So, since Royal Ascot you might think things would go a little quieter, but you'd be wrong, very wrong, writes David Massey. Since then, I've visited Cartmel on our holidays the week after Ascot (highly recommended, if only to visit the Sticky Toffee Pudding shop - try the ginger one, superb, and only a thousand calories per spoonful), and have worked at Southwell, Stratford, Newbury, Haydock, York and Uttoxeter.
If ever you've thought about becoming a workman for one of the books, there's never been a better time to give it a try. Covid saw a lot of them, starved of work on the tracks for so long, take other, full time, jobs in driving and retail industries. When it was time to come back to the tracks, they simply said no, with more secure jobs on offer. No-one could blame them for taking such a stance but ever since plenty of the books have struggled to fill those positions and as such, particularly in the summer, they are simply unable to staff all their joints. Bookmakers with good pitches at big tracks are having to let them go to waste on a Saturday. Seriously, if you want racecourse work, it’s out there.
Haydock last Saturday was a prime example. A sell out crowd for Madness, we expected a full line of bookmakers in the Silver Ring, but only eight turned up. We couldn't get them on quick enough and even more so when my keyboard packed up on race three. Instead of two of us taking bets, we were down to just one, and that means you take twice as long to clear a queue that never went down. Technology is wonderful when it works, a pain in the backside when it lets you down at the most inconvenient of moments. [Hear hear! Ed.]
The fez (not to be confused with The Fez, jumps fans) was the headgear of choice for the crowd on Saturday (the Madness merchandise stall was knocking them out at seven quid a pop) although fair play to the one guy who went for the pith helmet (from the Night Boat To Cairo video) which looked pretty heavy. On a warm night, we salute you, sir.
As expected, it was all small money. One lad, in a "Billionaire's Boys Club" T-shirt, asks me for 50p e/w the favourite in the first. I'm guessing he's not a member. Or maybe he is, perhaps that's the key to riches.
"Mr Musk, how come you have so much money?"
"I keep stakes on those 0-65's at Haydock to an absolute minimum. The draw can be a complete guess-up."
With the last race at nine, it was midnight before I was back home, and thanks to Stratford bringing their meeting forward to a midday start, it meant rising at 7.30 Sunday morning to be there for 10am for Ladies Day. Oh, the glamour of it all. Fair play to Stratford, though; I was sceptical about the 12 start, thinking it would make little difference as far as the heat went, but it was the right decision, with the afternoon noticeably hotter than it was at lunchtime.
I like Stratford. It's a great little track that always gets a crowd and they all have a bet. It's all small money on Sunday, although someone came in with an even £300 on Pop The Champagne, which duly obliged. Pop The Champagne is owned by my friend Jill, who has had some success with High Wells recently, too. I say 'friend', she's actually my stalker, by her own admission! But it's always a pleasure to see her.
Haydock isn't the only late finish I've had recently. Newbury's evening meeting on the 7th saw me working on the rails, with business just fair. The most unusual thing about Newbury is the placement of the hand driers in the men's toilets, which are not actually in the toilets but the entrance, often resulting in people being unable to move if someone's using the drier, and blocking anyone going in or out. You wonder who thought that was a good idea.
Anyway, another post-midnight finish on the day and, worse still, quite possibly a speeding ticket. I'm generally good with speed limits (an unblemished license for seven years now) but with roadworks on the M1 I missed the 50 limit and the camera flashed. However, over a week has passed, and no ticket as yet. I'm now 10-11 each of two to get one, having been fours on last week, with just another 72 hrs to go. If I get one, I'll have worked for little that night.
From Newbury it was up to York the next day, where, rather than working in the ring as is usually the case, I was on the rails for John Smith’s day. It was busy from the word go, with plenty of decent bets coming in, although as was pointed out to me by my work colleague Martin, we were working next to two very attractive young ladies.
“How the hell are us ugly sods supposed to take a bet against them?” he groaned. Well, we just had to be as efficient as we could, clear the queue and then start pulling them in off the backs of the other queues, that’s how. To me, the Saturday was good business but it needed to be after a disaster of a Friday (four winning favourites, three second favourites) but one or two of the big books were saying business was about 30% down on pre-Covid levels. For some of them, the Saturday was something of an acid test to see whether business really has dropped off or if it could return, and the signs, according to plenty, were not good.
It does look as if this level of business is now the new normal, and some of the books are now having to cut their cloth accordingly. That, coupled with the lack of staff, means there’s plenty of pitches for sale right now, if you fancy a go yourself...
It's York again this weekend for me, which is always a laugh, especially if I'm on the back line next to the Paul Johnson crew. David, often seen on Racing Post Greyhound TV trying to put up a winner at his beloved Doncaster these days, has an opinion on most things, and most of them are wrong. He could start a fight with himself half the time, but he's a good friend and we'll spend the two days winding each other up. I'll tell you how that goes next time.