Even the most informed punter on their annual visit to enjoy the great national hunt title races at Cheltenham is well aware that there is no such thing as a sure-fire winner.
The form book over the fences can be a notorious guide to backing even an odds-on favourite.
Not so with Stamford Brass.
The reigning Butlins and Midlands Area champion made it a 'Triple Crown' of 2018 titles with the type of performance that the great Arkle would have been proud of. Julian Bright's runner came to Cheltenham as the band to beat — and left with their reputation further enhanced. They will be a force to be reckoned with in any Third Section stakes in 2019.
If there were any bookies who had foolishly accepted a monkey on the nose before the action started then they would have taken a hammering by the time Stamford romped home a few hours later at the Centaur auditorium.
Something to spare
The technical hurdles faced in Darrol Barry's 'Divertimento for Brass' were overcome with a level of musical aplomb to lift the National Trophy with something to spare.
The opening 'Festival' was played with bristling energy and rhythmic precision, whilst the central 'Romance' had an expressive tenderness led by the cornet and further enhanced by 'Best Instrumentalist' award winner, Stuart Kirk on euphonium.
The 'March' finale was played with brio and brilliance of spirit — a herald to potential victory that made a hugely impressive mark in the hall, and crucially, in the box with the judges, Sarah Groarke-Booth, Gary Davies and John Maines.
Their immediate impressions gave a resounding endorsement: "A very good show indeed", wrote John; "A very well controlled performance. It had rhythm, dynamics and style", Gary said. Sarah summed up her remarks by simply saying; "I totally enjoyed listening".
A little later Sarah also gave a detailed précis of what the trio were listening out for. "Generally a piece of music is titled for a reason — and this one certainly is," she said.
"Every performance had its merits: The first movement had to be dynamically bright and happy, although the meno mosso had to be played in context — not morose."
She added: "Some bands fell down with their accompaniment in style and balance in the second movement, but one or two did it very well. It needed a little licence. The march remains a march even at different tempos. Bands who gave it energy and phrased it well found the cohesion.
There was a clear winner and some very good performances — but all the bands did well."
In that overall context Stamford's was therefore a memorable victory: As Sarah implied, it wasn't as if they had beaten a weak field of rivals.
The performances from the top-six in particular were excellent: Tewit Silver, Cwmtawe Youth, Gosport Solent Brass, Bradwell Silver and Sale Brass producing performances rich in quality and style. Behind them came a host of well led bands that would have walked off stage pretty pleased with their efforts in any company let alone a National Final.
The impressive standard was set for the judges by the first two contenders: Gosport Solent Brass and Bradwell Silver giving detailed, confident renditions under Colin Garner and Brian Keech enhanced by solid solo lines and ensemble work.
Cwmtawe Youth soon followed, upping the ante further and leading the field to the midpoint break with a performance that ticked plenty of potential title winning boxes under Wayne Pedrick's intelligent direction.
However, the contest took a decisive shift of momentum straight after, as Stamford produced what was to be the winning performance, whilst Sale Brass very nearly caught their coattails as they followed with bravura show under John Anderson to eventually finish sixth.
Behind them it was the usual litany of contesting fragilities that put pay to performances that held a great deal of promise and potential — with the midfield finishers ruing just a few too many little clips and blips that tarnished well thought out accounts.
Few will have left with cause for complaint, and all will have become better bands for tackling a work that stretched capabilities without making unnecessary demands. Even in the lower reaches of the results table bands there were performances of merit and obvious encouragement for the future.
After taking to the stage to join his celebrating players, the winning conductor Julian Bright reflected on a year that has surpassed all expectations, but offered even more challenges to come.
"It's been an incredible year for sure," he said. "We are a very good band, a very solid and committed band, so it was ready to be shaped a little more. I'm an enthusiast and I revel in everything that I do, so linking up with these great people has been perfect."
He added: "We go up a section now. It's about continually building and seeing what we can do next to stretch us and build solidly for the future."
And after receiving a kiss on the cheek from one of his delighted players he added: "It's not often you get that, but I've been so impressed how they administer themselves. You can see what it means. It takes a lot to run a band like this. I'm delighted. I'm going to fill the cup with blackcurrant and lemonade."
He deserved it.
And whilst you knew a few of the Stamford players were going to celebrate their victory with something a little stronger, you suspected that there were also some brass band bookies looking to take comfort from their losses with a stiff drink or two.
We are a very good band, a very solid and committed band, so it was ready to be shaped a little more. I'm an enthusiast and I revel in everything that I do, so linking up with these great people has been perfectMD, Julian Bright
Test Piece: Divertimento for Brass (Darrol Barry)
Adjudicators: Sarah Groarke-Booth, Gary Davies, John Maines
1. Stamford Brass (Julian Bright)
2. Tewit Silver (Martin Hall)
3. Cwmtawe Youth (Wayne Pedrick)
4. Gosport Solent Brass (Colin Garner)
5. Bradwell Silver (Brian Keech)
6. Sale Brass (John Anderson)
7. Lostock Hall Memorial (Joshua Hughes)
8. Gawthorpe Brass '85'(John Edward)
9. Regent Community Brass (Chris Bearman)
10. Pendeen Silver (Leonard Adams)
11. Croft Silver (Ian Needham)
12. Spennymoor Town (Fiona Caswell)
13. Upper Rhondda (Jayne Thomas)
14. City of Birmingham (Ben Hewlett-Davies)
15. Garforth Brass (John Thompson)
16. Great Yarmouth Brass (Colin Swaep)
17. Highland Brass (Mark Bell)
Withdrawn: Whitburn Heartlands (Andy Shaw)
Best Instrumentalist: Stuart Kirk (euphonium) — Stamford Brass
Youngest Player: Michael MacDonald (Spennymoor Town)