There was panic in the air on my arrival at Taunton. No, it wasn’t off, no, there weren’t a plethora of defections, worse than that, there wasn’t a big screen. One slightly agitated racecourse regular asked genial raceday commentator Richard Hoiles if he’d try and be a little more descriptive as to when the horses were going down and looked like getting underway. The thinking behind that was on some occasions he’d be the only one that would know. It must have been impossible back in the days before such visuals aids as big screens became widely used, but surely not the on-course version of staring at the speaker in a 1970’s betting shop.
The buck was soon passed on by the course announcer, the providers didn’t have their name down so there wasn’t a screen coming in.
Down in the ring the bookmakers were in good spirits and still talking about how good the Christmas meeting had been ‘still betting them when they were on the first circuit’ and ’15 deep trying to get on’. They were fairly upbeat about today’s meeting too. They hadn’t expected much but a 2 for 1 entry offer by the racecourse had bolstered attendance. Rumour has it that it’s free entry the Monday before Cheltenham Festival too, so there’s one for the diary.
The layers weren’t so chirpy after Chef D’Equipe sauntered home in the opening Somerset Sight Novices’ Hurdle having been backed from an early 4/6 to 2/5. That said, there didn’t appear to be any volume of bets on the jolly and certainly no plastic bag men shovelling it on to cause too much damage. The lack of lumpy punters saved the layers again when the Whittington yard scored in the Somerset Sight Maiden Hurdle backed from 11/10 to 10/11. There had been word that ‘clever’ each-way money was on David Pipe’s Legal History, it might have been but didn’t cop this time, finishing fourth so stayed in the hods.
I bumped into ‘Armaloft’ Alex just after the second, he was on a busman’s just ducking out of the course betting shop. He’d been thwarted in his attempt to overcome the lack of big screen vision finding the TV’s blank in there too so my quip about staring at the speakers not too far out after all.
The first two jollies having gone in the bookmakers were still surprisingly chirpy down in the ring, probably because some decent bets were bandying about. I was getting some sideways looks from a layer as his man on the stool starting chatting to me about ‘the old days’ when a punter came in old school style and had a £900 – £600 Romain De Senam in the HR Dept ‘Outs-Horsed’ Employer’s Employment Advice Handicap Chase . That bet was quickly followed by a £500 – £200 Fox Appeal. Before people start, I know it’s hardly Cheltenham front row volume, but it’s still nice to see punters still have fair bets on course. Paul Nicholls’ Romain De Senam obliged and the bookies did their money again. Three jollies with three to go things were looking starting to look very bleak in the winter sunshine.
A trio of tweed-clad proper farmer local punters engaged me in their conversation prior to the Eyes Down For The Cranmers Chase Handicap Hurdle. ‘Farmer’ Derek couldn’t understand why Harry Skelton’s Not That Fuisse was so short, 6/4 at the time, 13/8 at the off. It’s probably a good job that it’s ‘farmer’ and not ‘bookie’ Derek of he’d have done his acres several milk quotas ago. Yes, the jolly made it four favourites in a row and eight from eight jollies across jump racing cards with all four having also obliged at Doncaster. It’s a fair guess that there might be a few nasty roll-ups rolling up around the country.
Plenty of short-priced multiples may well have had included predicted odds-on favourite Shantou Flyer for the Geoffrey Bosley ‘Tally Ho’ Open Hunters’ Chase. Those that did would have had to settle for a non-runner making up their bet when Richard Hobson’s gelding was pulled out earlier in the afternoon. Back down in the ring a punter had a monkey on Road To Rome at 5/2 before the price tumbled to 13/8 market leader at the off. Font of the afternoon’s knowledge and fast becoming star of this afternoon’s blog ‘Farmer’ Derek pointed out that ‘No favourite has ever won this race’. It has now, the cheering in the winner’s enclosure from connections of the fifth winning jolly of the afternoon told that story. J J ‘OShea’s charge made every yard and appeared to land a nice little touch in the process.
Derek was down in the ring for the last but didn’t want a photo which is a shame. For all those hoping to read about bookies getting a 6-0 clobbering sadly for you ghouls it wasn’t to be. Milldean Silva opened around 7/4 market leader but wasn’t popular easy to back, the last price I saw was 9/4. Punters found a way to watch the last with the lack of big screen or even little betting shop screen.
There were no big bets that I heard of but there was a decent cheer for Emma Lavelle’s 7/2 winner Tierra Verde, it wasn’t from the bookmakers but were no doubt glad for small mercies and getting one beaten.
Still, apart from Derek and most of the bookies, it was fun in the winter sun at Taunton.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring