Are bookies losing their own business?. 12/1/2013 Pic Steve Davies/

Roving Reports: Ebor Action!

York is the last major Flat festival that I'll work this year (I don't do Doncaster) and it's one that I look forward to more than most, writes David Massey. Yes, it's four days away from home, which is never ideal, but it's always a great atmosphere, and although it is hard work on the Saturday, it never really feels like it.

I'm picked up at half past nine on the Wednesday and it does not take us long to encounter our first issue. The A1 Northbound, a difficult road to navigate at the best of times, is blocked and that means taking the long way round up the M1. This, my friends, is why you set off stupidly early for the races when you're working, as you have to allow an hour for eventualities such as these. The last thing you want to do for a big meeting is miss the pick for your pitch, which for York is 90 minutes before the first each day.

There's a load of gear to hump on once we get there, but once the joint is in situ, we won't have to move it again until Saturday night, another blessing. Not only is the joint heavy but the wheels are broken, and moving the thing is akin to trying to get a wonky supermarket trolley full of concrete blocks heading in the right direction.

I've also got written work to do for the week and head to the Press Room once I'm in. It's hot, and my hat, which looks not unlike that of a cricket umpire's, is attracting some sharp comments from a certain bookmaker's PR man. That's sarcasm, better.

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Anyway, suncreamed up and ready to go, the first race is almost a make-or-break one for me for the week, personally. I've had way too much on Makanah each-way here and whilst I'm tempted to lay a little off, I decide to let the majority of it run, and it's more a sigh of relief than satisfaction when he finishes fifth. Thank the Lord for extra places, that's what I say.

A round of applause to whoever does the walk-in music at York, here. Normally, you get some generic nonsense as the winner comes back in - We Are The Champions, Simply The Best, you know the sort - but as Bergerac comes back in, we get the accordion-tinged theme to the 80s detective show that he's named after. This is very pleasing to my ears, and once again, York leads the way whilst others flail in their wake. Keep it up!

Neither Chaldean winning the Acomb nor Deauville Legend the Voltigeur are any good to us, but now it's the Juddmonte and Baaeed time. Will the heavy hitters come out to play? Not with us, as it turns out, but they are around and next door take a £5k bet at 2-5. There's barely a moments worry for the punter as Baaeed saunters clear, quashing any stamina doubts in the process, for a very easy win. He's some horse, and who is to say he won't get the Arc trip? I look forward to Derek Thompson referring to Jim Crowley as "Baaeed's jockey" for the next decade.

Results get no better as the well-backed Alfred Boucher wins the next, before Designer at 14-1 provides some respite. Not for long though, as the 7-2 jolly Streets Of Gold wins the last, and the punters are on top after day one.

We're in the usual digs at Sherburn for the week, and tonight is curry night. Great idea at the time, but not when you wake with heartburn at three in the morning and you've left the Gaviscon at home.

Thursday. I don't fancy much on the card, so when my friend James does his Placepot for the day I ask if I can throw a score in, just for something to watch. He's more than happy to let me, and we've 108 pound lines running for us.

When the 25 poke Swingalong wins the first, followed home by 20-1 rag Queen Me and 11-1 Matilda I assume that's my £20 up in smoke. But no! James, in his wisdom, has put Queen Me in, and with 95% of the Placepots dead and buried after that result, the day has suddenly become a bit more interesting.

It is very noticeable that the crowd is a small one today, much smaller than would usually be the case. It can't be the weather, which is again glorious, so we can only assume the train strike, on today, is having a major impact. So poor is the business that the results hardly matter, which is just as well, with the next three favourites all going in. Excitingly, we are still in the placepot after four legs though, and a four-figure payout looks likely if we can hit it.

When Time Lock goes clear with winner Haskoy in the next then I know we're going into the last leg with two chances. Sadly for us, one of the chances, XJ Rascal, is a non-runner, and that puts us on One Nation instead. Neither myself nor James likes One Nation. I do the sensible thing and lay One Nation for a place, as if it does go belly-up I'll at least have a consolation prize.

It's a good job I did, as neither One Nation nor Scholarship, our other selection, make any impression and the rollercoaster ride comes to an abrupt halt. The placepot pays over £2,700. I can hear the voice of my good lady in my head - "it's why I hate Placepots, there's always one leg lets you down, isn't there?" - but I've had my twenty quid's worth of fun out of the afternoon. Always tomorrow.

Friday comes and on the way to the Press Room I catch sight of Rob Speechley, another of the books, on the Champagne Lawn. Rob has a pitch at York but only uses it for the Ebor meeting, treating the week as something of a leisure week for himself and partner Vanessa. I'm invited for a glass of champagne ("£45 quid for a bottle of Moët? You're almost stealing it" - Rob) and feel it would be rude to turn him down. So rather than doing any work, I've rather been waylaid by Rob and as he refills my glass, I'm wondering whether the firm would really miss me this afternoon if I just stayed here and punted the day away? That question is answered very quickly as the boss walks past, sees the glass in my hand, mutters "press room my ar*e, get yourself on that joint" and walks off laughing.

Whereas Thursday's crowd was disappointing, Friday's exceeds our expectations. It's as if those that couldn't come yesterday have made up for it by coming today instead. I'm next to Paul Johnson today (although once he knew he'd be next to me, he wanted to move pretty quickly, it must be said. Maybe it's my deodorant?) so there should be a few laughs along the way, and on the other side I've got Phil and his wife Cheryl from the West Mids. They're lovely people too, and whilst I chat greyhounds with Phil (he stands at Monmore), Cheryl seems more interested in the "power salad" I've purloined from the press room. She's clearly after snaffling it. I tell her she can have one tomorrow, which seems to pacify her.

So we've got a crowd, can we get a result or two? Farhan is a good start, although Dark Jedi hitting the frame - one of those York horses they all latch on to every time it runs here; see also Copper Knight, Our Little Pony, Escobar, Dakota Gold - hardly helps matters.

Then the almost inevitable announcement that Trueshan is out of the Lonsdale Cup. We'd been betting for about five minutes before the announcement was made, so it wasn't a disaster in that sense as most people had still to bet, but the race has a different shape to it now. Next door, Paul had just taken a lump on it as well, which he has to give back. Someone's quick off the mark and has an £1100-£800 Coltrane with me, but that stays in the bag as Quickthorn takes off and doesn't see another rival.

Noble Style is no good in the next and suffice to say the good people of Yorkshire back their own Highfield Princess in the Nunthorpe. The payout queue is a long one. We have to wait until the last and Point Lynas before we get a result, although the resultant 20-minute hiatus for the stewards enquiry after does not improve anyone's mood.

Ebor day comes around. I'm back on the Champagne Lawn early doors, although this time the boss is with me. Not before he's had to hire a tie, though. You don't get on the Champagne Lawn without a tie, but York are on hand to lend you one for a tenner deposit, which seems fair enough. Rob and I chat about our upcoming visit to Yarmouth's Eastern Festival, for which I'll be working for him on the first day, as his right-hand man is having his 40th birthday and has been barred from going anywhere near a racecourse by his missus. I suspect she has something planned, something that probably does not involve a day at Yarmouth Races.

The champagne puts me in a good mood for the afternoon and after making Cheryl's day by delivering her her salad (some women are easily pleased, it occurs to me) we get betting. It's a great crowd, here to enjoy themselves and the racing, and Alflaila gets plenty of them off to a good start. They play it up on Soulcombe and my float is much depleted. Then, disaster strikes...

Remember how, in the last article, a fellow bookmaker couldn't get his board to work just as the Stewards Cup betting got underway? Well, we've now got that, only worse. We realise, too late, that the bets are not coming through from our second pitch into the master book. This means the payout on the last could be even worse, as we can't see their book. The computers are not talking to one another, we can't change prices, and the whole thing is a catastrophe. However, we aren't the only ones. Other books are now having a similar problem, and I field a phone call from a book on the rails, asking me if I'm also having communication issues. It doesn't take a genius to work out that the wifi is suddenly struggling, and the signal is awful. This spells bad news for any books with multiple pitches on the track. People are rushing around trying to work out what their liabilities are, and whether they need to bet anything back. I'm basically on my own here, as Colin is trying to fix everything on the other joint, and whilst I'm not exactly panicking, I'm flat out trying to get everyone on.

The cavalry arrives in the shape of Kev Myles, himself a bookmaker but only at York on a day out. He comes to punch the bets in for me, and I'm so appreciative of the help.

The bets finally come through from race 2 about 45 minutes after it has finished. Luck is on our side, as their book has won £200. We say a silent prayer, thankful of the disaster that's been averted, and crack on with the Ebor.

When Frankie Dettori wins a big race you know full well there's going to be a long payout queue and Trawlerman is no exception, particularly as the Frankie fans were playing it up after Kinross's City Of York win half an hour earlier. It's still a reasonable result for us though, with best-backed Gaassee well beaten, later found to be lame.

It is noticeable how much trade drops off after the Ebor. This tends to happen most years, but it's very noticeable this time around. Again, there are train strikes on the day, which don't seem to have affected the size of the crowd but maybe some have to go early, as the rattlers are stopping running around 6pm. Miss your train and it could prove expensive, and many are deciding to be cautious about travel home.

Which is just as well, as neither Summerghand, who finally gets his head in front this year, nor Phantom Flight, sent off jolly for the lucky last, are any good to us and as at Goodwood, a winning favourite for the last means a happy crowd as they traipse out the exits. The York bagpiper is giving it his all, and "When The Saints Go Marching In" is going down a storm with the well-refreshed audience.

Where next? Well, Yarmouth, of course, and three of my favourite racing days of the year. See you on the coast...

- DM

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3 replies
  1. John Lennox
    John Lennox says:

    Great bit of writing, Dave ! I love reading your stories and miss you on the Daily Punt.
    See you again at one of the courses.
    All the best

  2. Mully
    Mully says:

    Great to see you in the press room Dave. Your hat looked rather fetching in a Benny Hill kind of a way! I’ve decided I’m going to make the full Ebor meeting an annual holiday in future as I enjoyed it that much this year.

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