell fiasco where our best laid plans went up in a firewall of flames. I feel for my phone. Dammit! I left it in exam hall and I can’t go back now. No use looking for the school bookie, I am the school bookie, but not much of a bookie if I can’t even get my own bet on. 3.10: My sweat glands have had enough and begin to weep for the predicament I’m in. My hair defies the bucket of gel I applied this morning and begins to droop with disappointment. There is only one option, and not a very viable one – the bookies, half a mile the other side of town.
First I need cash. I race to my locker- the Champion Chase had never seen such early speed as I negotiate the first obstacle: finding my wallet. I head towards the second fence, a change of clothes, as no law-abiding bookie could serve a student in his school uniform. This fence is proving a bit tricky as approaching fences at speed makes mistakes inevitable. I steady myself and find a suitable disguise in a discarded Leeds United jersey – not something any self-respecting 17-year-old would choose, but this is no time for street cred.
As I run through the cloistered halls of my school, I hear footsteps echoing behind me. Like Crisp in the National I’m sure my lead is unassailable but this is no ordinary Joe. This is a course specialist, this is the Red Rum of Newbridge College, this is the Principal......
Unlike Richard Pitman, I don’t long for the Elbow, but instead hide behind the Chair while Mr B makes a Canal Turn in the opposite direction. I breathe a sigh of relief....the finish may just be in sight.
I recover and made a dash for the front door, not daring to look back for fear that another staff member might put in a Dancing Brave effort and catch me from the rear. They must know I’m gone too long from the exam hall, they must be on to me...... I can see the gates, I can see the glory, but, most importantly, I can see the winnings......but I am Crisp, and this is Red Rum’s day. The intercom echoes around the school “Jack Cantillon to the Principal’s office IMMEDIATELY” The jig is most definitely up.
I think about hedging my bets as face my doom. Should I fake an illness? Should I go all in and run away, or should I just lay off and tell the truth? How would I explain this godforsaken Leeds jersey? I am, as any eloquent Irishman would say, banjaxed.
I enter the Principal’s office. Will a heart attack fell me on the spot – my heart seems to be fibrillating like Denman’s? Mr B’s wry smile is a 33/1 outsider – what kind of sick man would derive such enjoyment from putting me through utter mental torment? Then he unfolds the sports page of his paper, and asks “Any tips for Punchestown?”