It would appear that since my last blog post about a fortnight ago, we haven't had a drop of rain worth mentioning around here in the Midlands and indeed, small fields have really been a pain in the backside for bookmakers during the latter half of February, writes David Massey. It is rare for us not to go to a meeting that we've scheduled in but Hereford on Sunday got the push after we realised there were four four-horse events on the card. I'm sure there are connections out there delighted with the dry weather for their good-ground horses but it's not much use to punters or bookmakers, and we decided a day on the sofa rather than freezing us whatsits off trying to get the odds-on pokes beaten made more appeal.
I have been out since we last conversed, though, with a couple of visits to Warwick, on Kingmaker Day and then for their in-for-a-fiver day last Friday. Kingmaker Day was decent business and one of our regular bigger punters turned up. Sadly for us, he was in good form, having £200 on Mr Freedom at 7s to win the handicap hurdle and another £400 on Imperial Alex, but we did still win on the day.
The Jonbon match for the Kingmaker itself saw more action in the race than it did beforehand, although needless to say the whole crowd had had their fiver on Calico to cause an upset. (I didn't hear of one single punter willing to take the 1-14 available, out of interest). With five to jump it did look like Calico was going to give them all something to cheer about, but the pantomime boos as Jonbon went past the post in first place were much more about people's pockets than any hatred towards Nicky's star chaser.
For the record, as I was working on the rails and saw Jonbon go down to post, I thought I'd seen him fitter and that he'd come on for the run. He's still the one to beat in the Arkle, for my money.
The most comical conversation of the afternoon took place not on my joint, but next door with Colin, working for Martyn Of Leicester. A few of the books bet "win only" on the novice hurdle that followed the Kingmaker as the each-way was shocking business (plenty of those that bet each-way were well overbroke on the places, come racing) but Colin was each-way. Up comes a lady punter to him with her tenner.
"Are you betting each-way on this race?" she asks him.
"Indeed I am", replies Colin.
"Can I have five pounds on number four then, please?"
Brilliant. I could barely suppress my laughter and Colin's face told its own story of bemusement. He just shook his head, and carried on...
In the middle of the course one of those Invades student gigs was going on. You might have seen these on your travels. If not, have a Google and you'll see what they're about. Generally speaking I'm all for them, although as yet I've not had to work in the middle of one of them, which is what my friends at S&D Bookmakers did on the day. [They look like a lot of fun and, unlike concert nights, the students are actually having a bet! - Ed.]
4 out of 5 bets you take are on debit card; whilst us oldsters still like the feel of cash in our wallet, it's all on card with the kids these days. Some bookmakers still don't take card, and I do think they'll have to move with the times, or miss out. Yes, it takes a few seconds longer and sometimes they can be a pain when you're busy, but ultimately the future lies that way, and I think you're better getting with the program now rather than later.
Anyway, we leave Warwick that day with the party in full swing, Fatboy Slim's "Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat" blasting in our ears. Eat, Sleep, Race, Repeat, more like. In the car park we bump into the S&D lot; they look utterly exhausted. "I've never worked so hard to take the money we have", says Rob, ashen-faced and in need of two paracetamol. "Fiver win, card. Fiver win, card. Fiver win, card. Does nobody carry cash any more?" Not under 25 they don't, Rob.
Warwick's Fiver Friday, timed to coincide with half term for maximum effect, usually draws a good family crowd, and last Friday was no exception. You know what the day will be like, a lot of novice punters there for a day out with the kids, so expect small money but plenty of it. Our big punter turns up again, too, and again he finds a winner, having £400 on Pikar. But before that, we have the farce that is the first to sort out.
You may have seen the race. Half the field go one side of a set of railings down the back and the other half go the other side. Who has taken the wrong course? It would appear there's going to be some sorting out to do in the Stewards room afterwards and, of course, that means we can't pay out.
The first thing to note is how long it took to actually call the enquiry. You'd have imagined the moment they went past the post that the "bing-bong" would sound, but no, it took a good three minutes for them to actually announce the enquiry, during which everyone was as wise as each other as to what was happening. We are telling punters to hold on to their tickets, they are (rightly, at the time) telling us no enquiry has been called, and whilst it isn't a tense situation by any means, it's one that could have been easily diffused. In the end, the result is allowed to stand, and we can finally get paid out and crack on with the next.
The rest of the day passes without incident, until we get to race 6. One woman, the worse for a beverage or two, has a couple of bets on the race and I'm fairly sure, post-race, that she's backed the winner. However, nobody picks up and after the last, we get packed up and are ready to go. Just as we are about to leave, a bloke and his wife come up to me with half a ticket.
"I think this has won, but she's torn the ticket in half."
It is indeed the winning ticket from race 6. Well, half of it. It's been torn from top to bottom. As this isn't the original punter, I'm a little suspicious.
"I don't suppose you have the other half, do you?"
"She says she's lost it."
Leaving aside why the hell you'd rip up a winning ticket, I have a feeling if I pay this, the other half could mysteriously appear, get sent to Late Pay for payment (you can do this, have a look on the back of your docket next time you have a bet at the races) and we'll end up paying twice. I politely decline to pay, suggest they have a good look through their pockets and send it in to Late Pay once they've found the other half.
You do get the odd punter try it on, but less so on course than in the shops. I remember working for Stanley Racing back in the day and had a Polish bloke and his mate, who we nicknamed Jaws (built like said character from the Bond movies) who was always trying something. He once came rushing up to the counter for a dog race shouting "trap 6, favourite, trap 6" as they were going in the boxes. I ask him does he want trap 6 on the slip, or the unnamed favourite? "Trap 6, six!" he barks back at me. I duly write trap 6 on the slip. In the meantime, the jollies have flipped and the one dog is now favourite, not the six. The red bolts out and makes all.
Up comes our man. "Favourite, favourite!" he shouts, waving his slip at me. I know what he is doing. "You said trap 6, and that's lost.", is my reply. He looks at me, and calmly walks out. Thinking I've had a result and there's no trouble, I get back to settling the bets. However, thirty seconds later they return. Jaws has picked up next door's wheelie bin and launches it at the bandit screen. It cracks but holds. Even more remarkably, the pair just stand there like lemons whilst I call the coppers, who come and take them for a free ride in the back of their car. But not before I tell them they're barred.
Back to the present, and I've just seen the weather forecast for this week. Drier than a Bedouin's flip-flops. Snow for Cheltenham a possibility, I'm told. Don't be packing the big coat away just yet, boys and girls. See you all at Prestbury in a couple of weeks, and the best of luck to you.