Racegoers arriving at Taunton were greeted by the dulcet tones of Tommo over the public address system, host for the day complete with his bucket. The veteran racing legend, currently highly in vogue after his appearance on the Graham Norton show, was as exuberant as ever broadcasting from the parade ring. The Taunton racegoers appeared to love it, it seemed selfies with Tommy were a popular pastime (and almost certainly free!).
His appearance at the track today could have been something to do with the title of the first heat on today’s seven-race card, ‘Evening With Tommo And Champ Handicap Hurdle’. The racing world’s eyes were all on this race as it made up the first leg of the Scoop 6 the tank of which had swelled to over a million quid. On paper it looked a tricky opener with 16 of the 17 going to post. Readers will be glad to know that bookmakers were betting a quarter the odds a place, including Ivor Perry on pitch one.
The crowd were keeping the bookies busy, keen to get stuck in and get off to a flying start. Their favourite at the off was Emma Lavelle’s charge Dollnamix supported quite late from 9/2 into 3/1 favourite. It won’t have escaped a lot of punter’s attention that the darling of Saturday racing in recent months Bryony Frost was riding here today and not one of the higher profile meetings. Her mount Silver Quay had been costly to follow in his recent outings, but not today. The grey gelding looked the winner a long way out and easily accounted for, and foiled the gamble on the runner-up jolly.
Bryony said post-race that the gelding had just needed some time and patience, which he’d been given, to come good. She added that she was looking forward to her remaining rides on the day. That was surely enough to get some punters wallets itching, they had to be patient too, she didn’t have a ride in the next.
The next being the Kings College Novices’ Hurdle. Only five went to post in which Thomas Darby was sent off the long odds-on favourite backed from 2/7 into 1/5. Not on course though, ‘Not a bean, it was all on the machine’ was one bookmaker’s quite poetic summing up of the race. That wasn’t bad news for the layers on-course who had an involuntary lean-up the short-one which duly won for the Olly Murphy yard under Aidan Coleman.
The bookmakers weren’t so lucky in the Invest Southwest Seniors’ Handicap Hurdle, Jeremy Scott’s charge Unison won nicely – steadily supported from 3/1 into 11/4 favourite from 3/1 second-in Air Horse One in a race where the layers had no chance. Bryony Frost’s mount Raven’s Tower finished third at 16/1 to reward each-way punters and further sock it to the layers that stood for it.
‘Will I lay you 4/1 the 7/2 shot ? …. Now let me think about it for a minute’
Next up was the feature of the day, the Weatherbys Portman Cup Chase worth £23,590 to the winner. I spoke to clerk of the course Jason Loosemore prior to the race, he was over the moon how competitive it was, then joked, ‘We’ve all had to take a pay cut to help fund it!’ The race wasn’t a disappointment, that is unless you backed the favourite. The Last Samuri was sent off jolly and made a gallant attempt to make all but in the end was no match for Colin Tizzard’s Royal Vacation who sauntered away after the last to win under Aidan Coleman at a bookie-friendly 8/1. ‘That got me out on the day’ beamed lofty Paul Metcalfe on the Jack Bevan (Est 1897) pitch.
Meanwhile, Tommo still dextrously wielding his bucket continued to regale the crowd with one-liners and short interviews with racegoers. Some of the latter were less than enamoured and slightly miffed when the big screen cut from the field jumping the last in the 3.00 at Ascot to Tommo interviewing Lady Portman in the paddock.
The bookies must have thought that they had Nicky Henderson’s 4/6 into 4/9 hotpot Before Midnight beaten in the British EBF ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle when Philip Hobbs’ outsider At His Own Expense touched down fractionally in front from the jolly only to immediately capitulate. Smackwater Jack then did his best to get to the jolly on the run-in but to no avail which left the layers on the back foot again. Tote backers might have been more than a little disgruntled to see the win dividend pay £1.20 that’s 1/5 in real money.
The penultimate Foresters Garden Buildings Chase saw a rare old tussle between 11/8 favourite Railroad Junkie and 7/2 shot Boagrius. The latter got the better of it by half a length much to the delight of the bookmakers still clinging to the hope of a winning day.
The Betting Ring Manager Andy Collins (pictured above) was poised to go into action after the concluding Free Ticket Offer Ends Midnight 27th January Mares’ Standard Open NH Flat Race. What he really didn’t want was either #10 Sheeza Legend or #14 She’s A Legend winning, I’m sure you can see the potential problems. Betting opened around 2/1 the field looking like a good betting race with punters cash in hand ready to have one last go. I spoke to Jim Clarke earlier, he was on his tod ‘Relegated to the slave pitch’ as he put it. Up in the no drinking area Bob on the GT Williams joint was imploring punters to ‘Back a winner and pay for your dinner’. Jim Clarke’s grandson Dann was betting next to him, I joked about his granddad being banished to the slave pitch, then a voice popped up from behind the joint, ‘That’s where he deserves to be too, he’s laid 5/2 about this 6/4 shot’.
The punters had latched to Bryony Frost’s mount Ellarna and was now just ‘half arm’ 6/4. At the two furlong pole her backers must have been thinking they were going to be rewarded but had to eventually settle for third when the mare weakened at the business end of the race. The Warren Greatrex charge Miss Honey Rider won the race under Harry Teal returning 9/2. I don’t know about the punters but despite the bookies getting the jolly beaten, the result wouldn’t pay for their dinner, as my old boss Jack Lynn would say, maybe a fish supper.
Of everyone on course Andrew Collins was happy, neither Legends troubled the judge.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring