SIMON NOTT: Tales from the Ascot betting ring
Royal Ascot at this same venue seems a long way off on a grey November day like today, but that’s the way jumping people here would want it. The National Hunt season at Ascot kicking off in style with a competitive seven-race card.
It’s a different set of bookmakers for the winter code, though of course they are still familiar faces. Not so familiar was the board that Mike Smale was using, he told me the eye-watering amount that it cost and got me to lift the battery that runs it. It’s not light but it’s also better than the car batteries splashing acid we used to have to lug about in the 1990’s. That’s back when bookies first started using computers on course. On the plus side, Mike said he doesn’t have to tap in all the day’s information himself. There’s the first result of the day then.
On to the first race, the bookmakers were unprepared for the onslaught of money for American Gigolo in the opening GL Events UK Novices’ Hurdle. Paul Metcalfe at the Pickwick-Bevan joint had laid 15/8 while Josh on the Bob Stock joint said they joined in at 13/8. Weight of money was such that the gelding touched evens before returning 6/5. I imagine the jolly would have gone a lot shorter than that in running as it appeared to be coasting then found absolutely nothing having to settle for second behind Jamie Moore on 5/1 shot Dell Oro. The bookmakers were happy enough with that.
They were also happy with the result of the competitive Gardiner & Theobald Novices’ Handicap Hurdle. It was a race in which Nicky Henderson’s Bard was sent off the easy to back 9/2 jolly but went to a grinding late run victory by Nick Gifford’s 16/1 winner Brown Bear. It’s safe to say that victorious jockey Leighton Aspell has won to bigger roars. One bookmaker was happier than most, I imagine he’d watched the race through his fingers, was Paul Gold. He’d laid a bet of £8,000 – £200 each-way All Is Good, only to see it plummet to 20/1 then lead until two out though ultimately finished unplaced. Both punter and bookie got their money’s worth there.
There was another punt attempted, albeit at smaller prices, in the Ascot Underwriting Steeple Chase. The Paul Nicholls trained Copain De Classe was backed from around 6/1 into 3/1 favourite. The gelding’s backers were probably hoping for better than third but that was their unhappy lot behind 9/2 winner Benatar. The latter scooted home readily providing the Gary and Jamie Moore combination with a double on the card.
Colin Tizzard’s Quite By Chance won the Byrne Group Handicap Chase last year and I was told quietly fancied to follow up again this. All looked to be going to plan until James Bowen on the Paul Middleton trained Exitas came to spoil the party, to be fair the rest of the field didn’t see where it went. The winner had been 9/1 in the ring, so as it returned 11/2 by no means a great result for all the bookies.
The William Hill Handicap Hurdle was eventful in the betting market, recent interviewee Rocky Roberto (see here if you missed it) explained that there had been brisk betting in which High Bridge had been well-backed from 9/1 into 7/1 as had J P owned and Alan King trained Midnight Maestro at 10/1 into 9/1. Rocky remarked, ‘The funny thing is I laid Alan King’s other one, Elgin well at 11/2 and 5/1 then when the layers on the machine saw money for his other one they put two and two together and pushed it out, well thay got that wrong.’ With that he allowed himself a little smile. Indeed the layers on the machine had got it wrong, Elgin quickened clear up the run in no doubt to the delight of the winning owners The Elite Racing Club. As with most of their successful runners there would have been plenty of bets on course for the winner. That said, you get the feeling Rocky may have taken advantage of the generosity of those amateur layers in Internet land.
The feature race of the day, the Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase looked ultra-competitive and a bookmaker’s each-way nightmare with 16 runners going to post. As it turned out it wasn’t that competitive at all. The favourite for the race was Antony backed from 8/1 into 4/1 to complete the Moore combo treble, it wasn’t to be. The aptly-named Go Conquer was backed from 8/1 into 7/1 and did just that, conquered, for the JJ O’Neill yard under Aiden Coleman. It won like a good thing from 20/1 shot Rock Gone who the bookmakers would have preferred but at least the jolly didn’t win, though there probably hadn’t been a lot in it on what had been probably been a modest winning day.
The concluding Thames Materials Standard Open NH Flat Race, run a good seven minutes late, could make or break the day for those books who like to attack every race. Betting revolved around Saturdaynightfever and Jersey Bean, getting both of them beaten would ensure the wages and honours for the staff. It was close, Jersey Bean just won what was a thrilling race from 11/2 chance and bookies result Soldier Of Love. At 15/8 the winner wasn’t quite favourite but wouldn’t have filled the boss with generous thoughts when it came to paying the workforce either, but you never know!
Simon Nott is author of Skint Mob!: Tales from the Betting Ring