The craic was mighty even before the panel sat down at the top table for the annual SP Graham/Irish News Cheltenham Preview Night in front of an ‘all ears' audience in the Europa Hotel.
And the man responsible for that was none other than Matt Chapman, the Attheraces presenter renowned for his repartee and ability to wind people up with his colourfully barbed but 'tongue in cheek' comments.
Strongly-opinionated, never slow to embellish his comments with wit at others expense, he was the star of the show as he got through four days of festival preview with fun, story-telling and one or two informative gems in the quest for winners at next week's Festival.
The main focus of his banter was trainer Gordon Elliott who at times did not seem all that amused, although he was not behind the door in hitting back by accusing Matt of “waffle and spending too much of his life in a box” (reference to the studio booth).
Information is key in the gambling world. But it was the emergence of what otherwise would have remained undisclosed, that fired the interest of the Europa audience.
It came near the end of the night when jockey Andrew McNamara mentioned Elliott's Plan A as the one for the Fred Winter Novice Hurdle, something which Gordon was clearly keen to keep under wraps.
“He had some very good form in England before Gordon started to train him and with only 10st 12lbs to carry, he will be very hard to beat,” said Andrew. It raised not a comment from the trainer.
Plan A finished third behind the top juveniles Sam Winner and Grandouet at Cheltenham back in November before being sent to Elliott's Meath base.
Chapman was at his cheeky best when managing to squeeze out some extra betting value from the Graham organisation on a few occasions.
Brian Graham is strongly opposing Cue Card when the roar goes up next Tuesday to get the show under way in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, but was still only prepared to quote the horse as |9-4 favourite.
“He is supposed to have done a phenomenal gallop last week but he should be doing it next week. Small trainers (Colin Tizzard), come under pressure before Cheltenham and sometimes do too much at home,” said Brian.
“But why are you then so short about him,” goaded Matt. “You’re not a man but a little pussy and should be going at least 5-2. Do you not want to take money?”
Brian who prefers Nicky Henderson's Spirit Son, was duly persuaded to lay 5-2 to anyone in the room and that set the tone for the chairman trying to squeeze out better odds at every opportunity.
Matt himself is also a fan of Spirit Son, being of the opinion that Cue Card needs further than two miles. Whatever, the outcome of this race will set the tone for the four days in the traditional battle between punters and layers.
For me the best value on offer is Graham's 28-1 Cue Card, Binocular and Big Buck's all to win. Those on the night managed to get 33-1 — thanks again to Matt's persuasive tongue.