Hello Geegeez readers!
My name is David Massey and, after meeting Matt at Ascot recently, I'm delighted to be bringing you the odd tale from my travels around the country. As many of you know, as well as doing some writing with my old sparring partner Mr Delargy, I also enjoy my time working for a few of the books on-course in the summer. It's essentially the nearest thing I get to exercise these days, and if you think that's stretching a point, I invite you to try and hump a load of bookmaking kit from Car Park 6 to the Queen Anne Enclosure at Royal Ascot as the mercury hits 25 at nine in the morning. It works a couple of bacon sandwiches off, I'm pretty sure.
Thank the Lord I was working in the shade of the stands all week, though, as those in the Windsor Enclosure cooked like lobsters for the latter part of the meeting. I do not work well in sunshine, as a recent dose of sunstroke at Epsom on Oaks Day will testify (threw up on return to the hotel at 6pm, passed out on the bed, woke four hours later to a text asking if I wanted anything bringing back from Nando's - I can tell you now that eating peri-peri chicken at that point made as much appeal as getting out of the car park at Worcester) and so to be front row in the Queen Anne Enclosure for the week was a real joy.
I'm not really here to tell you about all the bets we take week to week, more the stories and the people I meet along the way. That said, I will point out the more interesting/strange bets we’ve taken, and that starts right here, right now, with the Queen Anne.
There weren't any money-buyers around willing to take the 1-6 Baaeed but there were plenty of ladies wanting a fiver each-way on him. Now, as a frontman, it is not my job to advise, merely to smile, be polite and take the money, so I do not put anyone off their bets. We take six such wagers, all of whom are delighted to collect their one pound and four pence profit afterwards.
Business is steady rather than spectacular. We've one bloke betting rags, he picks up a decent chunk from his £20 each-way on Acklam Express at 150-1 in the Kings Stand, and immediately has fifty each-way of it back on Lusail in the St James's Palace, falling just a head away from the jackpot. Suffice to say, he's having a good day.
I'm working for the S&D firm all week, with Rob the boss and Jason running the book. Rob is on the rail with his partner Vanessa, and business there is about a third of what we are doing. Not even Rob's top hat and tails can pull the crowds in. The rest of Tuesday passes by without a whimper, business overall about half of what it ought to be.
We're staying in Windsor all week, with Rob renting a house for us, but we've come across the first problem. Jason and I are sharing a room for the first two days (Jason is then off to Newmarket to run the book there) but the room is snug, to say the least, and there's no way we can fit the second bed in without falling over each other. It's decided the best thing to do is for Jason to book himself in at Heathrow Premier Inn whilst he's down here, and I get the room to myself. That sounds terrific, but as Jason points out, he now gets a ready-made cooked breakfast every morning, whereas I've got cereal to look forward to. I'm not sure who's getting the best end of this deal, to be honest.
What I can tell you is the new black shoes I’ve bought for the week have made my heel bleed, so they get sacked off, and I return to my battered, but comfy, brown ones for the rest of the meeting. I really ought to have bedded them in. Let this be a lesson, kids.
Wednesday sees us betting in the same position as Tuesday, which I'm also grateful for, and it's a noticeably younger crowd. That means asking for quite a few IDs (they all have them, I'm delighted to say) and it also means a few lads, with a fair bit of ale down them in hot weather, milling around in front of us. They've all got massive cigars. Some of them are even lit. They move off and stand in front of the joint next to us, good news for us but bad news for Richard, running the Liles Bet pitch. We have a chat and decide it's going to kick off at some point, and I reckon it'll be after race five. It turns out I'm better at predicting fight times than I am at what's going to win on the day, as the oh-so-predictable scrap takes place after the Hunt Cup. The one security lady in the ring watches on, wisely not getting involved.
Business is again well down, about 40% on pre-Covid levels. We've two ladies betting with us that are very pleasant but haven't a clue what to back. Liam (my co-worker) and I give the best advice we can, and we somehow manage to fathom a winner or two for them. One of them has some fancy cocktail to drink, which has the colour and consistency of cough medicine. I ask her how much it set her back, only to find the answer is "nothing" as she's got hospitality this afternoon and work are paying! I ask if she could possibly bring Liam and me a cold drink down, as it's really warm. When she comes back with two pints for us five minutes later, they are greeted with a cheer as if the Queen herself has had a winner.
Thursday sees us betting next to Rob Waterhouse, the, ahem, colourful Aussie bookmaker. They're all in top hats, I'm in a pink shirt. Couldn't look more different if we tried. Ironically, the friendliest punter we have all day is an Aussie, who we know as Peter, as he's a friend of Liam and myself now. I ask him why he's not betting with his fellow countryman, and the reply I get is not suitable for a family column. If I left the expletives out, he said nothing at all. In fact, he makes his opinions loudly known, and I suspect that may well be for the benefit of next door as much as us.
Pete's an absolute gem, full of stories from around the world, where he's been racing, who he's met, the whole time littering his stories with ribald jokes, and he has us in stitches. This is what I love about this job: meeting new people, making new friends. You don't do that sitting in an office. He's here with an Aussie racing tour, and although he'll miss Friday, he tells us he will be back Saturday - in the Royal Enclosure. We look forward to his return in top hat and tails. More so than he does, actually.
There's two women betting with us, sisters from Hertfordshire, they tell us. One likes me (“aren’t you polite?”) so much after a few cocktails (and winners) that I get a marriage proposal. This is both lovely and unexpected, but I tell her I have to work tomorrow.
As it is with Baaeed, so it is with the long odds-on Reach For The Moon, as the ladies all come with their fiver each-ways for Frankie. I sometimes think Frankie could ride something called Neddy, fresh off the lunchtime shift from Blackpool beach at Ascot, and we’d still take money for him. This time, the ladies knew, as Frankie can only finish second, and the each-way backers have the last laugh.
We eat in a pub in nearby Datchet that night, but it's clear all is not well with Rob, who is complaining he's feeling poorly. He pushes his pie around with a fork for five minutes before announcing he's not hungry. This is almost unprecedented. Rob likes his food like, well, I like my food, so to see him leave a near-full plate is a rare sight. We quickly work out from his symptoms that he's also now got sunstroke. Back to the digs, get some water down him, and he's asleep within five minutes. Next morning he's up at half five, counting the money. He's clearly feeling better.
Friday. The temperature is rising, and so is business. It's clear within ten minutes of setting up that it's going to be a lot busier. Rob is now in charge of the book, with Jason off to Newmarket. The only consistent thing about Rob is his inconsistency. As Jason says before he leaves for Newmarket, "we're either going to break level on the week, or win thirty grand." I think that sums Rob up beautifully.
It is typical that, on what turns out to be our busiest day, the results go completely against us. The punters are smashing us to bits. After Inspiral wins the Coronation, I run out of money, and have to go and get another float. Surely we can get a result in the Sandringham? We cannot, and Heredia is another disaster. One guy, who started the day having £40 on the first winner, has kept playing it up and is drawing £700 here. £500 goes straight back on Changingoftheguard. Grand Alliance has him beat all ways up before he decides to go for a wander late on. It's a bloodbath. They're carrying some of the bookmakers out on stretchers. The first four bets for the last come in, and all four are on Latin Lover. I tell Liam to shorten the price. It makes no difference. I cannot get them off it, no matter how much we take and keep shortening it. The payout queue is long, very long. Not as long as it is at Waterhouse's though. "Is this the queue for the boat rides?" shouts one wag as he walks past.
We eat at the house that night, having ordered Dominos. Rob wolfs his down, clearly back on form, retires to the sofa, and starts watching poker videos (he plays, and very well, I’m told) on his phone. Vanessa looks at me. “Ten minutes” she says, and she’s wrong by around two minutes, as it takes just eight of them for Rob to fall asleep.
Finally, we reach Saturday. As things stand. we've got the expenses for the week and have today to make a profit. We're all absolutely knackered by this point, this week really does take it out of you, and you have to have one last push to get you over the line. Thankfully, it's a bit cooler today - indeed, there's a shower or two around in the morning, which is very welcome - and believe me, that really does help you when you're on your last legs.
After meeting an old friend in Lisa, who I used to work with back in Skegness during my Our Price days (yes, that far back) we get betting around 1pm. Again, this feels busier. It's been a week of two halves, the latter much more like pre-Covid times than the former.
"How are you pair of bloody degenerates doing?" Pete's back, in his best, and he tells us he's in a box with Gai Waterhouse, Rob’s wife. He's got the photos to prove it, too. "She's a lot nicer than he is." He has a bet, a fiver each-way Rohaan in the Wokingham. Not only a lovely bloke, but a decent bloke, is Peter. He picks up and says his final goodbyes. A genuinely sad moment, we've enjoyed his company.
And then, after a week of warm, sunny weather, comes the rain. It's absolutely ferocious. None of us were prepared for this, and none of us have a coat. Heather, Liam's girlfriend, is working with us and she has just her summer dress on. Liam, the git, refuses to give his jacket up for her and it's left to me to do the chivalrous thing. At least I have a long-sleeved shirt on, but it's not helping. The wind has whipped up and it's like working at Newmarket on Cesarewitch day. I'm absolutely soaked by the time the Ascot Ces, the Queen Alexandra, comes around. Someone has £200 ew Reshoun at 20s with me and with half a furlong to go, I'm thinking I might need to go and fetch some money. But no, here's Buick and Stratum to save the day.
The only good thing is, the rain abates just in time to pack up. We all get paid for the week - the Saturday results have been good, and I rather liked Naval Crown anyway, so Rob kept that for himself - and there are top-ups for all. We say our goodbyes, knowing that we'll all meet again at Southwell on Monday.