Roving Reports

Roving Reports: An Unwelcome Hat Trick

It's been a while since you had a blog from me as, to be honest, there has not been a lot to report back on since Ascot, writes David Massey.

For every week you find yourself working a Goodwood or a Newmarket or the Royal Meeting, there are two or three Southwells, Stratfords and Leicesters; and, whilst they all have their charms, there's usually little or no action in the ring.

Saying that, for those that complain the books are all the same, one Midlands bookmaker, in an effort to do something different, has started betting extra places on selected races. Come racing!

I've actually had time to go and enjoy myself at the races and went to Newmarket's Ladies Day with my friend Paula, who likes a day racing, and has her own retired ex-racer for a hack. Remarkably, despite living in Cambridge, she'd never been to Newmarket and was absolutely amazed by their woody pre-parade ring, which is surely one of racing's hidden jewels. I could sit in there all afternoon, just making notes and watching the horses. I think you learn a lot in there. Can I recommend you get Dubai Treasure, second to Sacred Angel in the fillies maiden, in your trackers? She had no clue pre-race and was very green going to post, too. Given how much energy she expended, I expected her to drop right away, but she stuck willingly to the task and will know a lot more next time. I suspect she's very good.

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Anyway, in terms of actual work, it's been thin on the ground. I've done a couple of Southwells and worked York's John Smith's weekend, which can easily be summed up in a short sentence: wet, and disappointing business. The Friday was awful, with rain all afternoon and it leaked under the waterproofs. The money required drying out (you've never seen so many tenners on a bathroom floor) before it could be cashed up, and my socks needed wringing out.

Saturday saw a different kind of rain, one that wasn't as constant as Friday but was more ferocious when it hit, with two warnings given out by the track for lightning.

One of those came just as we were getting going betting on the first race, and it rather killed it; probably just as well, as Blue For You was well backed. Results weren't bad, with Pride Of America almost unbacked for the John Smith's Cup, surprisingly given his liking for soft ground, but there you go. The biggest bet I took all day was a £300 one on Hamish for the Silver Cup at 1-2, and the punter was made to sweat considerably more than I think he thought he might, although he got his £150 profit in the end. That, by the way, shows you the level of business; York, rails, on John Smith's day, and the biggest bet I can take is £300.

I'm not known by friends as The Rainmaster for nothing; it seems to follow me around like a bad smell and, sure enough, Doncaster on Saturday night saw us get another drenching. It wasn't as bad as expected and the worst of it came just as we were packing up, but it put the tin hat on a night of what-can-go-wrong-nexts.

We have a Saturday night crowd who are there to see Abba tribute act Arrival after racing, so we know what we are dealing with. This is confirmed by the number of "this is my first bet ever" ladies that come up before the first. It never ceases to amaze me that people in their forties and fifties have got this far in life and never had a bet. I think I'd just about reached my eleventh birthday before my first wager.

Anyway, all the kit is working fine, we're off and running, business is steady and results are okay. What could go wrong?

Race 3 sees the first issue. Chiefman is withdrawn at the start after having stalls problems, which sees a 10p Rule 4. As ever, the muffled announcement goes unnoticed by much of the crowd and there are a few punters a bit miffed that they aren't getting back what is telling them on the docket. "It says here I should get £40," says one irate bloke. I also inform him his docket says "a Rule 4 may apply" but he's not interested in that bit. I am informed I am a "robbing bastard" for which I thank him, and start serving other, less irate, punters.

I've banged on enough about how the courses need to use the big screens more and I won't go on again - suffice to say someone who had a decent bet on Chiefman is yet to pick his money up at the time of writing. If I'd seen him I'd have given him a shout, but never did.

Worse is to follow, as favourite Sir Thomas Gresham is withdrawn at the start of the next. A whopping 20p deduction. If matey boy thought he'd been robbed for the previous race, he's not gonna like this much. And then... a dead heat. My head is in my hands.

Most people are fairly understanding about the situation and are happy to accept that they are getting back less than half of what it says on the docket, but there's always a few. One is convinced I'm totally wrong and does the maths I've given him to do, at which point I do at least get an apology. The rain starts to fall and I'm cold. Can't be any more withdrawals, surely?

There is. The unwelcome hat-trick is brought up by Handel in race 5, who doesn't go with the field. Another 10p deduction. I'm fairly sure people think we're doing this on purpose. It also takes the field down from 12 to 11, so a quarter the odds down to a fifth. It's just one thing after another!

We start packing up after the last and it starts to belt down, just to compound the misery. After expenses, we have won... six quid on the night. Well worth turning up for. As I push the gear towards the exit, a bloke comes running up to me with a docket. "Sorry I'm late, pal", he says. I look at his ticket. He's got two quid back from a non-runner. I don't even bother getting the money back out, merely reach in my pocket for two quid of my own. As the band strike up with Waterloo, I shake my head, and get the hell out of there...

- DM

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