From the archives – an afternoon at a point to point 2005

Here’s a piece I wrote in Feb 2005 about the joys of an afternoon betting at a Point To Point, I still love them but rarely get the chance to go. Oh for the days when they were still held mid-week too. I suppose that’s selfish though. Not a lot has changed and 9 years later they are still resisting the light boards!

An afternoon in a point-to-point betting ring.
Simon Nott

It’s that time of year again, not just digging out the green wellies and thermals but the trusty ordinance survey map just to find your way to the races. Part of the challenge working in the Point-to-Point betting ring is getting there on time. On time generally being an hour and a quarter before the first race as opposed to an hour at a regular racecourse. With any luck at the appointed hour you have been ushered into the corner of a windswept and often muddy field, after you found the correct turning off of that B road that was partially obscured on the map by one of last years soup stains, looked up just in time to spot the arrow in the hedge pointing to an ajar 5 bar gate and located your betting destination.

The gaggle of bookmakers surrounding the chap with a list all clamour to see if anyone is late or missing in the hope of a bit of a move up the line. The pecking or picking order is preordained by the years the man or woman on the list has been attending the meeting in question. The line, made of baler-twine is a literal one, laid out as straight as possible with little bits of tape or string to mark each pitch.

If it’s not the first point of the year the firm has attended the process of putting the gear up should not be a long one, though it can be. The difference in joints is as diverse as the bookmakers themselves, some of the equipment looks, and very possibly is, pre war while on the other end of the spectrum hastily adapted up to the minute tatts gear is utilised in the most unlikely of locations. At a first point fuzzy memories and a multitude of erection permutations ensure that the sound of mallets on metal and cursing over the sound of mallets on thumbs tends to prevail for some time.

The sooner the kit has been set up and anchored down the longer there is for study of the race card. The entries fill the card but the declarations are not finalised until three quarters of an hour before the off time of each race. You will know when that moment has come because the bookmakers only universal employee, the numbers boy, often well on the wrong side of 70, will emerge from the entries tent marching as fast as his old legs will carry him hollering “Runners” at the top of his voice. Pens poised the workmen will listen intently as the reels of “2,3,7, over the page for 9, and 12” or something similar of course, in addition to the runners jockeys of note are also divulged which can be almost as important as the horse. This is repeated all afternoon with the old boy earning every penny of his wages in mileage alone.

Next job, to write up the runners on the assorted boards, I’ve not seen the new light boards used yet but it is surely only a matter of time. Those that have computers tend to use them these days but plenty still use the field book and card tickets. That’s the easy bit done, pricing up the runners is the hazardous part, though mercifully if a bookmaker makes a mistake his fate is a swift one. There are plenty of onlookers at points who like to stand there and barrack bookmakers for chalking up an initial 180%, there is a reason for the caution. One mistake and you are in it up to your eyeballs. Many a time there has been an outrageous looking show of 3/1 2/1 4/6 10 bar, then in between the smirkers and the clever remarks come those punters with a horse, the hapless bookmaker is all but knocked off of his stool in the rush for one that’s 16/1, he fields a few bob on the hitherto unconsidered nag and looks around to see it 6/4 while the original jolly has wandered out to 9/4 much quicker and with more agility than the beast that is being led around the paddock.

A Devon point to point in the 1990's with some much loved dearly departed bookies in evidence.

A Devon point to point in the 1990’s with some much loved dearly departed bookies in evidence.

There is no such thing as the average point-to-point punter; generally the betting is smaller but the players no less knowledgeable especially with the wealth of form available. The betting generally involves a lot of £1 each way bets, followed by the occasional lump. The lumps are the ones you have to look out for of course, especially for dark horses or those from afar. The punters generally have lumps on one or if you are lucky, two of the runners, and before you know it the race is off.

Quite often one will go haring off in front, if by judgement or otherwise is often hard to tell, a couple won’t make it past the first circuit, they chase around the second and then the race gets going in the final circuit. The bookmakers are hoping that the one that went galloping off will get the others at it, unless it one of the fancied ones of course, if it wasn’t one of the fancied runners it will more often than not either come to grief, hopefully with no injury to horse or intrepid and possibly terrified rider, or stop to a virtual walk while the more conservatively ridden participants cruise past.

All the while the events, often unseen by those in the ring, out in the country are related by a course commentator, as with the horses the course commentator is of varying ability but what none of them lack is enthusiasm and more often than not the will and talent to make a race of it. Often the race in progress bears little resemblance to the picture of the race he is painting, it is not unusual for a favourite to be all but home and hosed coasting to an easy victory with one to jump while an also ran has lolled past a horse that is almost down to a walk after giving it’s all, but in the commentators eyes and to the unsighted punters ears he will be making a late challenge. While the backers of the one in front are given a fright and the bookies and backers of the second are given a glimmer of hope the leader jumps the last and into view and charges to the line. The crowd are still craning their necks trying to spot the challanger who’s yet to approach the last and is by no means odds on to negotiate it.

After each race and normally long after all winning bets have been paid out the numbers man is heard yelling ‘Weighed In’.

The same procedure continues throughout the afternoon at approximately 35-minute intervals. Of course there are very often tight finishes where the judge has to deliberate with his assistant as to who has won. There are small fields, big fields, highly competitive races, virtual walkovers, horses that stop to a walk after leading all the way and get collared and races where potential superstars are unleashed, nothing can compare to variation you can expect or rather not expect in the point-to-point

Some of the bookmakers will be point specialists, they know the form inside out, they will make the market and bet to an opinion while most are just bookmakers who bet to figures and there’s no denying the figures are there, on paper at least. Most will be hoping for at least one ‘result’ to put them in front for the afternoon and are happy with a steady but modest profit. By the end of the meeting, sometimes prolonged by a split race race-goers will have been filtering out for a while, others retired ruddy faced to the beer tent, the bookmakers themselves may have started to take early baths and legged it early. Those that stayed to the end can be seen packing their mud-splattered gear into open car boots, generally much untidier than when it was unpacked. They may have won, may have lost but to a man enjoyed the afternoon.
As the first of the bookmakers pull away, hopefully unaided by a tractor, a lone figure can be seen stepping it out from a distant tent, if you listen carefully you just make out what he is calling, ‘Weighed In, Weighed In.’

(C) Simon Nott

I have written a book about bookies and betting rings, including point to points, if you enjoyed this blog it may be for you, details here

Skint Mob! Tales From The Betting Ring. OUT NOW

Skint Mob! Tales From The Betting Ring. OUT NOW


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