Living is, a Devonshire betting ring in May.

Newton Abbot and Exeter 10/11 May 2005

The sun seemed to bring them out on Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon. The Devon turf was a who’s who of racing personalities no doubt attracted by a chance to spend a couple of days and a night in our glorious county. Professional punters and bookmakers alike seemed to relish the idea of pitting their wits against each other in a period that is really the build up to the Derby as far as the rest of the racing world is concerned.

With all the characters about it was hard not to notice the different approach each one has to getting a few quid from the other. The first ‘face’ spotted was veteran bookmaker Jack Lynn, who was sporting a natty little flat cap, though most observers would have noticed Jack’s hat was also sporting something of it’s own, a rather large bird dropping. ‘I know it’s there’, he said with a grin, ‘and it’s staying there too, lucky that is you know, and we need all the luck we can get here tonight’ with that he was on his merry to supervise his son bet on the first.

John and Steve turned up deep in conversation, the pair of them are professional punters, men who make their living from backing horses, a profession shrouded in mystery and in awe by the majority of their fellow backers who can’t make the game pay. There is no secret to their success, just hard work and experience, the journey down from ‘up country’ would have been care of First Great Western. They would not have noticed the green hills rolling past however, their heads would have been buried in thick form sheets, their concentration only interrupted by a word or two when either thought they had ‘spotted one’.

On their arrival on course their bags were dumped with a friendly bookie, who it has to be said is not so friendly when they want a sizeable wager with him. It was also observed by an eavesdropper that they must have digressed enough from their form study at some point to agree on a few pints and an especially hot curry in a Torbay eatery after racing.

Where there are established ‘faces’ there, are always those who want to emulate them, on the racecourses and point to points of the South West, there is one who would give his right arm to become a peer of Steve or John, or rather he would but he says he needs it. His ambition is clear for all to see, he definitely knows his stuff, he dresses in the manner expected of a young gentleman of the turf and most importantly he keeps himself in the right company. Maybe, it should be pointed out that Davix, his moniker, did make a small faux pas on Tuesday night, it didn’t take long for him to realise that sailors shorts and (albeit very expensive) flip flops were not going to protect him from the biting wind that was blowing in the fading light.

Of course there were also lots of other race goers, some regular and some not, Derrick the Farmer is always there, it seems his farm needs little tending when the racing is on. What ever his farming methods, the bookmakers inform me that you can’t find fault with his winner finding prowess, ‘never backs a loser’ was a phrase that was bandied about a fair bit with reference to the astute agricultural gentlemen.

The thrill of the novice goers was there to be seen too. A young mother with her children having a pound bet with a bookie who is used to taking on three and four figure sums was blissfully unaware of the red faced gentleman behind with a fist full of twenties trying to get a bet while she asked the kids which other one they should do. They rubbed shoulders with the chap with a quiff who had never had a bet before in his 50 odd years but had just backed his first winner, Teddy Boy. If it hadn’t been so sunny his smile would have brightened up the entire ring, even around the gloomy bookmakers who generally had a bad two days. And so it went on, for two days and 13 races, the colour of the betting ring.

Exeter’s meeting was the last before the autumn restart while Newton Abbot’s was the first after the recent sub aqua abandonments of many days and evenings throughout the summer.

Oh, the racing was good as well.

(c) Simon Nott


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