Tales From The Betting Ring – Cheltenham 26/01/13

The elation that Cheltenham’s meeting had survived the weather was tempered in parts of the ring.  Most people had already heard the sad news but this was the first time they had chance to reflect on course.  Well-known, liked and respected Westcountry bookie  Steve Bell had passed away aged just 59. He had been a regular figure in my on-course life from the very beginning, as had his father Reg in those early days when I worked as a floorman for Jack Lynn. Sadly the betting ring and community has lost another character and he will be greatly missed. Steve’s on-course legacy lives on in his daughter Sammy who works with one of the major rails firms.

I noticed a  little huddle of bookies in Tatts prior to racing. There was an interloper amongst them. The pro-punter I had spotted at Newbury last week. I enquired into his health and asked if  indeed it was him I had seen pacing purposefully through the ring at the Berkshire track. He looked quite surprised that I had clocked him but confirmed in the positive. He confided somewhat wistfully that he had foregone most of his racecourse memberships these days. Adding with a hint of shame that he spends most of his racing time sat in a darkened room hunched over a keyboard tapping into exchanges, eyes glued to the action on a TV screen.  He was a very successful punter on-course so cost the ring plenty when he was active there, but the on-course market is a lesser place without him and his ilk.

The Cheltenham Betting Ring wasn’t lacking players though. An excellent crowd had turned out to reward the hard work and foresight of the  ground-staff and management. They were also betting like champions with decent business being done. Sadly for the layers they were only interested in two horses in the opener, and they finished first and second. The runner-up was the shade of odds-on favourite behind the second-in so not the end of the world for either party.

There is no doubt would had the better of the tussle in the next. They bet 7-2 the field at the off with plenty of decent bets for plenty of horses. None of those were for the winner Vino Griego who was without many supporters walking in the market from 16/1 out to 25/1. There were smiles all around in the ring, nothing new there when they get a result. I was particularly taken back but the jollity shown by one usually dour bookie. I have hardly seen him even break into a ‘Mona Lisa’ let alone the full on beam combined with fist ‘high fives’ with his clerk. To say he must have had it spark off would by my guess be an understatement of some proportion.

One bookmaker was asked for a £20,000 – £600 each-way a horse in the Murphy Group Chase. That’s 33/1 and a bit. He was laid half of it and got the rest just a couple of yards away. The horse was unplaced but you can still get fractions and to a place on-course, come racing. It’s not only win and each-way bets you can still get to money. Several books were offering the option of a forecast in the Victor Chandler Chase where Sprinter Sacre was long odds-on. One was a bit shocked to be offered a grand Sprinter Sacre to beat Somersby but he took the wager. He looked resigned to having done his money in cold blood until long-time leader Mad Moose ran on again towards to the line to save his bacon.

The roar that when up when Imperial Commander and Cape Tribulation slugged it out in the Argento Chase was a taste of what Cheltenham has to offer. If our memories had been fading after a few weeks of all-weather put-in meetings that roar was a wake-up call and aperitif for the festival. It wasn’t a bad result for the ring either, but it wasn’t really about that over the last.

The £1000 forecast punter was out again in the next. He backed The New One to beat At Fishers Cross. It looked for all the world like he was going to draw well after the last. Quite how he felt when he saw AP McCoy at his determined best on the latter to chin the odds-on leader and scupper his bet  is anyone’s guess. I did catch the eye of the bookie who laid it. He didn’t say a word, and didn’t need to, his face said it all, ‘how the hell did I get away with that?’

Nobody who has read my previous blogs will be surprised to learn that the race of the day for me was the Cleeve Hurdle. The 33/1 and 12/1 ante-post vouchers with top independent bookie Geoff Banks  for Reve de Sivola in the World Hurdle at the festival all depended on Nick Williams’ charge coming back safely. That was the least that could be hoped for, but owner Paul Duffy and his Diamond Partners got the dream result. ‘Reve’ was given a superb ride by Richard Johnson up with the pace taking the lead on the run to the last. Oscar Whisky had been held up to get the trip and loomed ominously after the last. Just when it looked as if he’d collar Reve in the shadow of the post he showed his mettle and refused to relinquish his lead. Next stop a possible re-match in March and something special to look forward to for connections, one of whom is a great friend. I might keep topping up, 5/1 each-way still looks great value.

AP McCoy rode the favourite Mr Watson to win the last. That result took the shine off what was a decent day for the layers and sent favourite-backers home happy. Having said that I doubt many people went home disappointed win or lose.  The ‘big freeze’ was certainly sent packing in style with some tremendous racing and spirited punting in an electric atmosphere.

Steve Bell would have loved it.

(C) Simon Nott

It is the last week of my ‘Dryathalon’, that’s no booze for January in aid of Cancer Research. Any donations gratefully received for this great cause. http://www.justgiving.com/dryathlete-simon-nott many thanks.

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