Tales From The Betting Ring Cheltenham Tuesday


I had no idea that Cheltenham were inspecting when I set off from Devon first thing. I was pretty shocked to discover that the meeting had been as short as 6/4 to be off. Thanks to the foresight and hard work of the racecourse anyone that jumped in at ‘half-arm’ backed their first loser of the day, which of course was a relief for all concerned.

As always with the first day of the festival hope springs eternal on both sides of the punting fence. The bookies are flexing their shoulders ready to open them to all-comers while the punters are lumping big-priced fancies together for life-changing Yankees. One fellow that features on a regular basis in my literary meanderings is ‘Armaloft’ Alex. He backed his first winner without even dipping into his betting bank. He turned up for a day out but ended up being pursued by no less than four bookmaking firms looking for staff. He chose a rails outfit and was soon tapping away with them, exes for the day and wages to come, “Ei Ei” as he would put it, but of course everyone else would say “Aye Aye” and keep their arm down until after the line.

One of the first layers I saw was one I mentioned in a previous ‘Tales’. He’s the veteran  looking forward to one last Cheltenham before settling into retirement, he gave me a warm shake of the hand, I wished him luck and meant it. With a grin he was back to enthusiastically setting up his kit belying his years in the process.

It has to be said it was pretty nippy with the wind-chill up at the ‘wrong’ end of  Tatts. “Don’t talk to us about the bloody weather” was the reaction I got from two usually amiable members of staff. They work for a firm based in Torquay who have been around since the late 1800’s. The boss recently bought a pitch at Plumpton. Pulling rank with some aplomb, on Monday he stood for the firm at Taunton, which is a fair bit closer to Torquay.  Meanwhile the  intrepid duo were packed off to the aforementioned. Anyone who saw the morning news would have noticed that the weather in the Plumpton area had been fairly inclement resulting in the pair spending the night in the car. They eventually reached the comfort of their hotel at 7.30am, it wasn’t all bad though, they were just in time for breakfast.

One punter who wasn’t going to feel the cold was Stephen Little, ex-king of the rails. He was resplendent in a long fur coat. A similar item was always his unofficial trademark when fearlessly fielding  telephone number sized bets in his heyday though the jury was out as to if it was the same garment. There was a still active layer who wasn’t going  to feel the cold either. The flambouyent troubador of the ring was betting in the Centaur enclosure. His joint was staffed, as always, by a bevy of beauties as opposed the archetypal grumpy clerk still favoured by many. It was shirt-sleeve order, lovely and warm as well as packed in there long before the first so one would imagine business would have been brisk, if he could be prised from the Champagne Bar

It was a bit sad to visit Lower-Tatts and see that so many old faces that I used to work with and near are no longer in attendance. Time marches on but it’s a little depressing to see so many characters on the missing,  presumed sold up, and bailed out list

The last port of call before the day’s racing begins is always to check in with the shrewd Westcountry firm who know their onions when it comes to jumping form. They were buoyant and looking forward to the racing as always but slightly apprehensive too. Their magic figures obtained from hours of hard work and study told them the good things were exactly that, good things. “We fear the worst” was their ominous message.

Most of the books set to work on the opener a good hour before racing. There is one layer on the rails who is the epitome of laid-back. You can almost set your watch by him as he sparks up his pipe and sets to work, rarely more than 15 minutes before the race. Once has does however he means business taking on all-comers before the legendary roar that lifts from the course as the horses are off. Going up late would have probably meant that he did the right prices on the winner of the first, Champagne Fever. It had been the morning plunge but returned 5/1.

There were comical scenes reminiscent of a Benny Hill sketch as a posse of limelight-hungry punters followed the Channel 4 team around the ring. The caravan of  those seeking their 15 seconds of grinning in the camera fame eventually came to a halt behind a major rails layer. He was asked if he minded them broadcasting from behind his joint, he replied that he didn’t object but was a bit camera-shy. He was certainly in the minority in that immediate vicinity.

The Arkle played host to the first of the day’s bankers in the shape of Simonsig. One firm reported that they had laid a bet of £20,000 – £35,000. That but was dwarfed by rumours circulating of a monster £80,000 – £140,000. The latter wasn’t confirmed so you have to hope, at least for the sake of the bookie, that it was just a rumour as the banker proved to be just that.

Golden Chieftain  won  the next springing a 28/1 surprise and provided the ring respite. It  didn’t last long though with Hurricane Fly landing the Champion Hurdle at 13/8.  With the Cross Country race postponed until Thursday the layers had another banker to deal with in the shape of Quevega in the next. Those that decided to fill their hods and take on the punters must have thought they had done it right when the jolly hit a high of 4/1 in-running only to see the cup snatched from their lips as the mare made history by storming to victory on the run-in. It is safe to say most of the ring had suffered a terrible day. One a lighter note, one eagle-eyed person did spot the Genius of George Nympton, Nick Williams, in the vicinity of the rails shortly before the off. It’s not known if he was investing in his 40/1 charge Swincombe Flame but supported or not she ran a great race to finish 3rd. That run can only bolster hope for the well-being of our 33/1 ante-post punt on Reve de Sivola in the World Hurdle.

Talking of which, and as a footnote, I did a bit of window shopping down at the Tented Village before racing. I was quite taken by the plethora of tweed suits on show at Sandown and even more so by some on display for sale today. So I have decided,  if Reve wins I’m going to get straight up to the Centaur, relieve Geoff Banks of some readies and invest in one of those country-styled beauties.

Watch this space tweed suit sellers!

Simon Nott

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