Tales From The Betting Ring – Wincanton 12/04/13


One of the things about travelling the turf that isn’t often what it’s cracked up to be is staying away. Sometimes of course it is fantastic, generally big meetings where a group of you get together and socialise. That’s when you get to see people you only know by their racecourse persona in a totally different light. Very rarely in a worse one, once the pressures of racecourse goings-on are off sometimes amazing things happen. For example, nobody who was at that meal in Arundel a couple of Goodwoods ago will ever forget the delight and surprise to discover that a well-loved bookmaking family can transform into the singling  Von Trapps after a vino or two.

Staying over after Ascot was not one of those evenings. I had a fairly miserable night at the Sunbury Premier Inn, well not miserable exactly because it’s nice enough there. The problem was I had a  bit of a shock, I used the automated machine for checking in and  lugged my weary bones up the stairs to room 303 I had been allocated. By the way, the lift wasn’t broken but I’m on a fitness campaign to fight off middle-age, get me. My abode easily found, I slid in my key-card, the light went green and I tumbled into the room. Only to find somebody was already in it. I didn’t catch a glimpse of the incumbent but did hear the TV and see a suitcase with what looked like a builders hard hat on it. It flashed through my mind that I might well need that for protection should I be mistaken for an intruder up to no good. I made a hasty retreat back downstairs, but this time in the sanctuary of the lift. Lenny Henry never mentioned this scenario in the advert with tales of comfy beds and nice hot baths.

Luckily I wasn’t perused by an angry brickie and was apologised to  profusely by the bemused receptionist and given another room. The rest of the evening was spent having a meal for one in the bar. The only other customers were some quite loud Scottish lads all drinking beer and having fun. They did give me disapproving when I ordered a diet coke but apart from that just ignored me. Whilst sitting there a bit bored I checked through coming month’s schedule and decided I’d try and get some staying away mates for the next few nights away. I spotted the Saturday and Sunday Goodwood and Salisbury double, there is usually at least one firm who are up for staying up for that one so gave the bookie a call. Sadly he informed me that while they would normally would be up for it his main man’s father wasn’t too well so they would probably go home and back rather than stay en-route. He did add that he’d like to know where I was going to stay in because if the old boy got better they would join me.

I booked somewhere  on-line before heading to Wincanton so decided to search out the firm, established in 1897, on arrival. I marched into the ring and informed the boss where I had booked and then breezy as you like turned to the guy who’s father was poorly and wished him a speedy recovery. You know those moments when you immediately know that you have made a rick, the world stands still and everyone in earshot looks horrified? Yes, this was one of them. His father had since died. Doh. Where’s the ground to swallow you up when you need it. Maybe I shouldn’t have added that at least we’d be able to have that drink after racing at Goodwood now. Never start to dig deeper when you are already in trouble.

There was a really decent crowd at Wincanton, though sadly for the bookies most of them seemed to have backed the runaway winner of the opener from 13/8 all rates down to 11/8. Not a great start for the ring. The second race on the card was a 17-runner handicap, only two bookies appeared to be betting 1/4 the odds a place. I shall say no more, but on the bright side, the winner, Midnight Prayer landed a bit of a touch from 12/1 into 8/1.

Things went the way of the layers in the fourth race. The favourite, Addiction, had been a bit weak in the market but was a popular choice on course. There were a few rumblings around me that the drift was a bit fishy but those soon vanished when the jolly appeared to be going by far the best and looked the likely winner. Then he stumbled and unshipped jockey Nick Scholfield. ‘He jumped off’ screamed one slightly refreshed punter. There is no accounting for the way punters handle losing but it was probably a mercy that the poor jockey was out of earshot as he hobbled into the waiting ambulance.

The first real market move of the day didn’t come until the 7th race, the first division of the bumper. Despite there being solid support for the favourite Vodka ‘N Tonic, including a £700-£400, it was Spring Steel that was the big mover. The early 18/1 had collapsed into 13/2 at the off, nobody had stories of untold bundles of cash being spread around the ring for it, sadly those days have gone. Wherever the money had come from and how and where it was placed those involved could have been forgiven for thinking they’d copped when the gamble took up the lead at the furlong pole heading leader Tea For Two. It must have been a nasty feeling watching 18/1 shot  fight back and forge clear foiling the gamble by just over a length.

The winner was trained by Nick Williams, the Genius of George Nympton, owned by his wife Jane and ridden by her daughter Lizzy and apparently a surprise winner. Well that is how it looked for a while until a gangling figure, so far conspicuous by his absence, made his appearance. Beaming from ear to ear and gesticulating wildly, ‘Armaloft’ Alex. He’d evidently managed to keep his arm down for long enough for Lizzy and Tea For Two do their stuff, the result of which he’d had it spark off. Being a pal of the yard he often gets to know, and it appears he got to know today. Nobody had to say anything, the little gathering around him while he regaled all who would listen how exactly spark off he’d had it, had it written all over their faces, ‘Yes thanks Armaloft, no bloody good telling us now’. At least one of them must have started to look thirsty, so maybe fearing a costly round our victorious, non-tipping, hero quickly added that he hadn’t backed it on course.

He’s probably collected by now though, so Lizzy, if you are reading this, you can no doubt expect a very generous present next birthday or Christmas from our extremely grateful, loaded but secretive mate because that Axminster each-way he’d had on would have come to a nice few quid!

(c) Simon Nott

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