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The road to Damascus

An extraordinary thing happened yesterday – I placed a bet on a horse and won money as a result … well not quite.

I should perhaps explain.

There is no particular reason for this, but horse racing and betting are two pastimes to which I have never been attracted, even before I learned how the ‘real world’ works, viz. how in virtually all forms of betting by definition the odds are massively stacked against the punter and the ‘bank’ very rarely loses (otherwise how come so many bookies make so much money?) … and in horse racing – never mind the nature of the track, the state of the going and anything else you may wish to take into account – on some days a horse, like the rest of us, wakes up and just doesn’t feel like doing it today and/or, occasionally, a horse is deliberately ‘held back’ by its trainer and/or jockey in order to bring it to top form just at the right time (either for handicap reasons, or perhaps other reasons that I wouldn’t dare to dream about, let alone accuse anyone of).

The first time I ever had something riding on a horse was in 1962 when I was a ten year old prep school boy incarcerated far from home in a Sussex seaside town. For some reason the deputy headmaster had organised a harmless sweepstake on the Grand National, using an old pad of cloakroom tickets, or something similar, and of the boys in my class I received the ticket which equated to a 12 year-old horse called Kilmore ridden by Fred Winter which then duly only went and won the sodding thing at odds of 28/1. I think I won a bag of sweets. It was all very satisfying – and perhaps this said as much about my youthful insecurity or lack of worldliness – but deep down I felt an inner sense that I didn’t really deserve this good fortune because I’d personally done nothing more to deserve it than pick a ticket at random out of the deputy headmasters’ homberg hat when it became my turn to do so.

My granny, who drank gin, smoked like a trooper (well, puffed like one, family legend has it that she never inhailed) and was a faithful lover of both horse racing and gambling was an active promoter of my siblings’ interest in the sports of Kings and punting generally, but these things passed me by. I just didn’t ‘get’ the thrill of either – and never have.

Down the decades, like most people, when in the company of others at social gatherings and it was ‘the thing to do in the moment’, I’ve had the occasional fiver or tenner on the Grand National and/or the Derby, yet – other than that – I think I can count the number of times I’ve bet on anything else on less than three hands.

Yesterday I arrived to spend a couple of days with my aged father. Not long afterwards someone arrived for a coffee and chat who was on his way to Plumpton in the afternoon to see a horse of which he is part-owner run.

After he’d departed and my father and I had eaten lunch, I suddenly found myself saying to him “Why don’t I nip off to the bookies in [the nearby town] and put a tenner on that horse, just for the hell of it?”

At the time I had figured that we’d be able to watch the race it was appearing in on the television, e.g. on Channel Four or possibly the At The Races channel.

We agreed ‘Why not?’ and so I jumped into my car, sped to said local bookies – its conurbation resembled a ghost town, tumbleweed wasn’t quite rolling down the high street but it might just as well have been – slapped a tenner each way on the nag at 4/1, picked up my ticket/receipt and drove home again.

I then discovered that Plumpton was being featured on Channel Four and that my father’s Sky package didn’t include access to At The Races, so I then spent at least quarter of an hour fruitlessly searching for access to a free online streaming service of the meeting. There’s wasn’t one … or if there was, I couldn’t find it. In the end I went on one of the leading bookmakers’ websites and simply waited for the ‘latest results’ service to ‘do its thing’.

My horse had come in 2nd – my each-way bet had come off! I retraced my steps to the bookies to claim my winnings.

All £20 pounds of them.

In short, after all that fuss I had won back my original stake, but that was it.

As I pushed the two £10 notes into my wallet and drove home again, I could not prevent myself experiencing a growing sense of triumph. Never mind the fact that I’d outlaid £20 to place my bet, I had actually won £20 – and the slightly crumpled pair of £10 notes warming themselves inside my wallet were physical proof!

I think I’ve got the hang of this punting game now. Does the Racing Post come out daily? If so, I shall be buying a copy for the first time ever later today when I go to collect my newspapers. I can probably make some more money by betting on something this afternoon. If things work out, I could even give up work … on, wait a minute, I did that nearly eight years ago, didn’t I?

Never mind, today is a vista of new betting opportunities. Roll on next weekend and the Super Bowl (er … is that basketball or baseball?)  …

About J S Bird

A retired academic, Jeremy will contribute article on subjects that attract his interest. More Posts