By Tony Stafford
Do you know why bookmakers have money? I’ll give you two good reasons, both of which are highly topical.
Reason one. We know nothing about cycling, especially the BBC’s Sports Editor David Bond, so annoyed by the fact that Mark Cavendish had failed to deliver the BBC-expected and indeed promised gold medal in the Olympics road race that he questioned the greatest sprinter’s preparedness.
“Don’t you know anything about cycling?" snapped an exhausted Mark. Of course he did, he’s the BBC. Just as someone will be “doing” the taekwondo, someone else the beach volleyball, someone who saw the original Robin Hood and has a disc of the William Tell Overture will talk with great authority about archery at Lords.
In true “Trainspotting” Danny Boyle tradition, I’m sure that Dizzee Rascal will have a mate who sang a Gangsta Rap song who will volunteer to do the pistol shooting at Bisley – sorry it’s not there but at some army facility and I suppose they might not let him in.
I understand that after her helicoptering in with James Bond at the Opening Ceremony, the Queen offered to do the beach volleyball, but as there was no room for her to sit on her horse at Horseguards throughout the week of 14-hour daily sessions, the BBC had to put up with some pathetic idiot who could foam at the mouth at his “ill-fortune at getting this bikini-laden gig.”
Is it me or are the BBC stuck in the 1990’s? Having spent the previous three weeks all but glued to Eurosport’s informative Tour de France coverage, it was brilliant watching the road race from Ascot via BBC.
No volume of course, just a picture of two blokes trying to slow down enough for the second group to catch them, clearly with no luck, while the main group of 100-plus toiled just short of a minute behind.
There was very little graphics indication of what that meant. My mate was watching with me and when it said there was 1.6 kilometres to go and the gap was 50 seconds, he thought it might still be doable. “They’re going at around 50 kilometres an hour, so they need the Mall to be about 20 kilometres long,” I told him. It wasn’t and they didn’t.
David Bond did get it right, though. Cavendish wasn’t prepared for nine goes up Box Hill, and unlike the swimmers, that’s it for him for four more years. Those fish people have seven or eight chances to become the “greatest Olympian of all time”.
When you think of it, 4-5 Cavendish in a 150-strong field must rank as the best-value (for bookmakers) bet of all time. I thought he was a certainty, too, but then I truly do know nothing about cycling. Hope Sir Chris Foy has his lycra in good shape.
Why do bookies have money, two? Well, there was a system once where horse racing, dogs and 49’s were thought sufficient for the bookmakers to make a living. SIS fleeced them pretty well, but they did how they did. Then along came fake racing but the take up even by the biggest of us mugs was sketchy. It was not until legalised thieving came along, sorry AWP’s – All Will be Penniless – machines and the bookies’ salvation was assured.
So the machines were fully occupied, punters doing everything short of stabbing each other, to secure their turn while the racing, big days apart, became almost a side show in some shops.
I must declare an interest. Shortly after my first 30-odd year marriage finally ended, my son urged me to go along to GA, and in true gamblers anonymous spirit, I won’t say which one.
In the end I attended for six months, every Monday night, not even missing when Arsenal’s matches coincided, and I must say it cured me. I confess that the cure – like alcoholics a gambler is never truly cured – when it came a few years later, had a fair bit to do with the fact that my new wife’s ever- increasing understanding of English helped decipher the multiple references to Betfair on my grudgingly-conceded computer bank account, brought a new crisis that could not be entertained.
But the cure, even more than the lure, was mostly enforced by the sight of so many fellow sufferers. A few punted away their own and family members’ money. One poor woman lost everything including the firm’s money – they didn’t prosecute – on the bingo, but most of them simply had the lemming-induced susceptibility to the fruit machine.
Now there’s a call by parliament for more machines to be allowed. By definition, there’s only a finite amount of money for betting – once the people’s employers wise up to the disappearance of their petty cash – so racing and therefore prize money will continue to get a smaller share. Parliament it seems doesn’t care about racing.
Caring seems not to be the prime quality in the make-up of Britain’s richest brothers, the Reubens, who a few months after their completion of the buy-out of Arena, are happily set on closing Hereford, if they can’t have a longer (than the present 17 years) lease and Folkestone, if they can’t build on it.
I’d tell them to stick it, and if I were the BHA, I’d also question the brothers’ right to switch fixtures to other tracks. Whether it could be sustained in land management terms or not – too much grass racing, too much wear and tear - I’d say that the courses have the fixtures, on licence from the BHA, and these cannot be switched. If they want them, they can bid for them at a suitable auction in opposition with all the other tracks.
I went to one of the now Reuben-owned tracks eight days ago. Lingfield’s night meeting was staged in brilliant sunshine, and I understood there were 7,000 people there. I gave up after queuing half an hour for the over-priced but always nice fish and chips, in favour of a shorter queue at the much cheaper fish bar – no longer Dave Dove – in the centre of the village. Just as good, too.
The night’s races carried total winners’ prize money of £16,000, so perhaps £27,000 all round. I reckon Lingfield took at least £50,000 at the bars, never mind the admission money. Many races at the group’s tracks offer £1,700 first prizes. No wonder the brothers need to watch the margins. I think they should sell them all off for housing, after all, the country is getting over-crowded and needs all the accommodation it can get. By the way, how much are the flats at the Olympic village going for? I wouldn’t mind moving a little nearer to Westfield Stratford!