Tag Archive for: David Massey

Roving Reports: Chasing the Easter Money

It’s a busy time for bookmakers, is Easter, with a whole raft of meetings both Flat and Jumps to attend, although the early news on Saturday is not great, writes David Massey. Not only has Musselburgh bitten the dust after an early morning deluge, but for the Midlands bookmakers, the point-to-point at Sandon, near Stafford, has also been called off. That’s usually a really well-attended event, and will be a big miss for them. There will be no chance to see Eddie Redmayne, and his dogs, there this year. 

This matters not to us, as we’re off to Haydock for their family fun day. The weather looks mixed, to say the least, and it’s grey and damp as we set off. By the time we get there, however, the sun is trying to break through and things look brighter, literally. 

Other meetings being off means more bookmakers than there were last year at Haydock; four more, in fact, and this means betting on two lines rather than the one we were in last year. (The line takes 17 bookmakers.) When all the punters are in front of you, business is better; if you’re on the front line, you run the risk of a bookmaker betting behind you, and taking a share of your business. Such is the bookmaking life. 

We know what today will be like - all small money, lots of bets on “named” horses (it cannot be coincidence that one of the best backed horses all day with us is called Holly) and now the sun is fully out, we should have a decent day. 

Quiet to get going, as ever, and putting the forecast up for the four-runner first event is a waste of time. Nobody has a clue what it is, and nobody asks. I’d have been better putting the weather forecast up. It might have been more informative. 

As stated, the aforementioned Holly is an each-way disaster in the second race for us, and with the favourite, Brentford Hope, winning it’s a losing race. Secret Trix is much better in the next, but there’s a dinosaur show on for the kids, and business isn’t as strong. 

There are often dinosaurs in the betting ring - most of them will take your bets with a smile - but these two are bigger than the norm. One is a T-Rex and the other one isn’t. Some of the younger kids find it all a bit much. If you’ve bought “crying children” at 15 at the start of the day, go collect. 

Numitor is actually an okay result but Daly Tiger finishing third knocks a fair bit of the place money out. I go to get the coffees and offer up a loyalty card. Despite buying three drinks, it’s only stamped once. “One stamp per visit”, we are told. I shake my head. Come racing. 

Duke Of Deception is a good result but the enormous gamble on One Big Bang is joined in by a fair proportion of the crowd, and that’s not. Said crowd ebbs away pretty quickly after the sixth, with tired and emotional children in tow, carrying their dinosaur merchandise. Elleon wins the last, a good result, and it’s time to go home, although somehow I manage to join the wrong lane at the Haydock Island roundabout and end up taking a three-mile detour to get myself on the M6. 

Sunday sees me at Southwell, and in truth there’s little to say. Southwell are only allowing 100 public in, on top of owners, trainers and annual members, with the downstairs grandstand still out of operation. There’s only three bookmakers in the ring, and one on the rail, and whilst there’s enough business for the four, there’s only just enough. It’s families again, although with a cold, grey day, most are in the warmth upstairs, bar one family determined to stick it out on a couple of picnic tables. There’s an ice-cream van on the premises, but you wouldn’t want a share in it today. Results are irrelevant with the business - at least for four races - when suddenly a big punter appears, wanting a grand each-way Squeaker. He gets laid, and the business, rather than going back to the machine, is shared around the books. Squeaker looks beat at halfway but rattles home and is beaten under a length. He’s copped the each-way money for him, at least. He doesn’t bet the next but smashes into Brother Dave in the penultimate, and when that cops, it looks bleak. We get a bit back off him in the last but we’ve stood all day for very little. And it’s freezing. 

On to Huntingdon on Monday. This is more like it. My first McDonalds of any description for 41 days (not that I’m counting, you never do when you’re on a diet, do you?) is a Bacon Roll and Hash Brown as we make our way down the A14. God, I’d forgotten how good a bacon roll tastes. Everyone knows calories don’t count on Bank Holidays. Just for once, the Shredded Wheat can be passed over. 

After a rainy start, the sun really does come shining through - I contemplated sun cream at one point, no, honestly - and a good crowd are still piling in as the first goes off. If the money was small at Haydock, it’s positively minute here, with about 50% of the bets either £2 win or £1 e/w. Families having five or six bets, novices placing their first ever bets, mums taking advice from their kids, they’re all here today. Two families, from Cambridge, apparently remember my face from last year and have their knicker each-way bets with me all day. “You were very polite”, they tell me. That’s the game on these days - price is irrelevant, customer service everything. This is proven by the very first bet I take - £10 on Annie Day at 10-1 in the first race, when next door to me is 11s. Smile, be nice, have a joke. It works. 

However, I’ve got a problem. Two, to be precise. Because the firm have no fewer then seven pitches running between Huntingdon and the other half of the crew at Fakenham, it means that bits of kit that wouldn’t normally be used are wheeled out today. The laptop I’m using was the very one that Noah used to count the animals onto the Ark two-by-two with. The light board is old too, and for some reason, the bottom half of it isn’t working, which is far from ideal. The laptop crashes, at various inconvenient points throughout the afternoon, no fewer than eight times, and each time I have to restart everything. At the end of the day, I reckon that’s probably cost me a monkey’s worth of business. The temptation to launch the damned thing into the bin at close of play is great, but it’s not my equipment...

This is doubly frustrating with results as good as they are: not a winning favourite in sight until the last two races, by which time business has notably dropped off anyway, with many families off home after the sixth. We’ve won and won well on the day, and although the urge to double-dip at Maccy D’s on the way home is great, I resist. Just. 

And so finally, to Pontefract. I’m not working, just a day out. It normally takes me an hour and 10 minutes from my house to get to the track, so I leave in good time. Or so I thought. 

I drive into the track as they are going into the stalls for the first. The M1 was bad, the A1 worse, and finally Pontefract town centre itself appeared to be at a standstill. The nearer I got to the track, the further away I got, time wise, according to Google Maps. That’s never a good thing. So as you can imagine, I’ve fallen out with myself before I’m even parked up, and when the only parking space left appears to be in the middle of a lake of a puddle, the appeal of turning the car around and going home is strong. 

But I'm glad I didn’t, as it was quite an enjoyable day overall, bumping into a few old friends, backing a winner, then giving most of it back, and probably seeing a future winner in Vallamorey. However, if anyone wants to pop round and clean my car in readiness for Aintree next week (when it’ll DEFINITELY get dirty again) then don’t let me stop you...

- DM

Roving Reports: Not Long Now

A week today (or tomorrow, if our esteemed editor publishes on Monday) we’ll all be like kids at Christmas as the Cheltenham Festival begins, writes David Massey. Money in our pockets and hope in our hearts, we’ll attack the week as if it’s the only show in town and racing doesn’t exist for the other fifty-one weeks of the year, only to watch those ante-post dockets go up in flames one-by-one as something you hadn’t even considered goes sailing by your good thing at the top of the hill, leaving yours eating trail dust. 

Not that there’ll be much dust around, with the forecast going no better than soft and, depending on which long-range weather forecast you’re looking at, it’s either going to tip down during the Festival, or it’ll be as dry as a bone, cold, with minus temperatures at night. I like weather forecasters, as they make us racing tipsters look like we’re on solid ground with their weekly absolute guess-ups. Maybe I’ll have a go at the weather next week and Sarah Keith-Lucas can try and find the winner of the Ultima, see how she likes those apples. 

Anyway, I have been around and about for the last couple of weeks, with work trips to Market Rasen and Doncaster with the Paul Johnson firm, Southwell for their Winter Derby day with S&D Bets, and Hereford and Newbury with MT Racing. That was my yearly outing to Hereford: with two members of the firm sunning themselves in Barbados it means I get the call up. Hereford, much like Fakenham and Great Yarmouth, is three-and-a-half hours from anywhere in the United Kingdom, and whilst a lot of the rain has dissipated from north of the Midlands, it’s clear from the drive down that they’re still struggling around Hereford and Worcestershire. Fields turned into duckponds, and the ones surrounding Hereford can’t be seen for floodwater. I’m amazed it was even on. Fair play to the groundstaff. 

There are no fewer than 15 bookmakers turning up for what is, after all, just a normal weekend meeting but the crowd is a good one and there’s enough business for all. I’d forgotten how much the people of Hereford love a forecast - I stuck it up on the lightboard for the first race, a four-runner handicap chase, and I don’t take much less on the forecast than I do on the actual race itself. Compare that to Newbury last Saturday where I put the forecast up for the opener and didn’t take so much as a washer on it. Strange. 

The race is off, and there’s early drama with a faller which brings another down. Phil (Cashmore Racing) three doors down from me is scratching his head. “How has this happened?” he bemoans. “I was against Burrows Park and that’s been brought down, so I’m going to win on the race. But look at this,” he says, pointing to his forecast book. “I’m going to lose all that whatever happens, the only forecasts I’ve laid are the two left standing!” Sometimes, in this game, you can be right, and still not get paid. 

Five out of seven favourites win on the afternoon, and one of the other winners, Bertie B, is 12s into 7s, so you really don’t need me to tell you how the afternoon went for the majority of the books. 

Southwell on Winter Derby day saw a hundred members of the public let in for the first time since it (almost) went behind closed doors after the Storm Babet floods last year. There’s still reduced facilities at Southwell, with the downstairs grandstand out of action (and will be for a while yet) but tickets went quickly enough, I’m told, and it is nice to have a bit more of an atmosphere about the place. The winter nights are bad enough even when things are “normal”, for want of a better word, but with only owners and trainers there over the winter, what tends to happen is there’s a few racing people at the start of the meeting but they drift away once their horse has run. By the time you get to the last two races you’ve got a few annual members left, and maybe twenty others. If an owner has a monkey on, you take the bet, shut your eyes and hope. 

The hundred that did turn up were mostly families with children, looking to enjoy an afternoon’s racing and a bit of fresh air. As such, small money, but enough of it around to make a decent book. Results were mixed, a few jollies going in but the worst result for many was Rose’aid finishing third at 125-1 in one of the maidens. Head in hands stuff for the Stevie Stretch firm, who laid £50 ew to one punter and a tenner each-way to another. Oof. 

Newbury on Saturday saw another of the Invades student days. Before we all start slagging it off again, I’ve got some positive words to say about these days now. The students themselves, as they go to more and more of these racecourse days, are learning what it’s all about and as such, behave themselves very well, in the main, and now know how to place a bet. Yes, it’s almost guaranteed they’ll want £2.50ew on a debit card but so be it, if that’s how it’s going to be. It’s harder work but they know what they’re doing now, and have become easier to process - if you'll excuse the phrase - when placing their wagers. 

As David Johnson, from the Paul Johnson firm, rightly pointed out to me, there have been 11,000 students at Doncaster over this weekend, 6,000 on the Saturday and 5,000 on the Sunday. If we can get a 10% retention rate on those students that's 1,100 racing fans you’ve got, hopefully for life. David is an angry middle-aged man these days - he gets more like Michael Douglas in Falling Down with every passing month - but he comes out with the odd pearl of wisdom every now and then, and he’s spot on here. 

Anyway, it’s all well and good me saying all this as I get the luxury of the rails at Newbury and don’t have to deal with the students, all of whom are behind me in the Dubai Millennium hall! After the usual quiet start on the first (see earlier comment about the forecast, a waste of time) it picks up nicely, and there are a few decent bets flying about. Sadly one of them is on the winner, Heltenham, with one punter having £100 on, but it’s a small winning race all the same. 

Bucephalus is almost a skinner, with most punters avoiding it as they can’t pronounce it, and we go the right way with Spring Note too. I watch the race with one of the big firms who have laid a £6000-£4000 Brentford Hope. Two out, they’ve done their money but a mistake at the last gets him off the bridle, and he finds less than I do having climbed four flights of stairs. Easy game...

I always joke to one customer that they are my “customer of the day” and today that’s Belinda, who has a colourful bee brooch on her coat (“it’s my nickname”, I am informed) and is having £2.50 each-way on two horses in every race. So far she’s backed Highland Hunter, Heltenham, and is collecting again after Knowhentoholdem wins the fifth race. She puts her bets on for the next, not only for herself but her aunty and best friend, neither of whom can be bothered to put their own bets on, it seems. “Ooh, I’ve got a £20 note here!” she exclaims, pulling one out of her coat pocket. I jokingly remind her it’s the one I gave her earlier, when Heltenham had won. “Oh yeah, I backed that one too, didn’t I?” she laughs. She goes on to back another winner and almost cops again in the last, but Geturguccion is just touched off by Jasmine Bliss, who went down to post like she was on wheels, and carried my tenner. Next door to me, Norman Barnes also see it go down well and immediately duck it, and push the second favourite out instead. There are bookmakers that still bet to opinion, rather than what the machine tells them - you’ve just got to find them to get the value. 

They knew. Jasmine Bliss wins and sends us, and punters, home happy. 

I’ll be at Sandown with MT on Saturday and quite possibly Warwick Sunday, but then, let the fun begin. 

See you all at Cheltenham! Best of luck to us all, we’ll need it! 

- DM

Roving Reports: “Hey! Student”

If you’re wondering why “Hey! Student” is the title of my latest meanderings, well, two reasons, the first of which is obvious enough, writes David Massey. What follows is about Haydock’s Student Day, which took place at the weekend, and for which I was working in the ring; and secondly, I’ve always wanted to crowbar a The Fall song into the title of one of my pieces. For those that care, which I am aware is very few of you, it was originally called “Hey! Fascist” but rebadged once Mark E Smith realised he disliked students more. 

There’s barely a workman alive that won’t have done a racecourse Student Day at some point. They tend to vary from course to course, with some allowing mingling with the crowd to those - like Haydock’s - where the students are penned in to their own area, presumably as much for the safety of the annual members who, it is safe to say, would have limited knowledge of the dubstep classics that the DJ bangs out between races. 

The key piece of kit today is the card machine. If you haven’t got a working card machine, prepare to have a very quiet afternoon. On a normal, civilian, raceday the split of the take would be around 85% cash, 15% on the debit card on average. On a student day, you can pretty much reverse that. The younger generation do not believe in “cash is king”, instead “tap ‘n’ go” is very much the phrase that pays. 

The weather forecast is playing a part, too. Most are suggesting some rain after 4pm, which will mean the last two races could be a bit of a washout. If it’s no worse than that, then we can just about live with it. If it comes earlier, that could badly affect business.

Which would be a shame, as it’s a card of two halves - the first four races, small fields with some odds-on chances, but bigger fields for the handicaps in the second half which give you a chance of taking better money and getting a result. 

An early-ish start of 8.15 (the nights are starting to get longer, aren’t they?) and the fact I’m now on a diet (lousy high cholesterol) mean that the McD’s breakfast is foregone in favour of two Shredded Wheat and some toast. For snacks later in the day; one apple, one orange, and one Tunnocks chocolate wafer, my treat for the day. Welcome to my new, joyless, world of food. 

It’s all quiet on the Preston front when we get there, with the first of the coaches not due until around 11.30, but that gives us plenty of time to get the first pitch up (we’re running two, I’m single-manning the second one) and make sure the card machine is in working order. It is. We get going and straight away a few lads want a bet. In the meantime I’m putting the second pitch up and once I’m up and running, there’s a steady trickle of lads and lasses having a flutter. 

Unsurprisingly, quite a few need a crash course in how to place a wager, and I’m happy to oblige. A bit of a chit-chat with a few reveal many of them are from the Manchester universities, which is where my kids are. (Neither are here.) When I tell them my daughter is also at Manchester Met, one of them asks what halls she’s in. I honestly haven’t a clue. I think about sending my daughter a text to ask but as any of you out there with a teenage daughter knows, if you send them a text, you’ll get a reply around four days later. If you’re lucky. To be fair to my daughter she replies to my query within five hours, which in her world is almost instantaneous. 

One lad, who appears to have been on the ale already, tells me he has to have a tenner on You Wear It Well as “it’s his cousin’s horse.” Now, I’m not saying his cousin isn’t Sir Chips Keswick, but… well, he isn’t. Later, the same lad will perform a quite incredible acrobatic feat as he careers down the steps in the stand, loses his balance, somehow jumps down three steps in one go, not spill a drop of his beer as he regains his balance and runs off in the direction of the burger van. 

I take 40 bets on the first race for the grand sum of £300. You can work out the average bet size yourself. Stainsby Girl is actually popular with those having their fivers on and gets an enormous roar as she wins. Because they’re all betting on cards but getting paid in cash means you need plenty of money on a day like this, too. 

After the first it busies up and there are queues waiting to get on. Almost every bet I take is either a fiver win or fifty bob each way, and whilst the processing time for each punter is a bit longer than normal, there are no complaints and the banter is good-natured. In fact, perhaps to my surprise, I’m quite enjoying the day, despite some terrible dance music between races. 

And what’s this? “£150 win Salver, please.” Cash, as well. Where’s he come from? “He can’t lose!” he tells me. I’m rather fretting that whether Salver wins or not will determine if the lad can eat properly next week, or if he’ll be living off 20p packs of noodles for the foreseeable. I needn’t have worried, as Salver does indeed win with a bit in hand, and the £50 profit he picks up will buy another round or two. He even offers to buy me one. What a lovely lad. 

Butch is very popular in the next. One young lady comes waving her ticket at me, proclaiming “I’ve won, I’ve won!” When I point out to her that they have another circuit to go, her mates rightly laugh at her, and she sheepishly wanders back to the stands. 

And then, disaster. The weather forecast is wrong. The rain arrives a good hour earlier than predicted, and the waterproofs are reached for. It’s such a shame, as the afternoon was building up quite nicely, with the better races to come. It quickly turns to heavy rain and the umbrella goes up. Only thing is, the firm have packed the wrong umbrella. Instead of the big mush, I’ve got the tiny rails umbrella. I might as well stand on the joint with a colander on my head. I have to cover everything, laptop, printer, card machine, money, as the rain comes in sideways. It kills business stone dead. 

I’m now taking half of what I was, and with each race it gets less and less. Worse, the card machine packs up. This is game over. By the time we get to the seventh, the boss tells me to pack up, as it’s pointless carrying on. Everything is soaked, and that includes my clothes, as the waterproofs are now starting to leak too. I pack the kit away, and go and help out on the main pitch for the last race. Behind us, one bookmaker, also packing away, drops the lightboard on the floor as he tries to pack it away. It’s so wet it slipped out of his hands, and crashes to the floor. That could be a very expensive mishap, as a new board will cost him well over a grand - even the cheap ones - if it’s not working. 

By the time we get in the car, at half five, there’s barely a word being said as we’re all so knackered, tired and wet through. It hasn’t stopped the students partying - after the last the music cranks up another five notches, and I offer the paracetamol around. 

A genuine shame that what was promising to be a good day for everyone has fizzled out. And it isn’t as if I’ve anything nice for tea to look forward to. Broccoli, anyone?

- DM

Roving Reports: “Are you sure?”

It’s 6.50am on Saturday morning, and the alarm has just bleeped its way through the first of three wake-up calls (copyright D. Thompson), writes David Massey. The other two, which will come at 6.55 and 7am, signify the start of what has become known among jumps fans as Trials Day, but the good lady is having her own trials at the moment, torn between wanting to come for a day at the races with me, and the immediate warmth and comfort of a lie-in. 

“Eh, what, errrr, what?” is the reply I get when I ask if she’s tagging along. Unsure of whether this is a yes, no or maybe, I give her another five minutes to make up her mind before she decides that yes, she’s coming along for the entertainment. I know this means I’ll be driving home tonight in silence, as her falling asleep on the way home is now the nap of the day. Quite literally. 

We’re out of the house for eight, as I have to be there for around ten due to working on the rails today. It’s the usual stop-off at the Maccies two miles from our house for breakfast and it’s the usual muck-up with the order too, as somehow they manage to put cheese on both of our bacon rolls. Now I like cheese, and I like bacon, a lot, but just not together. One of these times, they’ll get the order right. (Wrong coffees last time. More trials…) 

So, after an early start and the wrong food order, you can imagine the good lady is already in a cracking mood. I turn the radio up, which seems like a good idea. 

Driving down, we can see how the floods have receded around the Worcester area. Last time we drove this way the Avon had flooded badly, and the fields were lakes, but most of it, all bar a bit just before Strensham where there was still some low-lying water, has disappeared. Amazing how quick the ground has recovered. 

The morning call comes in from my writing colleague Rory Delargy as I drive down. Rory, as many of you will know, is working in Riyadh half the time at present. At the weekend he flies into Dublin to do the PP Podcast on a Monday with Ruby Walsh before flying back. He’s spent more miles in the air than your average Arctic Tern this winter. 

He’s also in the bad books of the good lady after forgetting the time difference between Riyadh and Nottingham the other morning, and ringing me at precisely 5.56am. I know this, because the good lady looked at her alarm clock before asking the not unreasonable question “who the f**k is ringing you at 5.56am?” I saw it was Rory, immediately realised what he’d done, and declined the call. He called back at 5.58am, which only made a bad situation worse.  

We make good time and are there for just before ten, which means I get time to say a few hellos to some fellow press and photographers. “Going to Yarmouth this year?” asks one of the snappers. He knows full well I’m not, which is why he keeps asking every time he sees me. I tell him I’m having a badge made that says “NOT GOING TO YARMOUTH” that I can point to every time he asks me. 

Anyway, the pick is made at 10.30 and I’m stood next to Pinno, so it’ll be an afternoon of him asking me questions that all end in the words “Davey Boy.” “Can we get this jolly beat, Davey Boy?” is the first of them. He’s referring to Burdett Road, who was the favourite when he asked, but they flip-flop and Sir Gino then heads the market. It’s normally slow to get going but not today: it’s lively out there, and in comes a grand on Burdett Road at 11-8. That’s followed by a £200 on Sir Gino, and clearly this is a race that’s divided opinion. As it should! We go the right way with Sir Gino and we’re off to a good start. 

The next, though, is not so good. We go 9-2 Ginny’s Destiny near the off, having not taken much for it, and I’m filled in good and proper. Bets are flying in at me, 40s and 50s, a 200 win and a 400 win. I can just about keep up. Two out I think we’ve a chance with Es Perfecto, but by the time the last comes around, it’s game over. A 3k+ payout, which not only hits your float hard, but the line to get paid out is long, and doesn’t help my business for the next. 

Here’s Tracy, one of my favourite punters. A Cheltenham member, she has a fiver on every race and if you followed her blind, you’d not go far wrong. Always cheery and smiling, she has a fiver on Ga Law for the next. A minute later, I take a 300ew at 7s the same horse and when that romps home, that’s my float done. I go and ask the boss for more money. “Try to stop laying winners, that might help.” I’ll write that down, might come in handy. 

Capodanno is a better result for us and stops the rot, but now it’s Jonbon time. I’m betting with and without the jolly, and there’s plenty want to back Nube Negra without the favourite at 4-1. I do NOT take an each-way bet on Jonbon - a first - but one lady wants £2 on him just so she can say she backed a winner. I don’t need to tell you how that went. 

I have a group of young lads and lasses not far in front of me at the off. Whilst Jonbon runs, they’re all taking Insta photos of one another with the track behind them. None of them has any interest in what's going on. When Jonbon clouts four out and raises a big “wooooh” from the crowd, it barely registers with them. Does it depress me? I’m afraid it does. 

Elixir De Nutz is all but a skinner. One person has had a tenner with me, and that’s it. When he picks his money up and informs me he actually backed the wrong horse… I tell him that, as he’s told me this information, I get to keep the winnings. For a split second I think he believed me. 

The flip side of a skinner, particularly when you’ve another odds-on jolly in the next, is that it kills business off. We’re all stood around looking at one another for much of the next half-hour. I go off to fetch some chocolate which I intend sharing with Joanne, three doors down from me, working for Ken Howells. We often share biscuits and cakes and the like and when I return, she’s deep in thought counting money. I just stand there, holding the Mars Bar, and she bursts out laughing. “What are you laughing at?” I ask. “Because I know what’s coming, and I’m trying to concentrate!” she says, and I split the Mars in half. She doesn’t refuse. 

The crowd want Paisley Park to win, of course they do, and he nearly gets up in the Cleeve. We’re glad he didn’t, but I think we’re the only ones that are. That’s saved another long payout queue. Before the last I see my good friend and fellow Derby County supporter James, who informs me the Rams are one down. And his punting has gone badly. I also know he’s all-in on the Ravens to win the Superbowl. I’m guessing he’s had better weekends. Always tomorrow. 

Gidleigh Park is actually a fair result in the last. Business picked up for it but they all wanted Antrim Coast and Johnnywho, both of whom are well beat. 

And finally, the nap gets beat, as the good lady remains wide awake for the whole of the car journey home. Derby turn it around to win 2-1. And I've backed the first winner at Kempton. The journey home always seems shorter when you’ve had a winner. Scientific fact. 

Next stop, well, maybe Sandown this weekend. See you there. Probably. 

- DM

Roving Reports: A Boxing Day Miracle

The first piece of good news I receive regarding the working day is the start time for my pick-up from Leicester, writes David Massey. I’ve heard some horror stories from lads that have worked Boxing Day at Kempton previously. Half-five starts to miss the traffic seemed almost to be the norm, so I’m delighted when I’m told it’ll be a 7.30 collection. That still means getting up at 6.20 for a quick shower and out, but that almost feels like a lie-in given what I was expecting. 

However, I’m about to make my first and second mistakes of the day. As I need petrol, I’ve also decided to pick myself up a McD’s breakfast from the restaurant next door to the pumps, and kill two birds with one stone. As it turns out, the two turtle doves remain untouched by shot, as not only is the petrol station still closed, so’s my breakfast. Nothing’s open until 8am. I do at least fill up at a nearby Shell and grab two bars of chocolate, which is entirely within the Breakfast Rules Of Christmas Week. 

My lift is waiting as I pull into the car park. From here it should be about two hours to Kempton, with barely a car on the road. If there’s two days when, as a workman, I love traveling, it’s Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. It’s a joy to go to places like Cheltenham and Fakenham when the roads are as clear as a bell. 

Having said that, I’m amazed how many cars we see on the hard shoulder of the M1. “They’ve all run out of petrol”, says Irish Joe, in the car with us for a lift. He might have a point. I can’t believe they’ve all broken down, but, like me, I can believe they couldn’t find a petrol station early in the morning and haven’t made it to one before the juice has run dry. Careless, lads. 

We get to Kempton around 9.40am and set the two joints up. The pick isn’t for another 90 minutes, so I’ve time to wander off to find a tea and a bacon roll from somewhere. There are plenty of familiar faces to chat to, and I’m delighted to bump into James Millman, who is his usual effervescent self. I like James a lot, not least because he puts plenty of homework into his selections when he’s on the telly; and if you ask him about one from the yard you’ll always get a straight answer. I wish him well for the day, but not before I tell him Hewick will win the King George. 

It’s pick time and once we’re settled up, we get up and running. I have to say the crowd does not look huge, but to be fair plenty are still coming in, so there’s reason to be optimistic. As we’re in the Silver Ring, we aren’t expecting big bets, but it isn’t long before the other pitch takes a £100 each-way on Russian Ruler at 4s. 

It’s slow to get going on our pitch, mind, only picking up in the half-hour before the race. As tends to be the case on days like this, the general public latch on to the same couple of horses in each race; this is both good and bad: good because the book makes itself, bad because it can mean you’ve got a lop-sided look to things. 

Anyway, Blow Your Wad is no good to us in the first but on the plus side, punters now have money to play with. We get betting on the Kauto Star but here’s a problem already - my keyboard has packed up. I can’t take a bet. The last thing you need on a day like this is technical issues. Poor Morley is flat out trying to pay out and take bets whilst I reset everything to try and get it working. Thankfully, after a couple of failed attempts, on the third go it starts working again. 

Hermes Allen is backed almost to the exclusion of everything else. One punter does have £120 on impressive winner Il Est Francais at 8-5 (it saves the change) but him aside, it’s a one-sided book. 

I’m a lovely, patient soul, as you know, but I have to say this - don’t come to me asking “how does this all work, I’ve never placed a bet before” when there’s a queue of 25 behind you and you want a pound on something. Please ask when it’s quieter, such as when I’ve gone home. (I’ll add she also wanted to pay on her card.) 

Constitution Hill time. The inevitable £2.50ew bet comes in early on, as does someone having a tenner win. Those are the only two bets we will take on him, although word reaches us of someone having £100ew at 1-10 in Tatts. A profit of £12.50. You may scoff, but that’s an interest rate you’ll not get at Barclays. The Hill doesn’t come out of first gear, never mind second. Surely they are playing for second come March. Incidentally, as he coasted past the post in front, there were one or two boos among the crowd. Is that where we are now? We boo short-priced top-class horses for winning easily? Hardly his fault it wasn’t much of a race. 

Big race time, and everyone’s having a bet. But hang on - the keyboard’s knackered again. Not now, keyboard. I’ve no time to repair - it just gets binned off and we do the best we can. They want Bravemansgame, which is perhaps not a surprise. Plenty of £20 and £40 bets come for him and he’s our loser. Shishkin is second worst. I’m just praying he jumps off, as the last thing I need to be doing is explaining to novice punters they won’t get their money back if he comes under orders and digs in again. 

There’s time for a bit of food and a drink as the race progresses, but as they go past us with a lap to go, I remark to Tim, who I’m working with, that my money on Hewick is done. He looks to be going nowhere. Shishkin appears to have matters in hand but somehow Nico is dislodged from the saddle after two out. The crowd roar as Bravemansgame is left in front but a riderless Shiskin gets in his way, and it looks like a fight between him and Allaho for victory. But wait! Who is this steaming down the outside?! Hewick, who couldn’t keep up for two miles and six furlongs of this contest, has hit top gear and sails past them on the run-in! “Never in doubt!” shouts Tim, and the pair of us burst out laughing. What a result, and a short payout queue to boot!

It’s a good job that three of the front four in the market fill the places in the maiden hurdle, as all the punters wanted was fivers and tenners each-way on all the rags. Had Sea Invasion - a horse I like a lot, by the way - got third rather than fourth, it might well have been a losing race. But it’s fine, no damage done and Mahon’s Glory is a cracking result in the last. 

We pack the gear up, get paid and all we need to do now is get out of the car park. There are queues of cars everywhere, none of them going anywhere very quickly. Pick a line, join it, and hope it moves. Ours does after about fifteen minutes and we’re out and back on the M3 in twenty. Back to Leicester for half six and home for 7.15. My first Boxing Day at Kempton is done. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m knackered. Just another year until we do it all again!

Happy New Year everyone! 

Roving Report: It’s beginning to look a lot like Fakers

December’s a quiet time, isn’t it? Not a lot going on, not much to do, writes David Massey. Not from a racing point of view, anyway. The days are short, which means earlier start times, which means getting up at the crack of dawn to get there, which means an early night the evening before, and usually abstaining from the bottles and bottles of Christmas booze you’ve bought for the festive period. Unless you want to work on the pitch with a sore head all day. And I don’t. 

I’ll be doing Kempton Silver Ring next week. It’ll be the first time I’ve ever worked a pitch on King George Day, so that’ll be exciting. What’s less exciting is the 5.45am alarm call to get there in time. I’ll let you know how that goes in my next missive. 

Southwell being as it is at the moment - no public, and there won’t be any for the near future, either - means my services are not always currently required at my local. It’s very quiet there, and for a recent meeting that kicked off around 11.20am, we were actually able to count the people attending (around 50) as we sat upstairs, keeping warm. 

I have, at least, had more time on my hands to go racing and get some notes down. Last week I went to Leicester, to have a look to see how Apple Away was progressing. I don’t mind a trip to Leicester, although for a track that’s only 35 miles from me, it seems to take ages to get there. Once you come off the M1, you’re in a world of pain; Fosse Park retail traffic to start with, then a whole series of traffic lights, bottlenecks and roundabouts before you get to the track. There’s not a lot to look at, either; no rolling Cotswolds to keep you calm, merely a series of Chinese takeaways, tanning salons, and Betfreds. 

The one thing I do miss about Leicester is Reg’s Beef Rolls. An absolute must in the winter months, lovely tender beef mopped up in gravy in a massive bap, all for the bargain price of a fiver. There was always a queue. 

That aside, Leicester is a perfectly nice day out. Apple Away was very good, and looks to be improving. Come the end of the day I had a little chat with Jonjo O’Neill about his in the last. Talking to Jonjo always brings a smile to your face. He gives nothing away. 

“Did you find a reason why he ran so poorly at Newbury, Jonjo?”

Jonjo looks at the horse, looks at me, and looks at the horse again. 

“Which one is this?” he says to the lass, pointing at it. I burst out laughing. 

“It’s Regal Blue”, she says. “Nothing came to light.”

“I don’t think he liked Newbury much”, says Jonjo. “Anyway, he’ll win today.” 

I’m just confused and laughing. Forty seconds ago he didn’t know which horse it was! 

He actually ran a good race, finishing third and running much better. I think he’ll win one soon. 

It was also a great pleasure to meet Malcolm Heyhoe and his partner at Leicester, both there for a day out. I’m sure older readers will remember Malcolm’s columns in the Guardian and Weekender, among others; we had a lovely chat and it turns out Malcolm’s a fan of these Geegeez scribblings. I look forward to bumping into them again in the near future.

Next stop was Cheltenham, at the weekend. On Friday I was free, so was able to do some useful paddock notes and enjoy myself, but Saturday I’d already committed to working on the rails. I found myself next to the ever-jovial Pinno, who had clearly been working on the joint I was on on the Friday. There’s always an easy way to tell; Pinno is the most untidy bookie you’ll come across. All of the previous day’s ripped-up tickets and newspaper were still in the hod, now wet from a bit of rain, and you have to clear them out before you can start. One of these days I’ll charge him for cleaning services. He always calls me “Davey Boy”; “what do you like here, Davey Boy?”, “can we get this jolly beat, Davey Boy?”, “not a lot of business about, Davey Boy”, that sort of thing. I like working next to him, he’s always good fun. 

Saturday was not busy. I was taking in the region of 600-700 a race on the rail, steady but nothing outstanding, The biggest bet I took all day was a 1000-200 Nurse Susan in the last, which won, and that sort of tells you how the whole day went. Over the 14 races on the Friday and Saturday, there were eight winning favourites and the biggest priced winner was 9-1 (Madara, I even managed to take a 900-100 that as well), and not many books were smiling as they headed to the car parks at four o’clock.  

And finally, lovely Fakenham on Tuesday. Sadly for me, my lift bailed after he’d seen the weather forecast of rain all day, so I had to drive myself on the 250-mile round trip. It’s a good job I actually like driving! 

I always keep Google Maps on to update me of any potential issues and one cropped up on the A17 near Sleaford. A lorry had come off the road and gone over into an embankment; it was lucky there was a large hedge there or he’d have gone fully over. I just about managed to creep by the accident, only to hear on the radio ten minutes later the road had been closed. That would have been game over as far as getting to Fakenham went. I often see accidents like that while on my travels and am always grateful not to be in them. 

Around 9.40 I was getting peckish and fancied a bacon sandwich, so was pleased to spy a “Hot Food Next Layby” sign near Sleaford. However, on pulling up the guy had already packed up and was preparing to tow his wares away! Either he’d had a jackpot morning or people don’t eat bacon sandwiches on the road after half nine anymore, it seems. A couple of miles down the road was “Michelles” in another layby, and she did provide an excellent bacon roll. All’s well that ends well, and I’m back on the road with a decent cup of tea to boot. 

At Fakenham, I’m working with the lovely Julie for the S&D firm and we have a fun afternoon, despite the rain. Plenty of locals have turned up and although it’s mainly small money, it’s busy enough, and the firm wins nicely on the day. Just as well, as my petrol expenses, having driven myself, are on the high side. Plus the bacon roll. The rest of the firm are off to the local Wetherspoons for their dinner, whereas I have the three-hour drive home.

The sky is a beautiful red and, as it starts to turn dark to the west and the light disappears, the colours begin to clash and I manage to get a picture as the last of the daylight goes.

I haven’t got an arty bone in my body, but I do like the snap I managed to take. I hope you do too.

On that note, I’d like to wish all Geegeez readers a merry (and profitable) Christmas and a Happy New Year!

See you all in 2024! 

- Dave M

Roving Reports: Pointless

“The road to the Superbowl is long, and pointless.”

The Simpsons fans among you will recognize this line from the said Superbowl episode where various misdemeanors happen, including Homer having fake tickets (which appear to be printed on crackers), then getting locked up in Superbowl jail, getting busted out by Dolly Parton (no pun intended) and finally ending up in the winning team’s locker room, writes David Massey.

There’s been no winning team at Fakenham on my last two visits over the past few weeks, I can tell you, but the road there has indeed seemed both long, and as it turned out, pointless.

Let me start by saying I’m certainly not knocking Fakenham at all, a track I’ve extolled the virtues of on many an occasion, but circumstances have made things difficult this autumn. (It isn’t winter until December, whatever the weather feels like.)

Fakenham’s first meeting took place at the very beginning of November and, filled with the joys that lay ahead, was picked up at 9.30am from Bingham, midway between Nottingham and Grantham, for my lift to the track. The same old routine ensued on the way there; a McDs’breakfast at Long Sutton, plenty of football and racing chat with driver Daren, and of course the Radio 2 10.30 music quiz. Not Popmaster any more though, not since Ken Bruce moved to pastures new, but the lesser imitation Ten To The Top. Daren used to get a six-point start on Popmaster; not any more he doesn’t, with the new quiz far more random given the incremental scoring system.

So far so good then. All very familiar and all’s well as we reach the track in plenty of time. The weather forecast doesn’t look as good as it did earlier, with some hefty showers now forecast around racetime. We’ll deal with it as we have to if it comes.

In the meantime, a visit to the home-made cake stall is obligatory; two slices of lemon drizzle (one for the wife, before you accuse me of having them both) and a tremendous sausage roll to go with my lunch. This is what courses are missing.

I’m with the S&D firm, called in to work the rails at the last minute as business is expected to be good for the first fixture of the year. We get betting an hour beforehand and as ever, it’s slow to begin with. Then, a spaceship appears overhead.

Well, it feels a bit like that scene in Independence Day when the aliens arrive on Earth and it all goes very dark, but it is nothing more than a massive black cloud, which right now, is worse. It envelops the track and everybody dives for their wet weather gear. Sadly, I’m too late. The rain comes in very quickly, the wind whips up and the rain is hitting me horizontally as I try desperately to get the waterproofs on. By the time I do, my trousers underneath are soaked, and this is also a bad time to discover a hole in your left boot. I get back on the joint but it’s pointless; there’s nobody in front of me as everyone has run for cover.

By the way, the bookmaker’s umbrella - the most pointless invention since somebody came up with the idea of those “Baby On Board” car stickers you put in the back window. (Well, I was going to ram you, but now I know you’ve a baby in the back seat... To be fair here, if I see one that says “Show Cats In Transit” it does make me want to give it a little nudge. Just to keep the felines on their toes, you understand.) Utterly useless as protection from the rain when the wind’s up. You’re as well standing there with a sieve on your head.

The rain finally abates just before the first race but it’s killed the business off. I’ve taken eight bets for the grand sum of 90 quid. As the race jumps off we try and get dried off, but at halfway a horse slips up on the bend and brings another one down. We all look at one another. This could be a very short afternoon indeed.

Post-race, it takes a consortium of jockeys and officials about five minutes to decide racing can’t go ahead after walking the track. “Like ice”, is how it’s described by one of the jockeys. Ten minutes later, the bing-bong goes, and it’s all over. Racing is abandoned.

Six hours on the road to bet on one race that the favourite wins, and staff all have to be paid regardless. It isn’t a good afternoon to be a Fakenham on-course bookmaker.

Undaunted by this sorry episode, the call once again came in on Monday of this week to work at the track Tuesday. It’s a Greene King Day at Fakenham, and the Bury St Edmunds-based brewery often give out loads of free tickets for these days, resulting in a good crowd that have a bet. I’m on the firm again.

An earlier start time means a 6.50am alarm call and an 8.30am pick up at Bingham. Traffic is bad though and we set off ten minutes late. Indeed, we’re already debating whether we have time for a McD’s within a few miles of setting off, with a slow-moving tractor not helping the situation; the pick for pitches is 11.10am, and Google Maps is currently forecasting our arrival at 10.50am. That doesn’t leave you a lot of wriggle room if you get caught behind an articulated lorry or farm vehicle, which is almost always 1.01 in the run in north Norfolk.

However, man must eat, and so a swift drive-thru is required. You can imagine our joy when the car in front of us gets his food, yet doesn’t drive off; instead a woman darts out the passenger side to use the facilities inside, but rather than park up, the car does not move from the food window. I’m just about to get out and politely enquire if he wouldn’t mind kindly sodding off as we’re in a rush, when he finally moves off. 10.56 sez Google Maps. Squeaky bum time.

Delighted to say that for the rest of the journey we encounter little traffic and get there at 10.47 thanks to Daren’s judicious decision making at roundabouts. Amazing how much time you can make up by knowing which lane you should be in.

I’m with S&D again, on the rails, working Pitch 3 which is the least attractive of the four (end picks 1 and 4 best, then 2, then mine) and whilst the weather is at least dry, if cold, there don’t appear to be many people about….

I will not bore you with the details of the afternoon. All you need to know is this - seven races, over which I took less than seventy bets, and bar a £200 wager on Pretending in the fifth, the biggest bet I took all day was forty quid. It felt like a very long afternoon and reports of a big crowd had been greatly exaggerated. Worse still, the cake stall was absent.

The next fixture at Fakenham is their Christmas one, on the 19th. I think I might wear my Christmas jumper - the one that says “BAH HUMBUG” across the front - for that one…

- DM

Roving Reports: The 4.00 at Plymouth

It's been a while since I last wrote an article for Geegeez, writes David Massey. I was very much hoping to do one post-Ebor but other work commitments got in the way and then, before you know it, I'm in Plymouth getting married.

Well, not strictly married as such: we had what's called a civil ceremony, Caroline and me; it takes the religious side of things out of it (neither of us are religious, so it made sense) but we had a great day with our friends, including one or two racing folk among the guests. A little honeymoon in Mevegissey followed, and then it was back home and straight over to the other side of the country (for me anyway) with the annual three-day trip to Yarmouth for their Eastern Festival. The car has done some miles over the past three weeks!

I'll come to Yarmouth later but I haven't told you how this year's Ebor Festival went. In a nutshell, very little big money flying around the ring, results decent, and the most remarkable thing was me driving home at 11.30pm on the Thursday from my digs back to Nottingham as a boiler that was next to my room started making a lot of noise and wouldn't stop. I decided that there was no way I was getting any sleep and so threw a pair of shorts and a t-shirt on and drove back home to get some kip. I arrived back at 12.45 to find the now Mrs Massey somewhat shocked to see me at such an ungodly hour. "I'll explain all in the morning," I muttered as I slumped into bed and straight off to sleep. She was delighted to see me, really.

So you see, it isn't all glam working on the tracks!

I actually had more fun working at York last Saturday. It was a new fixture and you're never quite sure what business will be like on those days. Indeed, after I'd taken the princely sum of £260 on the first I was thinking it was going to be a long afternoon but business did pick up and by the last I was taking £900 on the back line, which made it a lot more workable. We needed a result in the last to make the day worthwhile and got one with Two Brothers grimly hanging on. At that point we were covering expenses and no more, so at least we won on the day.

It was a young crowd, I noticed, and quite a lot of novices having their first time at the races. That included a dad and his three young daughters, none of whom had been racing before but were fully engaged with the whole process, going to the paddock each time, picking their horses and having their £2 bets with me. They backed plenty of winners between them and when I gave them a free £2 bet on the last, Two Brothers was the pick, which really made their day! I'd like to think they'll be back at some point in the future. You don't need fancy gimmicks and music most of the time - just make it reasonably priced, don't have people's trousers down the moment they walk in, and they will come. And hopefully come again.

The young crowd meant two things - a lot of asking for ID's (most have it ready, for young people today getting asked for ID is part of their everyday) and a LOT of debit card bets. Now, our firm has bought some new card machines that are integrated with the software we use to place the bets and my word, it has really sped the process up. Before, you had to punch the bet in, then go to a separate piece of kit, hope the wi-if signal held up as you waved the card machine around in the air, complete the transaction and then print a ticket once approved. That used to take anything between 25-40 seconds. Not now. The new kit spits the ticket out in around 10-15 seconds and makes card betting a breeze. The boss was amazed when I'd done over 70 card bets at the end of play. It's what the young ones call a "game-changer", I believe.

It's a way off but there will come a time when card bets are going to take almost as much business as cash, so you might as well get used to the technology now. A lot of books have adapted to it but many haven't - whilst you might not necessarily need it for somewhere like Fakenham, you almost certainly will at Sandown, so to me it makes sense to get on board with debit cards now. Whether we like it or not....

And so to Yarmouth last week. I normally work at least one of the three days but not this year, it was something of a well-needed break after, er, the break I'd had the week before in Cornwall. The weather was not kind, with a very stiff breeze on both the Tuesday and Wednesday that was right into their faces up the home straight. Plenty of plastic garden furniture went flying, including one old boy who got up to pour himself a tea out of his flask, only to watch his chair disappear from under him and head towards the furlong marker as he did. Thankfully it missed everyone but it could have been nasty. The results were stupendous on the Tuesday and I know of at least one firm that caught sight of a couple of Newmarket faces quietly backing the 25-1 newcomer Cross The Tracks in the ring and cottoned on pretty quickly it ought to be a runner; they won over £2k for themselves on the race. That pretty much makes your week, unless you absolutely do it wrong for the next two days. I'm pleased to say they didn't and won well across the Festival.

I thought the maidens/novices on the Tuesday weren't that great but the Wednesday was a different kettle of fish. The Goldolphin pair that won their respective races, Romantic Style and Edge Of Blue, were both very nice horses physically and should do well, but at the end of the piece today I'll point you in the direction of a couple that might not be stars but should win a race or two next year.

Punters definitely got a bit back on the last two days and a few books that were crowing after the Tuesday were a little quieter by the middle of the final afternoon. There was a double-figure winner on the Thursday but that aside, on an eight-race card the biggest winner was a 9-2 chance. I won a bit on the week, mainly down to the away meetings at Beverley and Uttoxeter rather than anything I backed at Yarmouth, but I couldn't help feel the whole meeting lacked the fun that previous years had. I think I might give it a miss next year and just take the new Mrs Massey away for a week somewhere nice. I hear Kelso is lovely around this time of the year...

Anyway, to finish off with, here's the two I've put in the tracker labelled "Future Handicaps".

Apeeling (Andrew Balding) is well-named, as she did indeed make plenty of appeal on looks and the dam, Satsuma, has produced a few useful sprint winners. However, she doesn't have the stamp of a sprinter - not yet, anyway, she's quite long-backed and has length rather than power and maybe 7f might be her thing. She's time to fill out but her second to the impressive Romantic Feeling was a big step in the right direction and was no fluke. She should be up to winning races.

Gamblers Kitty (Chris Dwyer) already has the size of a three-year-old: he's not only lengthy but tall with it and hasn't filled his frame out yet. He behaved well pre-race but was very green in the race itself, having little idea until the penny dropped very late and, once it did, he stayed on nicely under hands-and-heels to finish fifth to Cross The Tracks. There's plenty to come from him and he's definitely worth monitoring with next year in mind.

Good luck.

- DM

Roving Reports: An Unwelcome Hat Trick

It's been a while since you had a blog from me as, to be honest, there has not been a lot to report back on since Ascot, writes David Massey.

For every week you find yourself working a Goodwood or a Newmarket or the Royal Meeting, there are two or three Southwells, Stratfords and Leicesters; and, whilst they all have their charms, there's usually little or no action in the ring.

Saying that, for those that complain the books are all the same, one Midlands bookmaker, in an effort to do something different, has started betting extra places on selected races. Come racing!

I've actually had time to go and enjoy myself at the races and went to Newmarket's Ladies Day with my friend Paula, who likes a day racing, and has her own retired ex-racer for a hack. Remarkably, despite living in Cambridge, she'd never been to Newmarket and was absolutely amazed by their woody pre-parade ring, which is surely one of racing's hidden jewels. I could sit in there all afternoon, just making notes and watching the horses. I think you learn a lot in there. Can I recommend you get Dubai Treasure, second to Sacred Angel in the fillies maiden, in your trackers? She had no clue pre-race and was very green going to post, too. Given how much energy she expended, I expected her to drop right away, but she stuck willingly to the task and will know a lot more next time. I suspect she's very good.

Anyway, in terms of actual work, it's been thin on the ground. I've done a couple of Southwells and worked York's John Smith's weekend, which can easily be summed up in a short sentence: wet, and disappointing business. The Friday was awful, with rain all afternoon and it leaked under the waterproofs. The money required drying out (you've never seen so many tenners on a bathroom floor) before it could be cashed up, and my socks needed wringing out.

Saturday saw a different kind of rain, one that wasn't as constant as Friday but was more ferocious when it hit, with two warnings given out by the track for lightning.

One of those came just as we were getting going betting on the first race, and it rather killed it; probably just as well, as Blue For You was well backed. Results weren't bad, with Pride Of America almost unbacked for the John Smith's Cup, surprisingly given his liking for soft ground, but there you go. The biggest bet I took all day was a £300 one on Hamish for the Silver Cup at 1-2, and the punter was made to sweat considerably more than I think he thought he might, although he got his £150 profit in the end. That, by the way, shows you the level of business; York, rails, on John Smith's day, and the biggest bet I can take is £300.

I'm not known by friends as The Rainmaster for nothing; it seems to follow me around like a bad smell and, sure enough, Doncaster on Saturday night saw us get another drenching. It wasn't as bad as expected and the worst of it came just as we were packing up, but it put the tin hat on a night of what-can-go-wrong-nexts.

We have a Saturday night crowd who are there to see Abba tribute act Arrival after racing, so we know what we are dealing with. This is confirmed by the number of "this is my first bet ever" ladies that come up before the first. It never ceases to amaze me that people in their forties and fifties have got this far in life and never had a bet. I think I'd just about reached my eleventh birthday before my first wager.

Anyway, all the kit is working fine, we're off and running, business is steady and results are okay. What could go wrong?

Race 3 sees the first issue. Chiefman is withdrawn at the start after having stalls problems, which sees a 10p Rule 4. As ever, the muffled announcement goes unnoticed by much of the crowd and there are a few punters a bit miffed that they aren't getting back what is telling them on the docket. "It says here I should get £40," says one irate bloke. I also inform him his docket says "a Rule 4 may apply" but he's not interested in that bit. I am informed I am a "robbing bastard" for which I thank him, and start serving other, less irate, punters.

I've banged on enough about how the courses need to use the big screens more and I won't go on again - suffice to say someone who had a decent bet on Chiefman is yet to pick his money up at the time of writing. If I'd seen him I'd have given him a shout, but never did.

Worse is to follow, as favourite Sir Thomas Gresham is withdrawn at the start of the next. A whopping 20p deduction. If matey boy thought he'd been robbed for the previous race, he's not gonna like this much. And then... a dead heat. My head is in my hands.

Most people are fairly understanding about the situation and are happy to accept that they are getting back less than half of what it says on the docket, but there's always a few. One is convinced I'm totally wrong and does the maths I've given him to do, at which point I do at least get an apology. The rain starts to fall and I'm cold. Can't be any more withdrawals, surely?

There is. The unwelcome hat-trick is brought up by Handel in race 5, who doesn't go with the field. Another 10p deduction. I'm fairly sure people think we're doing this on purpose. It also takes the field down from 12 to 11, so a quarter the odds down to a fifth. It's just one thing after another!

We start packing up after the last and it starts to belt down, just to compound the misery. After expenses, we have won... six quid on the night. Well worth turning up for. As I push the gear towards the exit, a bloke comes running up to me with a docket. "Sorry I'm late, pal", he says. I look at his ticket. He's got two quid back from a non-runner. I don't even bother getting the money back out, merely reach in my pocket for two quid of my own. As the band strike up with Waterloo, I shake my head, and get the hell out of there...

- DM

Roving Reports: The Month of May

Ah, the month of May. Those who like their speed of the four-wheeled rather than four-legged variety will tell you that means the Indy 500 and Monaco Grand Prix, writes David Massey. I haven't been to Monaco this month, but I did stay for five races at Market Rasen the other week, and that's very much the same.

For me, May means a first visit to York and in this case, a second one, last week, too. The initial one was for the Dante meeting and for all it's one of the summer Festivals it's not a particularly well-attended one and the Wednesday of the meeting was one of the quietest days I've known at the place.

That's not to say it was totally dead: business was okay but no more than that. It did give me a chance to have a quick chat to one or two people, including our esteemed editor, Matt Bisogno, looking like a million dollars in loose change in his suit and sunglasses [too kind, cheque in the post! - Ed.], and my good friend Emily. Emily and I have two things in common - a love of racing and a love of The Smiths, and the two of us went to see Morrissey in concert at Blackpool last year. I've not seen her since so it was great to catch up. Speaking of Blackpool, a long-term reader of mine, known only to me as Blackpool Jezza, introduced himself, too. Always great to meet the people that read this nonsense!

The racing? Well, it started off one of those days where, despite the big prices, punters seemed to have been told the winners as they came in. First race winner Scampi was the worst result for me on my side of the book, and Bielsa was no better in the sprint handicap.

As ever at York, a bit of thought goes into the winner's music as they are brought back in, and "Leeds, Leeds, Leeds" comes over the PA as Bielsa is brought back in. We'll also get a blast of Leicester City fans as The Foxes returns after winning the Dante the following day. I'm less sure about football chanting as a suitable recompense for winning a Classic trial, but there we go.

Frankie. He can't pack up soon enough as far as the bookmakers are concerned. He could be riding a Skegness kids donkey and I guarantee you a dozen people would still back it, convinced he could somehow get it home in front. Soul Sister wins the Musidora by an easy four lengths and the only solace I can take is that, if this had been a Saturday card, the payout queue would have stretched back to Tadcaster.

Business is a little better on the Thursday and better again on the Friday, and results fairly kind. The biggest bet I take over the three days is a monkey on Broome in the Yorkshire Cup, and that never looks like copping. That rather shows level of business over the three days. Indeed, the moaning from the rails firms suggests that the ring was arguably better business than they saw.

York last Saturday was much better business. A two-hour pick (which means we take our positions at 11.35, not long after the course has actually opened the gates) meant an early start, but once prices go up just after 12 it feels busier.

There's an Irish band playing, but I have to say, with sun beating down, people out enjoying the day with a pint, I'm not sure whether The Fields Of Athenry is quite cutting it. If they were belting out a few Pogues numbers to get them going then fair enough, but whether a song about famine sets the right tone is open to debate.

Anyway, the first winner, Doctor Khan Junior, goes totally unbacked on my side of things, and I can't ever remember the first race at York throwing up a skinner.

By the way, how did we miss that? A Geoff Oldroyd winner in the Bond colours at York on the day the Reg Bond Handicap takes place at the end of the day? As my mate Joe pointed out to me as it sailed past the post in front, jabbing his finger at me, "as a tipster, isn't it your job to notice these things?" It is, and I hang my head in shame. We could have had a 28-1 winner if I'd been a bit more on the ball.

One thing you don't need on a Saturday is a withdrawn horse. The only way it could be worse is if it's the favourite. Well, The Line provides us with that nightmare scenario in the next. A 45p Rule 4 gets punters irate enough, but as ever, the announcement of the withdrawal gets totally lost over the PA and creates confusion.

How many times do I have to say this? To all racecourses - USE YOUR BIG SCREENS WHEN THESE OCCASIONS OCCUR. SHOW your customers what has happened, don't tell them, because half of them can't hear. As I write this on the Wednesday after the meeting, six of my punters are yet to collect their money back on the non-runner and I guess they aren't going to now.

At the same time I'm trying to explain to punters what's happened, I'm also fielding a call from Chester as our man at the track can't get wifi and can't take bets as a result. So I've punters chewing one ear off and a man with IT issues (and doesn't understand how wifi works) in the other. It wasn't the most fun 15 minutes of the day, let me tell you.

No sooner have I sorted his tech problem out than my own system goes down. Now I can't take bets either. I restart the system and it works, but only for a couple of minutes before it all goes down again. This is going to be a long job. I'm losing valuable betting time and punters are heading elsewhere. When I'm finally up and running they're going in the stalls. My take on that race is a third of what I took on the previous one. It's not going well.

River Of Stars is actually a good result in the Bronte and Starnberg an even better one in the handicap that follows. The laptop has another moment and basically I think everything is overheating, so I try and keep it all in the shade, which does seem to help. I'm overheating too, so it's off to the bar whilst the race is on to get some iced water.

You do not need to be a genius to work out what everyone wants to back in the last. Yes, to a man and a woman, Yorkshire, the short-priced and appropriately-named favourite, is the one that they want. When that's sunk without trace, I know it'll be a quick pack away after the last and we're in the car and heading home within half an hour. It must have been a good day as the boss comes out of the BP filling station with two Magnums for the journey home.

Next stop is the Derby. I have a feeling there may be things to report back with, if the news is to be believed. It'll be interesting to see what effect the train strike will have, if any. I'll tell you next time. I'm off to listen to some Chas 'N Dave to get me in the mood...

- DM

Roving Reports: Here, There and Everywhere

I was going to write the next part of the blog after Aintree, as I was expecting that to be the next time anything even remotely exciting was going to happen, but last week turned into a busier week than I expected it to, writes David Massey.

It started on Sunday, at Garthorpe Point-To-Point. Having been denied my point fix when Revesby was called off during the cold snap this winter, I was determined to go, particularly as the weather forecast was favourable.

If you've never been pointing, you ought to give it a go. Don't worry about getting lost on the way there - once you're within ten miles of the track, you can follow any dirty 4x4 or Land Rover and be pretty sure you'll end up in the right spot. Tweed is a given, even on a warm day, and if you've a dog, so much the better.

There's a good crowd, maybe somewhere between 800-1000 is my best guess, and they are treated to some close finishes. Sadly none of them involve the horses I back during the afternoon, and my best result is the lamb and mint burger (local farm, naturally) for a fiver which is so tasty, I end up taking a pack of four home. Buy local, buy British, go pointing!

Having done the lot in, I nearly bag a pheasant on the way home. He darts out from a field and runs right in front of the car. How I missed him I'll never know. I see him running off in the rear view mirror, seemingly unaware of his near-death experience. Suffice to say, he's been a sight luckier than I have today.

Monday sees me back on the S&D team at Southwell and that too is reasonably well attended. Fixtures between Cheltenham and Aintree normally see attendances go down, as once the euphoria of Cheltenham is over, people tend to wait for Aintree or switch their attentions to the Flat, and the midweek fixtures are particularly hard hit. However, Southwell bucks the trend, and after I do the punters panel with Steven Powell before racing and give Rostello (11/2) in the first, we've a few more happy punters at my joint. As ever, our regular punters get BOG, and it matters not whether you're having £2 on or £200, they all get it. Plenty of books will give you benefits if you become a regular with them, whether that be BOG or next price up.

Joe Dadancer is my nap on the preview and his win gets me some of the Garthorpe losses back. I like him a lot, it'll be interesting to see where he turns up next.

Market Rasen on the Wednesday is my next port of call. The usual A46 (Northern version) bottlenecks around Newark aren't as bad as normal and I've time for a coffee on the way up. This is a mistake, as for the last ten miles to the track I'm bursting for the toilet. Let that be a lesson to you all. Get to the track first, then have a beverage.

The ground is supposed to be on the soft side, but as I drive into the grassy car park and the back end of my Auris steps out in an Ari Vatanen moment (Google, young 'un) I have my suspicions it may be worse than that. After they come back from the first with plenty of dirt on them, I go back through the card and start laying anything that doesn't want the mud. It's a successful ploy, and it also leads me to back the no-hoper Leskinfere at 10 on Betfair three places. When he rolls in a distant third the Garthorpe losses are but a memory. I celebrate with a chocolate biscuit (the best ones are wrapped in foil, another little tip for you there...) and a strong tea.

Thursday sees me at Warwick, which I wasn't intending doing but I need to pick some bookmaking kit up for Stratford on Sunday and the bookmaker I'm working for will be at Warwick, so it makes sense to meet there and collect it rather than run around like an idiot on Saturday. It's a beautiful day and the sun makes me think Spring is finally here. I shall discover later in the week this is not the case.

One of the regular Midlands bookmakers is missing from the fixture, and indeed all Midlands fixtures for the foreseeable. Swannbet, better known as Graham and Natalie to me, will sadly not been seen for a while as Graham, we find out, has cancer. I send him a message to wish him well and hope we will see him back in his rightful place in the ring before much longer. Sport is important, but it pales into insignificance at times, and today feels like one of those times.

Punting wise on the day, it's pretty much straight across for me with three bets that aren't sighted but I do have a few bob on Mr Palmtree on Betfair, as he looks in superb condition. Sadly I give too much back in running but he does at least ensure the day isn't a disaster. On the way home the police are holding traffic on the M69 due to a bad crash near Leicester; annoying as that is, when you pass the accident and see the mangled wrecks the cars are, you always thank your lucky stars it isn't you caught up in it. A 20 minute delay is neither here nor there compared to our health.

Next morning I get a call from Jason on the S&D firm. "Don't suppose you can work Sunday at Ascot, can you?" I'm not keen, if I'm honest, but Jason is desperate for a worker (most of them are on holiday, it turns out) so I'm happy to oblige this once. I'm already booked to work Stratford on Saturday, so it makes sense to stay over and travel onto Ascot Sunday morning.

I do love working Stratford. I think it's just about my favourite track to work. Always a decent atmosphere and as I've said before, the whole crowd seems to have a bet. It's only small money but you feel busy and you can make a book. However, my hearing seems to be getting worse; I was convinced one bloke asked me for two pounds on something, but when he gets a ruck of nifties from his pocket it's clear he's asked me for two grand. I lay him a monkey of it and tell him if he wants more, go and see my boss. He gets on, but his pick loses. He's back again next race, has a grand on the jolly, and watches that finish tailed off too. We don't see him again.

Both results and business are good and there's a little top-up on wages at the end of the day. Pays for the evening meal, and after a poor night's sleep (I never sleep well away from home) it's off to Ascot.

I get there early as I want to do a bit of work in the press room in the morning. Perhaps unsurprisingly the place is somewhat deserted, but that does mean when lunch comes out (chicken, veg, roasties and Yorkshires) there's plenty to go around. That's very welcome as when I go down to the ring to work, it's absolutely Baltic.

The main stand is basically causing a split between the front and back of the place. Round the back, by the paddock, there's barely a breath of wind, the sun is radiating heat and people are outside drinking and eating. Out front, in the wind and shade, there are polar bears running around wearing anoraks, it's that cold.

It's a family fun day at Ascot so you know what that means. Small money, lots of it, and rather than a fiver I make sure my minimum bet for the day is £2. That works, but it also means I'm out of change by Race 2.

Next door to me is Steve Bailey, aka Stevie Stretch. Steve, like me, enjoys these family days and is happy to show the kids how things work (all within the 18-plus boundaries, of course). Two mums are by his joint with three young kids, the youngest of which keeps touching all Steve's change. And like most kids, the more he tells her not to touch it, the more she touches it. I sneak up behind them, gesturing to Steve to be quiet, before sticking my head in and saying, in a stern voice, "I hope nobody is touching the change over here." You've never seen a kid put her arms by her sides so quickly.

Do you remember me telling you on a previous blog how, on these days when you're dealing with mainly novice punters, how they work their way from the top of the board to the bottom? As such, Blueking D'Oreaux, number 1 on the race card and top of the lightboard, is a real punters result on a day like today. Loads have had their £2.50 and fiver each-ways on; the other joint has taken a £100 win bet at 40-1. There's some serious concern we might run out of money, for all that's obviously a good result. I scrape together what I can spare for Jason's four-grand payout and it leaves me with about £300 after we've paid out. I need a result in the next to get the cash flow back up; Black Gerry provides respite, although I'm delighted for the lady who had a tenner each-way as her grandad, Gerry, had passed away earlier in the week, she tells me.

My only bet of the day, Charging Point, looks like winning coming to the last but gets it all wrong and I have to settle for the place money. I swear it's getting colder and by the time we get to the last the place has emptied quite a lot. Get paid, pack up and go home. On the way back I call into Toddington Services for food, sadly I'm in there the same time as about 500 jubilant Bolton supporters on their way back from Wembley after winning the Papa Johns Trophy earlier. So, fast food it ain't, with a 40 minute wait for a Chicken Royale and a drink. On the way back to the car I hear my name called; it is none other than Laura Morgan, trainer of Charging Point. "Caught you in the act", she says, referring to my unhealthy meal. I tell her I thought her horse was unlucky and she agrees. "He's off for a break now", she tells me. And I'm off home, getting back about 8.30pm, with an aching back and legs. Standing around in the wind all day really takes it out of you. Especially at my age...

- DM

Roving Reports: The Going’s Hard in Places

After a month of sand action, it's been good these past couple of weeks to get out and about, and it does feel as if spring is just around the corner now, writes David Massey.

Having said that, I write this as we've just endured another week of frost and fog; although, thankfully, we've only lost a couple of fixtures to the weather, and it looks like relenting completely in time for Newbury and Warwick this weekend. Warwick will be my stop-off, but for the time being here's the latest update on where I've been.

Cheltenham's nine-race card saw me in attendance to do paddock notes and pick up some pointers for the Festival; and I can tell you that of all those I saw, Edwardstone was the one I thought would come on most for the run. The trainer seemed happy enough afterwards, too, and he's the one to beat in the Champion Chase for me.

After the weekend's action from Dublin, this looks one of the most open Festivals for many a year. Normally, about this sort of time, you're formulating ideas about the likely ones for the Grade 1 contests but, Constitution Hill aside, I do think plenty of the other races are up in the air to varying degrees. That can only be a good thing, right?

Anyway, I digress. February is officially Bookmaker Holiday month and plenty from around here disappear off to foreign climes for a few weeks, coming back refreshed in time for the Festival. It means that I'm stepping into the breach for much of the month to work places I wouldn't normally, and that started off with Fakenham last week.

I've extolled the virtues of Fakenham in many an article over the years and, once again, it didn't disappoint. I worked the rail for S&D and it was steady, if smallish, business all afternoon. That's the beauty of Fakenham, everyone has a bet, even if it's just a couple of quid, as they all have their favourites that run at the track. Whilst the days of Cool Roxy are behind us now, there are still the course specialists around, and you can guarantee there will be money for them.

Speaking of money flying around the ring, a certain trainer could be seen backing his Dev Of Tara before the first and we copped for a monkey's worth of it at 4-1, only to watch the price collapse before our eyes. It duly won pulling a bus, and that rather set the tone for the day. We couldn't get them off Ben Buie in the next - I think literally every member of the partnership that owned him was there - and him winning actually left us short on cash for the rest of the day. Three of the next four favourites winning did not help our cause, but Cloudy Wednesday was barely backed (it was a Thursday, after all) and ensured the day wasn't a total write-off. I went to buy some lemon drizzle and a couple of sausage rolls from the home-made cake stall at the end of the day to make things complete. Fakenham's that sort of a place. You really should go. [Hear hear, Ed.]

Saturday saw an early start (up at half six, lovely) to get to Sandown to work for MT Racing. Normally you don't have to go so early but on Saturdays the pick time - when you decide where you'll stand and bet for the day - is earlier than it is in the week, and at Sandown it's 90 minutes before the first race. That means an 11.05 kick-off. Needless to say it is quiet early on, and an odds-on jolly in the first doesn't help us. I take a £100 forecast on the jolly to beat the second-in at 7-4, which seems a very fair price to me. Other than that, business is very slow, but we assume it'll improve as the day goes on.

We are wrong, very wrong. The rugby on at Twickenham later in the afternoon has killed it stone dead. I have never seen Sandown so quiet on a Saturday. That winning £100 bet on the forecast is the biggest bet I'll take all day. Actually that's not true - he had the whole £275 back on Twinjets in the next, and that gets beat, but that's it. A Saturday at the biggest meeting, on the front row, and we don't take 300 bets all day. The results are irrelevant as we aren't taking enough. At the end of the day we've just about covered the expenses. A 14-hour day, if you include travel time, for nowt. Surely things will be better at Hereford tomorrow?

A later start means I'm not up at the crack of dawn, but it's a good job we always leave plenty of time as around ten miles outside of Hereford, we encounter what appears to be some sort of protest. Tractors are blocking the road, about 20 of them, on a go slow. We're crawling along at 9mph and do so for about three miles. Thankfully, from our point of view, they turn off and we can continue our journey without further delay.

When we get to Hereford, the sun is out and it looks a bit busier than Sandown did. It's very much a family day. Boys with footballs, girls doing cartwheels. That sort of a day. It means we'll take money but it won't be big money. Still, if you take enough you can work with it, so we are hopeful. Again.

For the second day, it's misplaced hope. It turns out many are just here for the sunshine and a day out. A few back the first winner, Amidnightstar, trained by James Evans, at 40-1 with us. James was the first person I bumped into on arrival at the track. He could have let me know. Anyway, that's a winning race to start with, but it'll just about be the only one, with the next four winners all well backed.

I've got an Irish lad, here with his family, betting with me, having about £80 a race on. He asks for some 15-2 Lily Glitters despite it being 13-2 on my board but as he's been betting with me all afternoon, his loyalty is rewarded and I lay him £60 ew. He's delighted when it wins and as a thank you he gives me a score for a drink when he picks up. I like this guy. I split the twenty with Martin, who is working with me today, as that's the fair thing to do.

We bet without the odds-on jolly in the last but what money we take is for the winner Out Of Focus, so that's no good either. For the second day this weekend, we've just about covered the expenses at the end of the day. A total of 550 miles, ten hours on the road, for a grand profit of around a bullseye. Let's see if Warwick on Saturday and Southwell on Sunday prove any better...

- DM

Roving Reports: The Rover Returns to Rolleston

When Matt was kind enough to ask me to write these articles last year, we couldn't think of a name we could file them all under. Until Matt came up with "Roving Reports", that is, which seemed to fit the bill nicely. I rove around, I report on what I've seen and done. Easy.

I've decided that works fine in the summer, but the cold snap means this is most definitely an un-roving report, coming mainly as it does from my runs to Southwell and back this January. That's not my fault, of course. Plan A was to go to Lingfield for the Winter Million last weekend and take in Ascot on the Saturday for the Clarence House. That went west pretty quickly, and so Plan B was to go to Revesby Point-to-Point, near Boston in Lincolnshire, on the Saturday, drive to Hunstanton after and do Fakenham on the Sunday.

That plan looked quite a rosy one. There were no problems at Revesby, I was informed, and videos coming from the track of the clerk's stick going easily in to the turf and of the race cards being printed off all looked most promising.

Indeed, so confident was I of it going ahead that, when offered 4-5 about the fixture being on by David Johnson at Southwell one day last week I immediately shoved two £20 notes in his hand. By Friday morning he knew he'd done his money; by Friday afternoon he had my forty quid safely in his pocket after an inspection at the track revealed a small shaded area where the frost hadn't come out, and it was off. Another twenty minutes after that Fakenham's Sunday card bit the dust. £40 worse off and now with nowhere to go. The good lady suggested Saturday might be a good time to go buy a new sofa, which we badly need. We did, and I'm now considerably worse off than the forty notes I lost to Dave, although I can at least look forward to sitting down and not getting a broken spring up my backside.

So it's been Southwell that's kept the show on the road for me this month and, as ever, I've worked all the fixtures for Rob and the S&D firm. The attendance at these fixtures has been like chalk and cheese. The afternoon fixtures haven't been so bad, and there are enough punters around, albeit usually to small to medium money, to make it worthwhile. The night fixtures are a different animal, though. Last Wednesday (the 18th) was about as bad as it got. An initial small crowd dwindled as the evening went on, and I didn't strike a single bet for the last two races. In total I took 28 bets on my joint for the whole evening. 27 of those bets were small bets, and one was a bet of £1000 each way on one that was unplaced, giving me an average bet size for the night of £86. This, as I've said before, is the problem as a bookmaker at these meetings, there's not enough money to work around a big bet when you take one, so you just lay a bit off and get the prayer mat out. On this occasion, they were answered, but we aren't always so lucky.

However, the night before, the Tuesday, was incredible. Again a smallish crowd but the money was flying around thanks to about half a dozen punters who turned up out of the blue and just fancied having a go. They all wanted The Tron each-way in the second, and did no damage as it came second, but the fourth race was one of the liveliest heats I've seen in a while. First the money came for the winner, Nolton Cross, with a £100 and then a £200 bet in early, then they couldn't get enough of Blow Your Horn, with a £1000, a £400 and three £200 bets all taken. Rob can't keep pace. "Stop laying it!!" he yells across the ring at me. I remind him after I'm just the slave pitch and not the one controlling the price of it...

Anyway, it never looks like winning and despite laying the winner twice, we get out of jail on the race. Not often you lay £300 worth of bets on an 11-2 winner and call it a good result, but there we go. A trip to the paddock for the novice, up next, reveals the 4-11 jolly isn't anything to be frightened of, and that gets a good striping which is just as well, as we get that beat too. The punters have one last crack at getting it back on the short-priced Walking On Clouds in the next and when that's sunk, so are they. It's been a good night for the books, less so if you're on the other side of the fence.

Sensibly, we only bet the last ten minutes for the night meetings at Southwell. By that I mean if the race is off at 7pm, say, we won't go up with prices until 6.50pm. There's simply not enough people around to justify standing about for half an hour between each race, and this enables us to have a cup of tea, a loo break, and a chat about the next and what we fancy. This can result in some dangerous talk - see earlier about me losing £40 to Dave in an idle moment - but mostly it's all good-natured banter about how well/badly the evening is going. It's also about what flavour the tea-bar soup is, with tomato-and-something usually favourite, although curried parsnip is a shorter price with each passing fixture. I think we've had it five times in January already, and there's still a week to go.

Tonight, as I write this (Tuesday) we've another evening meeting. Sellers at 40 regarding how many bets I take could well be in clover come half eight.

Look, Cheltenham are, and I quote, "fairly hopeful" of racing on Saturday. So I'll see you all there, yes? If it's off, we might be looking for some chairs to go with the sofa...

- David Massey

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.

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

Roving Reports: Yarmouth Tales

It is a little known fact that, wherever you are in the British Isles, you are exactly three and a half hours away from Great Yarmouth, writes David Massey. It matters not whether you live in St Neots, Norwich or, in my case, Nottingham, it will take you 210 minutes to arrive on Yarmouth's golden seafront. Fact.

Yarmouth's Eastern Festival, which takes place mid-September each year, is something of a bookmakers' jolly. There's something for everyone - low grade handicaps, maidens where you'll find a good chunk of 3yo handicap winners for next year and, occasionally, you might well see a Group horse in the making: we may have seen one of those this year. More on that later.

I always travel on the Monday before racing on the Tuesday. This is inevitably a good decision as it means I can meander down early afternoon, miss the worst of the traffic, and relax Monday evening. I set off at half one and arrived at my B&B (Sandcastles, I use them every year, highly recommended) at exactly five. See, told you.

As you might remember from last time, I've agreed to work the Tuesday this time as Rob, aka S&D Bookmakers, is short of a worker on the day. Rob, who has a bungalow in the area, is also travelling down on the Monday and we're meeting for a carvery at half six. What neither of us realised is there's a pub quiz on. It's been ages since I took part in one, but I do like a quiz. (I was virtually a pub quiz semi-professional in my late teens and early twenties, either compiling or taking part three or four times a week. I have an excellent story about how that all started, but that's for another day.)

We stay for the quiz, and despite the massive disadvantage we have of just being a two against teams of five, we aren't here to win, just have a bit of fun. After a moderate opening round on questions about our recently passed-on monarch, round 2 is about Marvel Films.

I look at Rob hopefully here, as he's a massive sci-fi nut and I know he likes the Marvel stuff. Expecting a full house, I take a back seat and let Rob drive.

It is at this point I discover another disadvantage; Rob has a memory like a sieve. Every question goes like this.

"I must have seen this film [that the question relates to] ten times."

"Great, what's the answer then?"

"I've no idea."

We score one out of ten. We will eventually finish joint-ninth out of twelve teams on the evening, a round on sport helping us haul ourselves off the bottom. Still, it was fun...

Day one at Yarmouth. Towcester used to be the place where east met west, north met south, but since its sad demise (I still hope against hope it will return one day) Yarmouth has taken on that mantle. There are plenty of familiar East Midlands faces around, and a good mix of books from various compass points. Rob has stuck me on the grass, right at the back; a good pick, as there are plenty sat down around me.

It would be fair to say Yarmouth's crowd is not a young one. Many are there for an end-of-season holiday themselves and given the place is still somewhat camped in the 1980s, the crowd follows suit. We're not going to take any big bets, and there's no danger of us running out of pound coins either. Indeed, one woman has two £2.50 ew bets every race, and pays with five £2 coins each time. She explains she saves them up all year and then uses them as her betting kitty over the three days. Those are the sort of punters you are dealing with here.

There are a couple of well-known bigger punters around the ring, in fairness, but they have their favourites to bet with and I don't expect to see them come my way.

The maiden on the card produces some lively betting. Plenty want to be with the favourite, Proverb, but the paddock judges are telling me that Zoology is the nicest horse in the parade ring. However, he's doing a lot wrong too, shouting and is very green, so he may be one for another day.

They're wrong. Zoology goes down to post well, and isn't the slightest bit green in the race, leading early and powering away from what looked a decent field to win a ready four lengths. It's easy to get carried away with these first-time performances but it's clear from post-race interviews connections feel they have something very special.

Dance Havana at 40-1 is a good result, although that is the third winner on the card for one old dear who is having a quid each-way each race. Her husband, also having similar bets with less success, is not happy. "I'm giving you my money and you're just giving it back to her!" he exclaims. She backs winner Cumulonimbus in the next, too.

From nowhere, one of the big punters rocks up, and asks what I'll take on the next favourite. I'm happy to lay him a monkey - as we've got four pitches on the track, there's every chance he will try and get more on with another one - but it duly wins, and it makes a dent in the float. Still a winning day, though.

Wednesday, and I'm free, to do what I want, any old time. I was keen on Hot Chesnut running a big race in the first but the drying ground has put me off somewhat. However, after seeing how fit she is pre-race, I can't resist, and go in anyway. Others think the same, as she's going off a lot shorter than was predicted. With good reason too, it turns out, as she flies home and is only narrowly beaten. I've won enough for an ice-cream, with a Flake.

Next up, I see one of the biggest 2yos I've ever seen in my life in the shape of Blindedbythelights, trained by Sir Mark Prescott. It is unsurprising he doesn't have the pace for 7f on debut but the way the penny drops late on suggests 10f nurseries at the back end of the season might be the plan. Don't say I didn't tell you!

The listed John Musker is the highlight of the three days, often attracting good horses. I remember Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber turning up by helicopter to watch So Mi Dar win back in 2016. I don't think he had an ice-cream, though. His loss. This year, Shaara wins for the Gosdens again - she's not in front before the line, and she's not in front after it, but she has her head down at the right time which is good news for me, as I had a few quid on.

Sadly, the rest of the card falls away, with few runners for the final three races (one is a match) but no matter because it's now time for the greyhounds.

Another highlight of this holiday is a trip to the dogs to watch the East Anglian Derby on the Wednesday night, but recent events mean that we are watching the semi-finals tonight instead. There are six other opens on the card, too, so it's a quality night regardless. We've booked a party of twelve in the restaurant earlier in the year (seats soon sell out) and the food we are served is excellent, it must be said. After the meal, we all go down to watch the semi-finals and are delighted when the six, Carole's Legacy, wins the second of them, as we are all on to a man and woman. The oi oiiii's go up late, as she's not in front until the final few strides, but she's paid for the night. Rob, generous as ever, picks up the drinks tab for the evening before we all go our separate ways.

I've time to kill Thursday morning so go for a stroll down the seafront after breakfast. It is noticeable the arcades and seafront shops open later than has been the norm when I've been here before. Saving on the leccy, maybe? That theory is backed up by the fact a few of the arcades don't have their frontage lighting on when they do get going for the day. Seems the cost of living crisis is biting everywhere, even when you've got the odds stacked very much in your favour.

Alongside the racing, the crown green Festival Of Bowls tournaments have been on all week, and after picking a 'paper and a coffee up, I plonk myself down on a seat to watch for a while. It's a very relaxing backdrop, but it isn't helping me find any winners today. I've already made the decision I'll only stop for the first four races, as I want to take the maidens in, and I'd like to get home for a reasonable hour.

The biggest crowd of the week turn up for Ladies Day. Remarkably, I'm in need of the sun cream, as the rays are strong when big yellow does appear. Bigger crowds do not always mean better, though, and the books are complaining business is not strong. To be fair, some would still find complaint if they were taking ten grand a race, but it is clear from the lack of queues that there's some merit in what they say.

The few bets I have on the day go west in the main and, when the 80-1 shot Premiere Beauty wins, you know it's time to go home. Martyn Of Leicester has won a chunk on the race and is giving it plenty as I walk out the track - I suspect the next three winning jollies might have quietened him somewhat - and set off back for Nottingham. I have the best result of the week on the way back, filling the car for £1.51 a litre near Sleaford. This must be what winning the lottery feels like. Home for half seven, it's been a great week.

Jumps season is just around the corner now, boys and girls...

- DM