I’ve never really subscribed to the Tony McCoy, win-at-all-costs, approach to sport. According to my bookmaker, it’s the reason why I’m such a good punter. As each loser passes the post, I’m able to tear up my ticket with a gallic shrug of the shoulders and tell myself that it’s the taking part that counts.
And I’ve been taking part in a lot of sport this week because it is the half-term school holiday. I should make it clear, at this stage, that I left school some time ago – but my daughter hasn’t and so I used this short Autumn holiday to take some time off and reacquaint myself with several sports which I haven’t experienced in two or three decades.
Whoever said that you never forget how to ride a bike is quite wrong. I seem to remember, at the age of eight, riding a bike without having to use my hands. But this week I struggled to steer the damn thing at all, never mind while speeding nonchalantly downhill with my arms crossed. It wasn’t very Chris Froome – although I’d like to see him win a Tour De France with a tag-along children’s bike bolted on to the rear of his back wheel.
Next came the swimming which was superbly uncompetitive – no one is too bothered about winning races when they’re bobbing up and down in front of a wave-machine.
It turned out that I was pretty good at archery – I almost hit the target once. It might not sound like much of an achievement, but by the time you’ve made your own bow and arrows, cut from a nearby hedgerow, you’re quite pleased if the arrows fly further than the end of your toes.
The real competition started when we met up with some of my daughter’s cousins for a spot of croquet. There is a common misconception that croquet is a sedate game played by gentlemen. It isn’t. Croquet is an evil game, the object of which is less about winning and more about smashing your opponent’s ball to the four corners of the lawn or, even better, to make their ball hit the central post – which means that they have to return to the start line. It’s easy to cause offence in a game of croquet; I don’t think we’ll be invited back in a hurry.
Just as I didn’t expect to win the game of croquet, it’s true that I don’t really expect every horse that I back to win its race. So it’s doubly exciting when I inadvertently pick a winner – and the feeling is quadrupled when the horse is an old friend like Menorah, my selection for the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday. With horses as wonderful as Menorah – that have run in the best races year after year – it doesn’t really matter if they find one too good on the day, as long as we enjoy watching them run. If he completes safely but doesn’t win, it will have been a good race. If he wins, it will be an even better one.