Tales From The Betting Ring – Epsom, Oaks and Derby.

I got talking to ex-jockey, star of TV and radio and all round good guy Luke Harvey before racing on Oaks day. I have to say he is one witty bloke. If only somebody would commission an adults-only post watershed racing show it would be hilarious viewing. He had a colleague and I in stitches as he got stuck into various topics lambasting all and sundry. Quite a genuine comedian, though it was lucky none of the course photographers were in earshot. I hear Luke does after-dinner speaking, I’d bet good money he’d have everyone rolling about in no time, just one tip though, if you do book him, double-check he’s absolutely clear on which town the venue is in!

The Racing Post sponsored an ice-cream van, renamed for the event, ‘Mr Tippy’. It proved very popular with punters on course that had found the free ice-cream voucher tucked away in the paper. Anthony Kemp had a go at serving one up for the benefit of the cameras, it has to be said he wasn’t that great at it. Most onlookers we horrified that after one lick from Aly Rowell the very tasty and amply (if somewhat lopsided) filled cone was unceremoniously  thrown into a nearby dustbin.

There were plenty of bookmakers down on the rails who would have happily accepted a second-hand ice cream. Nobody was complaining about the sun but probably for the first time this year the sun-lotion was being applied. The aroma of Soltan merged with that of burned bookie fingers after the first when well-backed 3/1f  Thistle Bird  got the money for connections and punters. Not just metaphorical burned fingers in the case of bookmaker Simon James who needed a previously burned hand bandaged to stop the sun tormenting  it further.

Some layers were complaining that business was poor out in Tatts. Maybe they should invest in ice-cream vans because ‘Mr Tippy’ did a roaring trade long after those tearing vouchers from The Racing Post had been and gone. While obviously great advertising for the paper, the livery was a little too good for at least one novice lady racegoer who queued patently and then tried having a fiver on one in the Oaks. There weren’t many books moaning after Talent won the feature at 20/1 especially as she defied Secret Gesture who was one of the best-backed in the race.

I’m told things got a bit ugly out in the ring when a brawl broke out. Depending on who you asked the fighting ranged from a couple of idiots slugging it out to a damn good dry run for world war three. Either way it’s something that nobody wants to see at racecourses. The only winning clear favourite of the day being in the opening race Oaks day looked to go the way of the bookies. Not so according to some I got talking to in the hotel later on. It wasn’t the results they were complaining about but the business. Very poor with high expenses according to them. It didn’t seem to stop them ‘celebrating’ in the bar well into the early hours though, not wanting to hear any more tales about ‘poor bookies’ which were almost bringing me to tears I left them to it.

Derby Day was heaving in comparison to the Oaks, at least in Tatts, the empty pitches on the rails were evidence of what business is like on Members on the day. Most put it down to the dress restrictions. Bookies didn’t have to wait long for their first ‘result’. The first race went to 25/1 shot Pasaka Boy. There are some in the ring that love a gloat when they are winning, as I passed Geoff Banks betting on the second row he called across asking if I was security to protect all his money. That was tempting fate if ever I heard it, karma must have heard it too because Thunder Strike, one of the 3/1 joint favourites, won the next and Geoff had laid a lumpy one.

It was so busy in Tatts that getting around was a bit tricky especially as it was busy with groups of blokes walking around with pints of beer in flimsy plastic ‘glasses’. Not only that but there seemed to be scores of chaps with mobile beer kegs on their backs dispensing the stuff to what appeared to be a never ending customer base. It did make me think that it was lucky that there are very few floormen running around having back bets these days. Knocking beer flying in the course of hedging a bet would have been inevitable and probably result in the poorly paid workmen doing his wages in replacing spilt pints.

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It is often lamented that money doesn’t circulate around the ring any more contributing to its demise. Well it seems that not all bookies are too keen to take hedge money. Geoff Banks called out again, but this time he had the needle. He was giving the Coronation Cup the swerve, using the time to bet on the Derby instead. It transpired that the punter that had won the lump on the previous race and wanted to play some of his winnings up on St Nicholas Abbey. Geoff had no intentions of betting on the race but was keen to accommodate his customer despite not pricing the race up. The horse was 4/11 all around him so laid a bet of £1200-£3300 as requested. Shortly afterwards a neighbouring layer went 2/5. Our hero hopped off the stool and asked him for £600-£1500 as a hedge. It is then that Geoff told me the layer did an extended ‘Betfair twist’ peering into his computer, then after an ‘inordinate’ length of time replied he could have a monkey of it on. Disgusted of Sunningdale told him to forget it and nothing was done. No doubt the boss of the  firm in question was delighted that he had made that decision when the favourite won easily backed into 3/10, not so much Geoff.

There were some decent bets for the winner of  The Dash, Duke Of Firenze including one of £5000-£800, come racing, get the fractions. You had to feel for the gent who laid the bet though, if it was his bogey he must have thought he had it beaten. It looked so cooked that people on the Internet laid it to the tune of £27 at 999-1, at least that was the rumour. How do you feel when you lay that sort of price and it wins? Nasty.

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It did seem that much of the ring were more than happy to get stuck into Dawn Approach in the Derby, there was some business done at 6/4 and 11/8 but never looked like dipping into the realms of odds-on as some had predicted. The brave souls that went down the book with the jolly got their reward though winner Ruler Of The World at 7/1 was hardly a skinner.

The last race of the day was an impossible-looking 16-runner handicap, mind you, finding the winner would have been easier than finding a bookie betting 1/4 the odds a place. That winner was 25/1 Arctic Feeling providing the ring with a result to end the meeting. I have a business idea for anyone wanting to make a sure-fire financial killing next year. By the last there  would have been a multitude of ladies who I reckon would have happily paid a pony for a pair of flip-flops after spending all day being tortured by their footwear. Maybe that is why the Queen had already legged it by then, though I expect she brings her own.

(C) Simon Nott


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