Tag Archive for: Roving Reports

Roving Reports: Epsom’s Downs

Even before we set off for two days on Epsom’s rolling downs this year, there’s a problem, writes David Massey. There are always problems when I’m on the firm, it appears, mainly of the IT variety (more of that later) but on this occasion, two weeks before the big event, we have a slightly bigger one.

There are five of us due to travel to Epsom, two of whom, Tim and Paula, are a couple and have been for as long as I’ve known them. And then, a fortnight before the Derby, a date comes through for Paula’s keyhole surgery on her knee. It’s Oaks Day. And if she doesn’t take this date, she’ll be waiting until September, she’s told. It’s not even an argument, she has to have the surgery and so Paula, who spends more time in a certain beauty salon in Mansfield than she does at home, sadly will not be with us this year.

This means we have to recruit at short notice and BMW - Big Martin - steps into the breach. Martin has more Derby tales to tell than anyone I know, and is one of the Top 10 Eaters on a racecourse alive today. The man has hollow legs.

Martin’s favourite Derby tale is one I’ve recounted before, I think, but it’s always worth a retell. “We used to bet up on the Hill back in the day”, he says, “and there’s this one year we’re a bit late, the traffic was bad. In the front of the car we used to have a hooky Lyons Caterers pass - they supplied for the Queen, and the gatemen never stopped you if you had one of those. So anyway, we’ve pulled up, all suited and booted, and the guy on the gate gives us the stop signal.”

“You’re a bit late lads”, he says.

“Yes, bad traffic.”

“I don’t mean that. That Lyons pass is about three years out of date”, he says, pointing at the offending item.

“Look pal, we can stand here arguing if you like about the validity of that pass but we’ve got the Queen’s strawberries covered in the back of the car and they’re going off! She won’t be happy…”

“You’d best get going then lads”, says the gateman, hurrying them through. Unbelievable!

Anyway, I’ve gone a little off-topic here. Bottom line now is that we’re a room short, as Martin can’t really be sharing with Tim. And at this stage, a room near Epsom isn’t going to come cheap.

To the rescue come my friends Claire and Wayne, who live in Addlestone. They’ve always said if I need a spare room I only have to ask, and now seems a good time. Only thing is, they’re off to Berlin for the weekend as it’s Claire’s birthday treat! So I’ve got a four-bedroomed house to myself for the two days! What a result!

We travel, as ever, on the Thursday evening - the last thing you need is M25 traffic on a Friday, Thursday is bad enough - and so, early on the Friday morning at just before 8am, I’m waiting to be picked up for Epsom Racecourse. As Epsom is so expansive, the pick for both days is ridiculously early, 9.30am Friday and 9am Saturday, as the ring managers have a lot of area to cover, and the course want bookmakers in position before the double-deckers start arriving around 11am.

There are two surprises - one, there are less bookmakers in our enclosure than last year (five less, to be exact) and two, IT’S LIKE THE MIDDLE OF BLOODY WINTER HERE!

The last thing that the good lady said to me as I sat in the car Thursday, ready to go, was “are you taking a jumper?” At that point I’d ummed and ahhed about whether to take one or not, with a somewhat mixed forecast, but it turns out the best decision I made all weekend was to get out of the car, go back in the house, upstairs, and fetch my warm blue cotton jumper that is normally reserved for Yarmouth in September. I kid you not when I use the word “freezing” here - it really is cold, grey skies all around, no sign of any sun, and a temperature of 10 degrees. It is not going to get any warmer all day long. Luckily I can disappear to the press tent for a coffee and a bacon sandwich, unlike some of the poor bookmakers who are going to be sat around in the murk outside for the next few hours.

When I reappear around midday, I find Tim and the rest of the team have turned up, and Tim has delved into my bag of wet-weather gear and found my winter coat. Which he’s decided to purloin for himself. Tim, who spends one-sixth of the year in Barbados and does not cope well with English weather the other five-sixths, looks utterly disgusted with proceedings already and we’ve not even had the first race yet.

The whole afternoon is best described thus: the cold weather stops the picknickers, the buses are few and far between, and the ones that turn up are not betting buses. Overall, not great. The only saving grace is the fact that the bookmakers are down in numbers, which matches the custom. There’s really not as many here as you’d like, and crowd numbers are on the small side. Very noticeably so.

As such, results are almost irrelevant given the level of business, but we don’t have a winning favourite all afternoon. Ideally, you’d like these results tomorrow when business will be better. The biggest bet I take all afternoon is £200, from a lad that wanted to back something he called “hammish” in the Coronation Cup. I look for something hammish, anything ham-like on the board, in fact, but it turns out he means Hamish. I assume he’s not Scottish at this point. Regardless, when that one finishes second he leaves his money with us.

As the afternoon goes on and it gets colder, talk inevitably turns towards tonight’s food order. Nando's is the destination of choice, as it caters for all of us (i.e. the fat sods like me and Martin can have chips with our chicken, whilst the healthier brigade - Tim - can have his couscous. Or whatever.)

Saturday morning, 7.45am pick-up. I lock up and push the keys back through the door. It’s supposedly warmer than yesterday, but if it is, it’s not by a lot. The jumper is still on.

The press room is even more packed than yesterday. I must be the only person in there trying to look at Worcester’s afternoon card, but there we go.

Today I find myself right down the end of the line of bookmakers in the Lonsdale Enclosure, often a very good pitch on a day like today. We’re still awaiting three buses turning up which we’re told are all late. Those three buses will be right in front of me when they turn up; sadly for me, they never do. There’s some miscommunication somewhere and my good pitch suddenly looks less good. That’s another massive disadvantage of having to pick at 9am when there’s no crowd or buses - you’re relying on the info you’re given at that point, and if it’s wrong, tough luck.

The crowd are coming in pretty quickly now and at least they are filling the gaps that the buses leave, which is some consolation. The sun is trying to come out. Things are looking up.

A group of young ladies come along and sit near the joint, set up with picnic and prosecco. After a while one of the girls comes over and - this next conversation is 100% how it happened - says to me…

“City Of Troy runs today, doesn’t it? In the Derby?”

I inform her it does, and she wants to back it.

“I was told, back in March, don’t back it first time as it won’t win but back it second time because then he will win.” I ask if the person that told her this information had a quiet Irish accent and said “listen” a lot. Fully expecting her to have a fiver on it, she pulls a card out and has £100 on at 3-1. Her mates all follow suit with twenties and fifties.

Business is slow to get going for the first, with so many people coming to the party quite late, but I still manage to take a grand on the race, most of it on Portsmouth, and when that’s beaten, it’s a good start.

It’s fair to say this is not a racing crowd - you’d not expect it to be, not in this enclosure - but equally I did expect them to be in better spirits than they are, and they really are, in the main, a miserable lot. One lad insists on giving me dog’s abuse after his 50 quid bet on Running Lion gets stuffed - somehow that’s my fault, it seems - and one girl insists I’m trying to cheat her after I charge her 20 quid for her £10 each-way bet. Yes, you read that right.

“I know that a £10 each-way bet is a tenner, not twenty. You’re lying”, she shouts, with some real venom. There’s a queue behind her that I really need to serve. I offer to get the ring inspector involved but all she wants to do is shout at me. Eventually the bloke behind her in the queue intervenes on my behalf and tells her she’s wrong, but I feel really down after the episode. In fact, it rather ruins the afternoon if I’m honest and, after that, I’m not my usual effervescent self. I just want the day to end and to go home.

However, I’ll tell you of one other episode on the day that did actually offer some optimism for the future. Sadly, we lost Tears Of A Clown after the 3yo Dash, the green screens going up in front of the stands. One lady asked me what had happened - had the horse died? How had it died? I explained to her in non-emotive language exactly what had happened, and why I thought it had happened. She was very sad about the episode, as you’d expect, but she thanked me for explaining it all to her, and in clear terms.

When the worst happens on a racecourse and we sadly lose horses, and that’s just a fact of our sport, we need to deal with it in an adult fashion and not try and hide anything. Twice this season I’ve heard courses use the phrase “ x is being assessed in the horse ambulance” in an effort to try and lessen the blow for racegoers when clearly that’s not been the case. That has to stop, if we want the transparency the new Horse Pwr initiative is supposed to bring. Be honest with people. They’ll understand.

Anyway, the girls knew. City Of Troy kicks them aside in the Derby, a dreadful result for the books, as it turns out. As the girls pick up, I ask them whether their mystery source has informed them as to whether he’ll win again third time? “Oh yes, he’ll win again.” Who needs form books when you’ve info like this, eh?

Let’s hope the crowd at Ascot is cheerier. See you all next week. Bring a brolly, that’s my tip.

- DM

Roving Reports: Time Away

When the cat’s away, the mice will disappear off down South for a weekend of punting, so the saying goes in our house, writes David Massey; and, with the good lady vanishing off to a spa weekend with her sister and nieces to celebrate one of them turning 18, it meant a weekend of either fending for myself, which usually ends with the local takeaways doing well out of me, or letting someone else take the strain, and take in some racing as a sideline.

So rather than raid the ready meals aisle at the local Big Tesco, I took the decision to take myself off to the desirable location of Staines-On-Thames for the weekend and had the idea of going to Plumpton on Sunday and Windsor on Monday night before heading home to Southwell on Tuesday morning. But first, an actual day of work at Nottingham.

Yes, it’s the one day of the year that it’s Money Without Work, as I jump on board the Martyn Of Leicester bandwagon. Martyn has numerous pitches at Ascot, Leicester, Warwick and Nottingham so anyone that’s anyone can get a day’s work as Martyn spreads the lightboards all over the country. It’s a local one for me at Nottingham and as it’s their Ladies Day, a busy one to boot.

I mean, it was busy, don’t get me wrong, but not as busy as last year when I worked the rail for them; there’s a lesson for courses here, it’s okay filling the place, Nottingham having sold out every ticket beforehand, which didn’t happen last year, but when you do, and space is at a premium, people tend to find a spot and stay there, rather than roam around, knowing a sitting space is more likely to be available. More isn’t always better, when it comes to crowds and the experience they have.

Anyway, let’s not complain too much. After a slow start and results not really falling our way, the second half of the day livened up and just in time as the 8-1 Spirit Genie was followed up with 6-1 and 12-1 winners, meaning a good day for the firm. (Unlike later on at Warwick, with five jollies and two second-in jollies going in. Ouch.) The pay for the day will cover my expenses for the weekend, so let’s kick on.

I’d already made an executive decision, once I’d seen that the M25 was shut between junctions 9-10 over the weekend and was going to cause quite a few disruptions (and throw in people traveling to the South Coast on one of the hottest days of the year so far) that poor old Plumpton was going to get the heave-ho in favour of a day of pointing at Kingston Blount, near High Wycombe. I’d never been and always wanted to go, so with my friend Lawney helping out with a badge, it was time to hit the M40 and head to Aston Rowant.

I have to say, what a glorious setting. Green fields as far as the eye can see in all directions, beautiful forestry, and a pair of red kites soaring overhead for most of the afternoon, if that’s your sort of thing. Where better to be than with a pint in your hand when the sun’s beating down? (Please drink responsibly.)

As for the punting, well, I’ve had better days. Alan Hill tells me his best chance of the afternoon runs in the first, so I invest 40 notes on him at 6-4. Sadly that went west, even with the odds-on favourite all but refusing to jump off; he never looked like winning and pulled up. No bet on the 1-3 favourite in the second and I left the Ladies Open alone, but did like one in the Men’s Open, which led three out, went clear, only to get picked off in the shadow of the post. It’s a stiff old finish, is Kingston Blount, and going for home early isn’t always the best policy. So that was a kick in the teeth, although not as much as the first division of the maiden, where I backed one each-way at 6s, and with three going clear three out and my pick just taking up the running, he unseated.

I decide today is not going to go my way, pull stumps and lick my wounds back at the hotel. At least the food was decent. Some comfort at the end of the day.

Monday morning. I’ve a lot of work to do before Windsor tonight and crack on, but once again it appears I’ve got clog-wearing Morris Dancers above me in the hotel and I opt to retire to a nearby coffee house to do some writing, which is considerably quieter. The York card looks decent and I decide fairly early that I’ll be having a decent each-way bet on Makanah in the sprint handicap.

You’d think that I’d know my way around the racecourses, having done it a few years now, but somehow I manage to take a wrong turn for Windsor and end up going down the M4 for a junction too many. Good job I’ve left in plenty of time. It’s supposed to still be a warm evening but I can tell you from bitter experience Windsor can be a cold place and sure enough the wind is blowing when I get there. The t-shirt comes off, and the long sleeved version goes on.

Operation Sunday Recovery begins well when the paddock throws up the first winner He’s Got Game, who I have £40 on, and despite almost throwing it away out of the stalls, he’s got enough in hand to win. I’ve nailed the trifecta on paddock looks as well, and already Sunday’s disasters are becoming but a distant memory.

The second looks too difficult, with five of the eight runners presenting well beforehand, so I sit it out, and a three-place bet on the exchanges on Frinton in the next gets me a bit more back. I go the wrong way in the novice with Mono River, and decide, having got Sunday’s losses back in the main, to call it an evening. I give Simon Nott, one of the few people in racing that does more miles than me, a lift back to the station and head for the hotel.

I get back in time to watch my tip for the day, Inspired Knowhow, scramble home in the closer and make a good day even better. He wins literally on the bob, and the next morning I remark to Mr Delargy how lucky we’ve been with the bob lately - three winners in the last week, none of which were in front either before or after the line. Sometimes your luck is with you, sometimes it’s not.

I celebrate with the complimentary fizzy water in the fridge and a Twirl (have you seen the tiny size of those these days? Shocking)  - rock ‘n’ roll, kids - and decide on an early night, with a long drive to Southwell Tuesday morning beckoning. It’s been a fun weekend, with a bit of profit at the end of it after expenses, which you can ask for no more than. Busy week ahead - York, Doncaster and Stratford, no rest for the wicked, or indeed the journeyman worker. See you all on the Knavesmire - and bring a brolly…

- DM

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: “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: 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: HQ, and Closer To Home

My workload is starting to pick up as the season progresses, and now the evening racing has kicked in, even more so, writes David Massey. I shall tell you about the knock-on effect of that for me later, but let's start this episode at the beginning of the month, and two days at the Guineas meeting at Newmarket.

You'll notice only the two - we decided not to go on the Friday, as the Silver Ring, which is where we will be working both days, has next to no business that day. So we set off on the Saturday morning, and in this case the "we" is myself and the good lady, who has purloined a free ticket from a friend of hers. The forecast is mixed, with some showers due early afternoon but should pass through quickly. I trust the weather forecasts as much as I'd trust having my palm read to determine if it'll rain or not, so the wet weather gear is packed.

We arrive in plenty of time to get set up, and start betting. It is extremely slow to get going, with families still coming in as the first goes off. However, before that, the rain begins, and up go the bookmakers' umbrellas, along with a whole row of gazebos as families that have been a bit more forward-thinking take shelter.

The rain gets a bit heavier and behind us are some very dark clouds indeed. It soon becomes fairly clear that the wet stuff is set in. Worse, it appears to be coming in sideways. When rain falls directly on you from overhead it isn't so bad, as the umbrella does its job and keeps the majority of it off you. When it comes at you from the side, everything gets wet. You're not only trying to protect yourself but all the electrics - if your printer packs up as the damp gets in, that's game over - and a second pair of arms is called for.

We take very little on the first race, which is just as well as the jolly old favourite wins. The two joint-favourites are hand-in-hand over the line for a 1-2 in the next, too, but it hardly matters as the rain is absolutely killing the business.

It gets heavier still. One family in front of us packs up and goes home. Two races. That's all they have seen. I hope they feel they had value for money but, equally, the idea of going somewhere warmer and drier appeals to me right now, too. I fancy Probe a bit in the next and give it a cheer as it wins. At least I've got a few quid in my pocket after that, even if the firm haven't. I really don't need to tell you how the rest of the day went, as the rain did not go anywhere and it was quite literally a wash-out. After five races the water-resistant coat I'm wearing becomes resistant no longer, and my shirt underneath develops some big damp patches. I have to go back to the car and change. The deluge eventually stops as the last gets underway. The least said about this day, the better.

Sunday comes and is a different kettle of fish. The sun is shining to the point I need sunscreen, and there are families pouring in on what is traditionally a family day. The puppet show (the same noisy one as last year, but mercifully further away from us this year) is in full swing, the inflatables are proving popular and the ice-cream van has a queue all afternoon. I wouldn't mind a 20% share in that action today.

We get going an hour before the first. It isn't long before a bloke, who appears to have been on the early shift at Wetherspoons, comes up to me. I shall try and give you an idea of the conversation.

"Is this the first race?"

"Yes mate, it is."

(Long pause)

"And these are the runners?"

"That's right."

(Long pause)

"For the first?"


(Very long pause)

"Can I have a bet in the second race?"

"After this one you can, yes."

(Long pause)

"Is this the first race?"

And so on. He gets bored after ten minutes and goes to the bookmaker next door, and asks exactly the same questions. He looks absolutely out of it. I shout over to Tony, the bookie next door, that he can have him all afternoon if he likes! For some reason Tony doesn't want him. I cannot imagine why...

It is, as you'd expect for a Silver Ring, all small money we are taking but surprisingly we do plenty of business on debit cards, too. HMS President is a good result and so is Running Lion in the Pretty Polly, with Queen Of Fairies one of the best backed horses all afternoon. There are a lot of first-time punters, and as is always the case, one of them has backed the first three winners. I let her into the secret that "we always let you win first time" before she promptly gets the four-timer up with Via Sistina.

Now, there has been a distinct waft of weed in the air all afternoon (sadly, all too common on racecourses these days) and the lady with the drugs dog is in the area to try and find the source. It doesn't take the dog long to latch onto the scent and he's pulling her towards someone.

It's only matey boy who was such a pain in the backside before the first that she's after. Suddenly, that conversation makes a bit more sense.

Laughably, he's off and trying to get away from the dog. "STAY THERE!!" the handler bellows at him, and he knows the game is up. He sinks to his knees in despair, his face pleading for mercy. She's having none of it, and within a couple of minutes he's escorted off the premises by three security guards.

"Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio!!" goes the chant as he's marched off. Myself and Tony are killing ourselves laughing as he tries to get a roll-up in his mouth, only to miss, and isn't allowed to go back and fetch it. He seems more upset about that than the fact he's got to leave.

Anyway, back to the main event, and the 1000 Guineas. Business is solid and I take a £200 bet on the favourite, which stays in the satchel as Mawj proves too good. It's that good a result I'm sent for four Magnums from the ice-cream van, a bargain at fourteen quid. And they moan about the margins that they bet to in the ring.

Two races to go and, from nowhere, I have a punter that's having a few quid on. He has £200 on Hectic and £100 on Saxon King. Where's he been all afternoon? Has he got any mates that want a bet, I ask him with a smile?

He backs the winner and with the £600 he collects, has £300 back on Lion Of War. Sadly there's no good ending for him as it finishes a well-held fourth. I enquire as to whether there might be a second round of Magnums only to be told I was lucky to get the first one!

There are cars stuck in the car park on the way out, parts of it have just turned to mud after yesterday, and the tractor is going to be busy. Not for us though, and after getting paid it's out and we're on the way home.

The following Saturday, with so many meetings, saw me pick up a day for a firm I don't usually work for. Martyn Of Leicester (for it was he) had pitches at Ascot, Leicester, Nottingham and Warwick, a total of 16 in all, and that requires a lot of workers. I'd been asked a couple of weeks ago if I'd like a home fixture and so I worked the rails for him at Nottingham on what was their Ladies Day.

I often moan about how soulless Nottingham can be but there was no lack of atmosphere on Saturday; the place was buzzing with a great crowd up for an enjoyable day in the sun. All the other rails pitches had three workers on them, but I was on my own ("just do your best" says Martyn; I informed him I always do my best) and was busy from the word go. Most of the punters seem to know what they are doing, always helpful, and the first two results go our way. Come race four, though, and I have a problem.

The 10 horse, Showalong, wins easily but one bloke brings a losing slip up, saying I gave him £20 number 2 rather than £20 number 10. It's entirely possible I misheard him - a genuine mistake if so, particularly with a loud tannoy system - but I point out to him it's too late to do anything about it now. It clearly says on every ticket we print "please check your ticket" as I can change a bet beforehand, but he's not happy. I tell him I can get the ring inspector if he wishes but he's not listening, he's stormed off with a few choice words regarding myself getting a hearing test. The other 500-odd punters I deal with over seven races have no such problems. Please, ladies and gentlemen, check your tickets...

At the end of the day Martyn is delighted with the efforts I've made. He's had a winning day and he pays me well, with a good top-up on my wages. Better still, I only have a five-mile journey home. If only all tracks were five miles from my house. I could work twice a day, at least until the end of August...

- DM

Roving Reports: The National’s Still Grand

This year's Aintree adventure, as always, starts not on Thursday morning but on Wednesday evening, with my lift to Aintree picking me up, complete with luggage (four work shirts, two pairs of trousers, assorted toiletries, an Aldi 'bag for life' full of wet weather gear, another bag containing all the electricals and laptops I'll need for the trip, including an extension cord and adaptor - absolutely essential when staying away) at 8pm, writes David Massey. There's no need to go any earlier, with the purpose of the trip merely to put us in the right area for Aintree on Thursday, as the pick for bookmaking spots takes place ridiculously early: 10.15am Thursday and Friday, 10am Saturday. Bookmakers tackling the M6 on the relevant mornings have been known to miss their spots. You're much better off staying local and we're just half an hour away, in Warrington. 

We're also taking our friend Steve, who is working for a different bookmaker this week, along with us and dropping him off at his Premier Inn, which is in Warrington but a different one to ours. Sadly, the info Steve has about his residence for the week is limited and we end up dropping him off at the wrong one. "I'm in Room 16", he tells the receptionist but it seems someone called Danielle is already in Room 16, so unless Steve has, er, booked a friend for the evening we are in the wrong place. A quick phone call reveals he's in the one a mile down the road (who knew there were so many Premier Inns in Warrington?) so we pack all his stuff back up, and head off again. 

Once he's in the right place we head to ours, and get our first good result of the week. "I'm afraid the rooms you have booked are being renovated", we are told on arrival, "so we've upgraded you to the Premier Plus rooms." What a touch. Walk-in rainfall shower, here I come...

It's only 9.50pm so I head for a pint next door, only to find the doors of the place locked. It's an early night then. I'll get the double up next morning when I head for breakfast at 7.45am, only to still find the doors firmly bolted. So it's breakfast in the Premier Inn instead, and I have to say it was very good indeed. 

We head for Aintree good and early and arrive at the car park around 9am. I say car park - regular readers might recall the bookmakers' "car park" is little more than an overgrown patch of land opposite the track. It's normally £60 for the three days, but the cost of living has also affected car park owners, it seems, and it's an eye-watering £90 this time around. 

And the state of it. It's bad enough in dry weather, with the vines on the ground waiting to literally trip you up at any moment, but two days of wet weather have turned it to something akin to where you might have staged Junior Kick Start thirty years ago. 

So, hauling the gear on suddenly becomes an Olympic sport, and I'm sweating and knackered before we've even got going. 

In the mornings I can avoid the tedium after the pick by using the press facilities, which I do every day, but for the rest it really is a case of standing around waiting to get going. And when we do, as expected, business comes in dribs and drabs. 

Initially Stage Star is popular but the moment 2-1 Banbridge appears on the board, in come the Euros for him. And they're right, with Stage Star finding it coming too quick after Cheltenham and the fresher Banbridge coming out on top. Banbridge had been my Cheltenham banker, so it was a blow to see him taken out there; this is some compensation. 

Zenta is no good in the next and Shiskin lands the £700-£400 I'd taken, although it looked most unlikely for 90% of the race. We bet with and without the favourite for the Aintree Hurdle and I take the inevitable each-way bet on Constitution Hill. The bloke in question has a tenner each-way; enjoy your £1.25 profit, sir. 

It's strange weather, this. The sun is out but it isn't warm, with the wind keeping the temperature down. However, I'm stood right in the sun and can feel its heat, so take precautions and slap a bit of sunscreen on my bonce. Behind the joint, however, Colin is in the shade and not only has his anorak on, but is reaching for his gloves. 

Famous Clermont is popular in the Foxhunters and the Irish are back with the Euros for Dancing On My Own in the Red Rum. Dysart Enos is barely a good result in the last and that's Day One done. Punters in front, for sure. 

Tea/dinner (dependant on where you're from) is Nando's, with the forever-locked pub now forsaken. I do like the occasional Nando's, and we order the family platter for the five of us. There's plenty left over at the end and I'm only too happy to help clear up. As Colin often points out, "if ever there's an eating competition between the bookmakers, we're putting you in to bat." Harsh. But probably true. 

Thursday is the quietest day of the three, Friday and Saturday are busier and so we are joined by two more workers, Paul and Martin (aka BMW). Martin joined us last night and immediately had a result. On checking in he was told the room he had booked had been trashed by the couple in there the night before (trashing a Premier Inn, how sad do you have to be?) and so had to have a different room, one with a wet room. As compensation, free breakfast. The best sort of breakfast there is. 

The sun is well and truly out today, and shaven-headed Martin goes straight for my sunscreen. I like working with Martin, he always has a tale to tell from his days working with Racing Raymond (most of them utterly unprintable for this column) and, given he has an eye for the ladies, today is most definitely his day. 

The sun does not last long. Showers are predicted from 2pm and whilst the timing is about right, the rain is set in. It's never a good thing for business, and especially on a big day like today. The ladies have already abandoned their heels for flip-flops, but my word their feet, in the mud and rain, become filthy very quickly. On the plus side, whilst their dress length may be short, their betting knowledge is longer, and they know a fiver each-way is a tenner, not a fiver, and don't back favourites each-way. Having said that, you all know I took a £2.50ew Gerri Colombe in the first. 

The handicap hurdle that follows is one of those where they all latch on to the same runners, namely Pull Again Green and Camprond. When neither can be found with radar at the finish, it's going to be a winning race. 

They all want Luccia in the next, but I don't fancy her and place lay her. She doesn't win but in rolling in third costs me a few quid. The Irish pile into Fakir d'Oudaries in the next and I take a €400 bet at 2s, but he can never quite get to Pic D'Orhy and that's another good race for us. Not as good as the Topham, though - not a single bet is struck on my joint on Bill Baxter. A skinner in the big race, and only five people have backed anything in the frame. Incredible. 

We've had two very attractive ladies betting all afternoon with us, not only attractive but good fun to chat to. (Note; Martin is doing most of the chatting.) It's their first time at the races and have had the crash course from us, so know what they're doing by now. One has her last tenner on Apple Away in the next, and I'm delighted for her when it wins. As is she. Punctuation in the last isn't a skinner, perhaps surprisingly, as two people have crystal balls better than mine and have had a tenner each-way on him. One admits to backing the wrong horse, but decided to stick with it anyway, which turns out to be the best decision they'll have made all day. 

With the results very much turning in the bookmakers' favour, it looks like a Friday night Nando's is once again on the cards. We troop over but it's absolutely packed, and as we don't fancy a 90-minute wait, it has to be Pizza Hut instead. The lady serving us is on her last day of service with the company and it would be very easy for her to basically go through the motions with us before she packs up for the night, but far from it. She talks us through all the deals, and couldn't be more attentive if she tried. She gets a good tip. 

Saturday. Grand National Day. We're at the track before nine and having heaved the gear through the ploughed field that is the car park, head on in. Straight away it is noticeable how much security has tightened. Everyone's on edge. Even the mush (the umbrella, for those unaware) gets searched. There's clearly a feeling something is going to kick off, but as yet, where and when remains a mystery. 

In the press room there's donuts and, later, champagne kicking about. I wouldn't normally, not that early anyway, but it seems rude not to. Pork pie, you say? Don't mind if I do. I take another piece for later. 

Let's get betting then. The place feels rammed and despite the first hardly being a betting heat, with Jonbon a 2-11 chance, the forecast option is very popular, with Jonbon to beat Calico the choice of the punters. We're staring at a big payout before Calico departs at the last; maybe that's an omen for the day. 

Or maybe not. Loads of £20 and £50 bets come sailing in for West Balboa and she duly obliges in the next. A monkey comes in for Hermes Allen to recover the Cheltenham losses but Irish Point proves too good for them. He's going to be a force next year, for sure. Not many back Sire Du Berlais either, although one bloke is on a roll, having started with £30 on West Balboa, playing £60 of that up on Irish Point and has now had £100 on Sire Du Berlais. I advise him he can buy lottery tickets at all good newsagents. His next move is £130 on Midnight River at 7-1; when that wins, I tell him to buy two. 

And now, Grand National time. A grand is thrust my way, the punter wanting £500 e/w on Fury Road at 33s. The simply matter is if that wins, we haven't enough float to pay him, so he's laid half that. He's happy and has the rest next door. £100 bets are flying around my ears, mainly for Any Second Now, Delta Work (again, a £250 e/w laid) and Le Milos. 

Then the announcement rings out. "There will be a delay to the start of the race." 

And that's really about it, we hear no more from the PA (as deafening as ever, they haven't listened to a word we said about it last year) until they are going down. However, the power of social media tells us everything that's going on over on the far side, and protestors are indeed now on the course. I'm not here to get into the politics of it all, I shall leave that to others far cleverer than I, but I can tell you it was a massive pain on the day. The only positive I could find was that the ridiculous one-hour gap to the last (utterly unnecessary, 40 minutes would be more than enough) was bridged to around half an hour. 

Remarkably, Corach Rambler is a decent result. Not many have backed it, and the payout queue is not a long one. All we need to do now is get the last out of the way, with business unsurprisingly dropping right off (many head straight for the exits after the National) and head home. 

Farewell car park, I hope you've dried up by next year. Better still, had some concrete over the top of you. I think that's probably asking too much. Knackered, but paid up and with a little bonus, it's time to go back to Nottingham. See you all next time.

- 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: 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: No Rest for the Wicked

So, since Royal Ascot you might think things would go a little quieter, but you'd be wrong, very wrong, writes David Massey. Since then, I've visited Cartmel on our holidays the week after Ascot (highly recommended, if only to visit the Sticky Toffee Pudding shop - try the ginger one, superb, and only a thousand calories per spoonful), and have worked at Southwell, Stratford, Newbury, Haydock, York and Uttoxeter. 

If ever you've thought about becoming a workman for one of the books, there's never been a better time to give it a try. Covid saw a lot of them, starved of work on the tracks for so long, take other, full time, jobs in driving and retail industries. When it was time to come back to the tracks, they simply said no, with more secure jobs on offer. No-one could blame them for taking such a stance but ever since plenty of the books have struggled to fill those positions and as such, particularly in the summer, they are simply unable to staff all their joints. Bookmakers with good pitches at big tracks are having to let them go to waste on a Saturday. Seriously, if you want racecourse work, it’s out there. 

Haydock last Saturday was a prime example. A sell out crowd for Madness, we expected a full line of bookmakers in the Silver Ring, but only eight turned up. We couldn't get them on quick enough and even more so when my keyboard packed up on race three. Instead of two of us taking bets, we were down to just one, and that means you take twice as long to clear a queue that never went down. Technology is wonderful when it works, a pain in the backside when it lets you down at the most inconvenient of moments. [Hear hear! Ed.]

The fez (not to be confused with The Fez, jumps fans) was the headgear of choice for the crowd on Saturday (the Madness merchandise stall was knocking them out at seven quid a pop) although fair play to the one guy who went for the pith helmet (from the Night Boat To Cairo video) which looked pretty heavy. On a warm night, we salute you, sir. 

As expected, it was all small money. One lad, in a "Billionaire's Boys Club" T-shirt, asks me for 50p e/w the favourite in the first. I'm guessing he's not a member. Or maybe he is, perhaps that's the key to riches. 

"Mr Musk, how come you have so much money?" 

"I keep stakes on those 0-65's at Haydock to an absolute minimum. The draw can be a complete guess-up." 

With the last race at nine, it was midnight before I was back home, and thanks to Stratford bringing their meeting forward to a midday start, it meant rising at 7.30 Sunday morning to be there for 10am for Ladies Day. Oh, the glamour of it all. Fair play to Stratford, though; I was sceptical about the 12 start, thinking it would make little difference as far as the heat went, but it was the right decision, with the afternoon noticeably hotter than it was at lunchtime. 

I like Stratford. It's a great little track that always gets a crowd and they all have a bet. It's all small money on Sunday, although someone came in with an even £300 on Pop The Champagne, which duly obliged. Pop The Champagne is owned by my friend Jill, who has had some success with High Wells recently, too. I say 'friend', she's actually my stalker, by her own admission! But it's always a pleasure to see her. 

Haydock isn't the only late finish I've had recently. Newbury's evening meeting on the 7th saw me working on the rails, with business just fair. The most unusual thing about Newbury is the placement of the hand driers in the men's toilets, which are not actually in the toilets but the entrance, often resulting in people being unable to move if someone's using the drier, and blocking anyone going in or out. You wonder who thought that was a good idea. 

Anyway, another post-midnight finish on the day and, worse still, quite possibly a speeding ticket. I'm generally good with speed limits (an unblemished license for seven years now) but with roadworks on the M1 I missed the 50 limit and the camera flashed. However, over a week has passed, and no ticket as yet. I'm now 10-11 each of two to get one, having been fours on last week, with just another 72 hrs to go. If I get one, I'll have worked for little that night. 

From Newbury it was up to York the next day, where, rather than working in the ring as is usually the case, I was on the rails for John Smith’s day. It was busy from the word go, with plenty of decent bets coming in, although as was pointed out to me by my work colleague Martin, we were working next to two very attractive young ladies.

“How the hell are us ugly sods supposed to take a bet against them?” he groaned. Well, we just had to be as efficient as we could, clear the queue and then start pulling them in off the backs of the other queues, that’s how. To me, the Saturday was good business but it needed to be after a disaster of a Friday (four winning favourites, three second favourites) but one or two of the big books were saying business was about 30% down on pre-Covid levels. For some of them, the Saturday was something of an acid test to see whether business really has dropped off or if it could return, and the signs, according to plenty, were not good. 

It does look as if this level of business is now the new normal, and some of the books are now having to cut their cloth accordingly. That, coupled with the lack of staff, means there’s plenty of pitches for sale right now, if you fancy a go yourself...

It's York again this weekend for me, which is always a laugh, especially if I'm on the back line next to the Paul Johnson crew. David, often seen on Racing Post Greyhound TV trying to put up a winner at his beloved Doncaster these days, has an opinion on most things, and most of them are wrong. He could start a fight with himself half the time, but he's a good friend and we'll spend the two days winding each other up. I'll tell you how that goes next time.

 - DM