AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

SIMON NOTT: The reports of the betting ring death are greatly exaggerated

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nyone who has read any of my work will know that I love the betting ring, lots of people love it and I’m right up there with them. Of course, much of it is because it reminds me of my late teens and early 20’s when I discovered the wonderful world that existed on course. I can remember my first day working for Jack Lynn at Taunton like it was yesterday. I was perfectly aware that I was there as a last resort so was keen to do well. I did, I spotted a bit of 9/10 (yes 9/10 in 1989) after my boss laid a £400 – £500. That was it, first race, first thing I reported and I was on the list. It took a while to be a regular and even longer to be really accepted but only one day for someone to tell me ‘The game’s gone’.

It hadn’t gone, but I’m told it had nearly gone a couple of decades earlier in the 1960’s when betting shops were legalised. They tell me that there was no waiting list in those days, no buying or selling either, people stopped coming and the bookies turned it in.

By the time I became a part of it, the betting ring had bounced back, even though I was told the game was gone. All I can think is that when it was good it was very good. In my early years I enjoyed a vibrant ring, four rows of books in Tatts at Newbury on a Friday and so on.

In my time there have been many upheavals, ESL (Extended Supplementary List) bookmakers being allowed to fill the gaps every meeting, buying and selling, betting exchanges and most recently everyone able to bet on their telephones right in front of the bookies. The final curtain surely.

That is apart from ‘everyone’ isn’t everyone. In fact anyone that has shown any glimmer of maybe not losing too much or beating a price on a regular basis isn’t part of ‘everyone’ any more. I won’t go into restrictions because I’m sure people are sick of hearing it, but the fact is there are now 100s if not 1000’s of horse racing fans in the punting twilight zone. Keen amateur form students, those that get the odd tip and people that just hit a jammy purple patch, unable to get a decent two-figure bet, most aren’t even after three.

Over the last few months I have been interviewing pro-punters for this website and talking to a whole lot more who tell me that they are returning to the racecourse to do their business. The dwindling liquidity on the exchanges means that if someone wants to back a horse to win £1,000 the racecourse is very often the only place they can do it. There isn’t a bookmaker on course that won’t lay a horse to lose a monkey, most will lay a grand and often letting you bet the fractions too.

Those betting ring haters that deride the layers when there’s an odd anomaly in the SP, always because of extenuating circumstances that those people never want to listen to, are right. They are right because of course the bookmakers use the exchanges as a guide, and yes, prices are often uniform for the same reason. Often those prices are near the knuckle to those offered on-line but with no commission, the bookmakers that tough out mid-week meetings will lay those prices to lose four-figures.

In a recent interview with Eddie Fremantle CLICK HERE he remembered a huge gamble that took place at Exeter in a seller on a horse called Bootscraper. I was one of the hapless floormen running around the ring trying to hedge as the price collapsed from 5/1 (£9,000-£2,000 laid £18,000 – £4,000 asked for, Stephen Little) into 6/4 last bet laid £600-£400 Bernard Redfern. I was told I was never going to work for the firm (Jack Lynn) again after Bootscraper won half the track. I had been unable to hedge some of their £900-£200 even though it was 5/1 across the horseshoe ring when they laid it.

I was exonerated when the dust settled and the bookies counted their losses. It turned out to be a perfectly executed gamble. There appeared to be one person ready to bet with each bookmaker at exactly the same time. Homework had been done, nobody went charging in for a bet massively over what a firm would lay and letting the cat out of the bag. Each bookmaker laid a bet, most what they had been asked for, and each and every one of them had their pants pulled down.

My point being, if a similar coup was organised today, precisely timed, the money that could be won by the organisers of the gamble would be hugely more than they could get on the machine, and you can work out for yourself what they’d get with major on-line bookies. It would be quite a sight, a line of bookmakers trying to bet back the same horse to win tens of thousands from the same meagre figure in the ‘back’ column.

But this isn’t even about once in a lifetime coups that you never forget whatever side you were on. It’s just about people being able to have a half decent bet on their personal fancy or one they’ve been tipped up. Nobody wants them in an on-line world where absolute novices need only apply.

Bookmakers on course are now on the front line taking on those people in the punting twilight zone previously mentioned. Proper punters have started going racing again. Regardless of those who like to knock the ring, those people who hunkered in darkened rooms for a decade and bet on-line are back facing the bookies, looking into the whites of their eyes, nostrils flared with that aroma of readies. Sharp young punters reared on exchanges and BOG and now excluded from the club are also discovering the benefits of the betting ring, it’s always been there went the fads fail.

The betting ring renaissance has begun.

Simon Nott

skintmobSimon Nott is author of Skint Mob!: Tales from the Betting Ring