Roving Reports

Roving Reports: HQ, and Closer To Home

My workload is starting to pick up as the season progresses, and now the evening racing has kicked in, even more so, writes David Massey. I shall tell you about the knock-on effect of that for me later, but let's start this episode at the beginning of the month, and two days at the Guineas meeting at Newmarket.

You'll notice only the two - we decided not to go on the Friday, as the Silver Ring, which is where we will be working both days, has next to no business that day. So we set off on the Saturday morning, and in this case the "we" is myself and the good lady, who has purloined a free ticket from a friend of hers. The forecast is mixed, with some showers due early afternoon but should pass through quickly. I trust the weather forecasts as much as I'd trust having my palm read to determine if it'll rain or not, so the wet weather gear is packed.

We arrive in plenty of time to get set up, and start betting. It is extremely slow to get going, with families still coming in as the first goes off. However, before that, the rain begins, and up go the bookmakers' umbrellas, along with a whole row of gazebos as families that have been a bit more forward-thinking take shelter.

The rain gets a bit heavier and behind us are some very dark clouds indeed. It soon becomes fairly clear that the wet stuff is set in. Worse, it appears to be coming in sideways. When rain falls directly on you from overhead it isn't so bad, as the umbrella does its job and keeps the majority of it off you. When it comes at you from the side, everything gets wet. You're not only trying to protect yourself but all the electrics - if your printer packs up as the damp gets in, that's game over - and a second pair of arms is called for.

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We take very little on the first race, which is just as well as the jolly old favourite wins. The two joint-favourites are hand-in-hand over the line for a 1-2 in the next, too, but it hardly matters as the rain is absolutely killing the business.

It gets heavier still. One family in front of us packs up and goes home. Two races. That's all they have seen. I hope they feel they had value for money but, equally, the idea of going somewhere warmer and drier appeals to me right now, too. I fancy Probe a bit in the next and give it a cheer as it wins. At least I've got a few quid in my pocket after that, even if the firm haven't. I really don't need to tell you how the rest of the day went, as the rain did not go anywhere and it was quite literally a wash-out. After five races the water-resistant coat I'm wearing becomes resistant no longer, and my shirt underneath develops some big damp patches. I have to go back to the car and change. The deluge eventually stops as the last gets underway. The least said about this day, the better.

Sunday comes and is a different kettle of fish. The sun is shining to the point I need sunscreen, and there are families pouring in on what is traditionally a family day. The puppet show (the same noisy one as last year, but mercifully further away from us this year) is in full swing, the inflatables are proving popular and the ice-cream van has a queue all afternoon. I wouldn't mind a 20% share in that action today.

We get going an hour before the first. It isn't long before a bloke, who appears to have been on the early shift at Wetherspoons, comes up to me. I shall try and give you an idea of the conversation.

"Is this the first race?"

"Yes mate, it is."

(Long pause)

"And these are the runners?"

"That's right."

(Long pause)

"For the first?"

"Yes."

(Very long pause)

"Can I have a bet in the second race?"

"After this one you can, yes."

(Long pause)

"Is this the first race?"

And so on. He gets bored after ten minutes and goes to the bookmaker next door, and asks exactly the same questions. He looks absolutely out of it. I shout over to Tony, the bookie next door, that he can have him all afternoon if he likes! For some reason Tony doesn't want him. I cannot imagine why...

It is, as you'd expect for a Silver Ring, all small money we are taking but surprisingly we do plenty of business on debit cards, too. HMS President is a good result and so is Running Lion in the Pretty Polly, with Queen Of Fairies one of the best backed horses all afternoon. There are a lot of first-time punters, and as is always the case, one of them has backed the first three winners. I let her into the secret that "we always let you win first time" before she promptly gets the four-timer up with Via Sistina.

Now, there has been a distinct waft of weed in the air all afternoon (sadly, all too common on racecourses these days) and the lady with the drugs dog is in the area to try and find the source. It doesn't take the dog long to latch onto the scent and he's pulling her towards someone.

It's only matey boy who was such a pain in the backside before the first that she's after. Suddenly, that conversation makes a bit more sense.

Laughably, he's off and trying to get away from the dog. "STAY THERE!!" the handler bellows at him, and he knows the game is up. He sinks to his knees in despair, his face pleading for mercy. She's having none of it, and within a couple of minutes he's escorted off the premises by three security guards.

"Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio!!" goes the chant as he's marched off. Myself and Tony are killing ourselves laughing as he tries to get a roll-up in his mouth, only to miss, and isn't allowed to go back and fetch it. He seems more upset about that than the fact he's got to leave.

Anyway, back to the main event, and the 1000 Guineas. Business is solid and I take a £200 bet on the favourite, which stays in the satchel as Mawj proves too good. It's that good a result I'm sent for four Magnums from the ice-cream van, a bargain at fourteen quid. And they moan about the margins that they bet to in the ring.

Two races to go and, from nowhere, I have a punter that's having a few quid on. He has £200 on Hectic and £100 on Saxon King. Where's he been all afternoon? Has he got any mates that want a bet, I ask him with a smile?

He backs the winner and with the £600 he collects, has £300 back on Lion Of War. Sadly there's no good ending for him as it finishes a well-held fourth. I enquire as to whether there might be a second round of Magnums only to be told I was lucky to get the first one!

There are cars stuck in the car park on the way out, parts of it have just turned to mud after yesterday, and the tractor is going to be busy. Not for us though, and after getting paid it's out and we're on the way home.

The following Saturday, with so many meetings, saw me pick up a day for a firm I don't usually work for. Martyn Of Leicester (for it was he) had pitches at Ascot, Leicester, Nottingham and Warwick, a total of 16 in all, and that requires a lot of workers. I'd been asked a couple of weeks ago if I'd like a home fixture and so I worked the rails for him at Nottingham on what was their Ladies Day.

I often moan about how soulless Nottingham can be but there was no lack of atmosphere on Saturday; the place was buzzing with a great crowd up for an enjoyable day in the sun. All the other rails pitches had three workers on them, but I was on my own ("just do your best" says Martyn; I informed him I always do my best) and was busy from the word go. Most of the punters seem to know what they are doing, always helpful, and the first two results go our way. Come race four, though, and I have a problem.

The 10 horse, Showalong, wins easily but one bloke brings a losing slip up, saying I gave him £20 number 2 rather than £20 number 10. It's entirely possible I misheard him - a genuine mistake if so, particularly with a loud tannoy system - but I point out to him it's too late to do anything about it now. It clearly says on every ticket we print "please check your ticket" as I can change a bet beforehand, but he's not happy. I tell him I can get the ring inspector if he wishes but he's not listening, he's stormed off with a few choice words regarding myself getting a hearing test. The other 500-odd punters I deal with over seven races have no such problems. Please, ladies and gentlemen, check your tickets...

At the end of the day Martyn is delighted with the efforts I've made. He's had a winning day and he pays me well, with a good top-up on my wages. Better still, I only have a five-mile journey home. If only all tracks were five miles from my house. I could work twice a day, at least until the end of August...

- DM

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