Roving Reports

Roving Reports: Silver or Gold at Newbury?

The light is just breaking through as I leave the house to get my lift for Newbury's two-day meeting, the highlight of which is the Coral Gold Cup, which has had a promotion, having formerly been the Ladbrokes Silver Trophy, writes David Massey. I'm being picked up at a local tennis club, where unsurprisingly, no-one is having a knock-up at 8am.

We are going very early as, being a Friday morning, there's a good chance we'll encounter motorway traffic. Needless to say we sail down without so much as a "queue ahead" sign and arrive considerably earlier than we planned. I could have had another hour in bed.

Newbury is an easy track to hump the gear on, as they let you park right next to the ring to unpack it all, and then it's a short pull to the ring itself. The joint set up, there's plenty of time for tea and a chat with a few of the other books.

The general consensus seems to be the train strikes, due Saturday, won't affect business that much. We will see. Chat turns to the World Cup, and Martyn Of Leicester reveals he's had a decent bet on Iran to beat the Welsh. It's currently 0-0, but the roar goes up late in the match and he's off and running even before we've had a race. Money without work, indeed.

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I'm working on the rails for the next couple of days and the first, and welcome, surprise is that all the rails joints have been cleaned. One of a bookmaker's expenses is paying for a rails/ring joint, if they hire one, and of course you've no choice if you're on the rails. However, the rails joints are often wet, or dirty, or both, and using them can be unpleasant. Not today though, they're in pristine condition. I hide my lunch in the hod.

We get betting an hour before the first, and needless to say, it's quiet. There's time to fetch more tea, although the day isn't cold. Far from it; in fact, the sun is out and actually providing some warmth. It's evens each of two my coat coming off before the first. Unheard of in late November, but we are where we are.

Finally some punters arrive. One thing about Newbury is the bet size is generally bigger here than at other tracks. Most punters have a tenner or a twenty on, even those that are fairly novice and just here for a day out. There's nobody wanting to back the odds-on favourite, Jet Powered, but we take plenty of each-way money for both Fuji Rocks and West Park Boy. That all stays with us as Half Dozen rolls in for third.

Frere D'Armes is a decent result in the second and we're off to a good start. Sadly, a fair chunk is given back by the books on Stay Away Fay, who looks beat at one point but as Russian Ruler hits the wall late, comes through to win.

A little known fact is that the only men you'll find in the toilets whilst the race is on are bookmakers and their workers. For most of us, it's the only chance we get if we need to relieve ourselves of the morning mugs of tea. There will be the usual chat about how it's all going, whether you're winning or losing, that sort of thing. The talk is of whether we can get Stage Star beat at prohibitive odds; it turns out we can.

One woman has had not one, but two, £10 bets on Sebastopol at 20-1 and is delighted to pick up her £420. She's done a lot better than her mate, who had a fiver on Stage Star, and now regrets not taking her friend's advice.

We also cop the lot on the forecast. When there's not many runners we can get the forecast on the board too, and Newbury is a place where punters do like having a forecast bet. More so than anywhere else, in my opinion. No idea why.

Having praised the track faithful for their general bet size, there's no big money around at all today, and the biggest bet I take is on the Long Distance Hurdle, a £200 wager on Champ, which never looks like getting beaten despite the fact it's only a neck at the line.

We get a result in the last, and with our digs for the night only ten minutes away, I'm in the shower by half four and having a nap fifteen minutes later. Lovely. Later, we find a pub to watch the first half of the England game, and it's so dull I'm thinking of starting a Mexican wave. There's a poster on the wall telling patrons that drug taking on the premises will not be tolerated, but I'm pretty sure the bloke in front of me has the jazz fags out. Food, and time for bed.

Saturday, and we're up and running an hour before the first. These early starts are not good for betting purposes; whereas a 2pm start in the summer means you've people around having a drink and a bet, in winter a 12.15 start means people just stay inside keeping warm until midday.

The no-sock brigade are still around but, much like Covid, not in the same numbers as two years ago. Perhaps, after months of wrecking their feet and having them stinking like squashed skunks, they've all realised that covering them up is the future. I bet their chiropodist bills were through the roof.

Anyway, I digress. Luccia gets the favourite backers off to a good start, despite a late drift, and one punter who has had £300 on with us at 6-5 has the lot back on Thyme Hill. That stays in the hod, as does all the Saturday money on Mortlach, for whom all the fivers and tenners are, forcing his price down from 16s to 9s at the off. If that had been a midweek race we wouldn't have taken a penny for Mortlach, but the out-for-the-weekend punters ensure he's well backed on days like this.

Zanza is a shocking result for most of the books, but they get it back with interest on Red Risk who, at 20-1, goes almost unbacked with us. I say almost - we've 2 x £10 bets to pay out, one from a woman who, she tells me, backs everything with "red" in the name. I'm doing it wrong, clearly; I give her a free pen for the advice.

Constitution Hill is winning the Fighting Fifth on the big screen. Round the back, by the paddock, Nicky is getting a round of applause and tips his hat, which looks like it's come direct from Vladivostok, to the crowd. Around the front, it barely creates a ripple.

First Street isn't actually a bad result for us as they all want Teddy Blue, who can manage no better than third. Then the big race, and I'm expecting big queues. They don't materialise. Trade on the not-the-Hennessy is 50% down on what it was last year. As it was earlier in the year at York, the train strikes have really had an effect on turnover.

The last bet I take is a debit card bet from a lad rushing up on the off to have £100 on Le Milos at 9-2. He's the first in the payout queue though. I've a monkey ready bundled up and give him that, and as I get his other £50 ready, he walks off waving the money at his mates. "Oi!", I shout after him, holding his other fifty quid, "is this my Christmas tip?"

His mates are rightly laughing at him. It's a good job I'm honest. Sheepishly he makes his way back through the crowd for his bullseye.

And, of course, as it should be, Amarillo Sky sends the punters home happy as a well-backed 11-8 jolly in the last. It's starting to rain, and it's almost dark. Time to go home, I reckon...

- DM

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