Tales From The Betting Ring – Cheltenham Festival Champion Day Tuesday 10/03/15

On a morning of glorious sunshine more akin to Royal Ascot than Cheltenham the bookies were in high spirits. Though it has to be said most of their jollity was at their brethren’s misfortunes. Joe Oliver who bets as ‘Dick Oliver’ has two prime pitches down at lower Tatts, ‘Worth fortunes’ Q Comber his clerk informed me. That was probably why there was such mirth that despite his enviable betting positions he’d forgotten one of his light-boards. Luckily for Joe his Westcountry mate Kevin Sharp lent him a spare one, ‘And didn’t ask for a penny, give us some good press for once’ was Kev’s only requested reward. Better known for being proud of coming from the roughest council estate in the UK Kev can also now be given the moniker ‘A darn good, completely selfless fellow’. How’s that Kev?

Simon James who bets under his own name was not only having computer problems but was also missing his entire team of staff who had been held up in the traffic. I’m guessing it was their first time at the Festival and had no idea it was popular and traffic might be heavy. Simon wasn’t stressing as you’d imagine he might be, none of it, he was attending to the most important business of the day, making sure his Super-Heinz was on.


Up in the main ring I bumped into Geoff Banks’ long-suffering right-hand man Mick. He informed me that Geoff had some new staff and that I should go and get a photo. When I got to Geoff’s joint, camera at the ready I was surprised to see his other long-standing and suffering member of staff David. Now don’t get me wrong David is a good looking chap for his mature years but wasn’t sure Mick meant him. He hadn’t, Geoff had already whisked the female contingent of his team to the Champagne Bar, he’s nothing but consistent.

I would have padded this blog out with further trivia had I known what was about to unfold. Probably that I spotted ex-bookie Derek Buttons marching along the front line. He copped a deaf ‘un when I called his name but can report that he’s looking well and still favours his ‘lucky mac’ regardless of the weather.


The feature of today’s racing was the plethora of bankers, four of the seven races. There was no doubting that the books would be keen to get stuck into the short ones but really would need a couple of them beaten. Those four were all ideal mug punter Yankee material in the offices too, but of course they are only mug bets if they lose.

The opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) featured banker number one in the shape of Douvan. The books were obviously keen to get him in because the gelding was allowed to go off at 2/1 despite plenty of money at the price. Having said that the business wasn’t that big, the biggest single wager I heard of was a £40,000 – £20,000. The jolly wasn’t the only one backed though, one punter went for a great start with a £100,000 – £10,000 Jollyallan and another £40,000 – £10,000 L’ami Serge. If the decent bets for other horses gave the bookies hope of getting the favourite beaten they had precious little in the actual race. The jolly and Ruby Walsh won with ease and got the crowd chanting ‘Ruby Ruby’ in celebration.

The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (Grade 1) saw an even hotter hot-pot in Un De Sceaux once again under Ruby Walsh. A couple of punters got £8000 – £11000 before everyone else had to settle for 4/6. Once again not to massive lumps but to substantial and sustained money. The crowd looked huge and by the roar as Un De Sceaux powered up the hill six lengths too good for anything else it seemed that they were all on. It was too early for the rails bookies to look too crestfallen but they really didn’t need the ‘Come on Ruby’ rubdown from one of their number who’d bet without the favourite for whom 33/1 runner-up God’s Own would have been a right result.

The Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase (Grade 3) with Ned Stark it’s 6/1 market leader gave the layers a bit of respite and the real chance of a ‘result’ to claw back some of their losses. They got the favourite beaten but The Druids Nephew winning at 8/1 would not have been what they were hoping for.

Fittingly for the day it was in the Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) where the betting really came alive, and how. Faugheen was there to be beaten, the bookies would be right back in the game if he was but in it up to their necks if he won. One punter led the charge with an even £10,000. He might have had the value but it was what was to come that tested the ring to its limits. With 5/6 the general price one punter waded in with a single bet of £100,000 to £120,000 on the rails. Then one of the offices got stuck in firing broadsides into the rails and the ring. A punter called a £25,000 – £30,000 into Star Sports’ Ben Keith who took it without blinking, the punter did though when he realised his wager hadn’t even wobbled the price. The public appeared to be stirred by the palpable excitement of monster money trying to tame courageous bookies. Slowly and surely pound and euro by pound and euro the bookies, brave as they were, had to wave the white flag, the early evens was 4/5 at the off.



Quite how it feels to have laid a £100,000 to £120,000 about a horse that makes all and wins pretty much as it likes it anyone’s guess but I expect it’s very nasty indeed. Of course where there are losers there are winners and that punter was rewarded for his bravery. If the ‘Ruby Ruby’s’ had seemed loud after the first, they were deafening after the 1 1/2 length victory.

Now the ring were really in turmoil. That turmoil was no doubt nothing compared to what the off-course businesses must have been looking at, every ‘mug’ bet in the country now all going onto the last of the four, Annie Power in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle) (Grade 1). At 4/7 with 15 runners she had to be laid, and laid she was, to untold bundles. Star Sports are reported to  laid a single bet of £50,000 at 8/13. ‘I’m going to win it all back this f*****g race’ snarled Ben Keith still on the pitch fielding for all he was worth and still trying to smile. That bet would have been noteworthy enough but then rumours of a £80,000 – £140,000 and a couple of £40,000 – £70,000 on the rails started to trickle through. The punters sensed blood again, all those tenners, scores and twenties started to add up, 4/7 became 8/15 and 1/2.

Once off things looked pretty bad for the books with the jolly tracking the leaders going well. Three out it appeared as if their worst nightmare was about to become reality, two out she led. Those who had Annie Power for telephone numbers were peeking through their fingers as as she approached the last. No doubt PR’s were already finishing press releases stating that today had been worse that Frankie’s Magnificent 7 and on-course layers wondering how they were ever going to come back from this.

Then with the race at her mercy, she fell at the last.

There was hush for a second, then a huge groan followed by community sigh of relief as the stricken mare immediately got back up after what initially looked like a nasty fall.  6/1 shot Glens Melody went on to win the race, the Mullin’s second string. ‘It’s a bloody miracle’ was one bookmaker’s summing up. He wasn’t crowing in any way but looked like a man who been given a last minute pardon with the noose already around his neck. Ben Keith was back in the game but had nothing to say, instead leaving his pitch for the sanctuary of the firm’s box where Big Mac was holding court, exactly, that’s how relief feels!

I won’t say the last two races were anti-climaxes but the feeling that a catastrophe had been averted was abound, and it had still been a terrible day for the ring. The  Toby Balding National Hunt Chase (Listed Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase) went to Cause Of Causes at 8/1 providing owner JP McManus with a  birthday present. One firm laid a £40,000 to £5000 the winner which would have compounded their misery but shorter ones Very Wood and Sego Success were well-backed so a welcome result for those brave souls that went up the front two.


The lucky last, the CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) probably couldn’t come soon enough for the majority of the ring. Thomas Crapper was the aptly monikered given the day’s results jolly at 6/1. He was beaten into second by 11/1 shot Irish Cavalier. One bookmaker ran into a £20,000 – £1800 the winner, God knows what he had done in a previous life to deserve that, he even laid the fractions.

The sounds of wounds being licked and lucky stars being counted will surely prevail in Cheltenham and surrounding areas tonight. It’s only Day 1 though, plenty more betting ring battles to be had, bring it on.

(C) Simon Nott

If you found this blog via a link on Twitter and enjoyed it,  it would be great if you could re-tweet, thank you.

My  (Award Nominated but sadly unplaced) book ‘Skint Mob – Tales From The Betting Ring’ is a book about the bookies, punters and other wonderful characters I have met in my time on racecourses. There have been some nice reviews. 

Skint Mob! Tales From The Betting Ring. OUT NOW

Skint Mob! Tales From The Betting Ring. OUT NOW

If you’d like one you can buy a signed copy  direct  from me via paypal here 


It’s also available on Amazon and on Kindle.


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