Wednesday, April 12, 2006

1979 - a watershed

Troy, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A watershed in my horse-racing interest. It started off as any other year, but by the time it came to the Grand National, which we watched at home, I was taking it a lot more seriously, having 'picked' Lucius the previous year.

I have no idea which horse I picked for the race, but it could easily have been Coolishall, a handsome dark horse (I liked dark horses in those days) who had been placed 4th the year before. Having won the sweepstake the year before, I decided, at the age of 17 that it as time for real betting, so I went into the local betting shop, in the arcade in Beaconsfield, for the first time. I can still remember the smell of the place. Being on a weekly salary of three pounds 20 pence for the paper round which I had been doing for the past five years, I did not have too much money to spend. I might have done a 50 p each way bet on Coolishall, before going home to watch the race on TV.

As it turned out, a Scottish horse called Rubstic won from Zongalero (great name!) and Rough and Tumble (also a good name), with The Pilgarlic 4th. I had lost. Inevitable, really, but still disappointing.

Anyway, it was the Wednesday after the big Saturday and the BBC were showing races from Ascot, all named after birds such as Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle, Kestrel and so on. I sat there with the paper and picked out winner after winner. This all looked very easy, picking a winner in these smaller races.

So the next day, it was time to recoup the losses from the Grand National. They were racing at Taunton where there were seven races on the card. I made my pick for each of the seven races and cycled down ot the betting shop.

Being totally inexperienced, I did not bet very cleverly, combining my seven horses in various combinations or trebles and quadruples and a 10 p accumulator on all seven horses. (To do it properly one should go for a complete combination bet, combining each horse with each other in a series of doubles, trebels and so on up to a seven-horse accumulator).

Anyway, back home, I listened to the results come in on the half hour on my transistor radio, which I also took with me into the woods where I was taking our Mitzi for a walk.

Amazingly, each of my picks came in to win their race. The first, second, third and fourth... by now I was in the woods and beginning to work out how much I might win if they all came in. It would have been over 1,200 pounds and I began to get very excited. This was about 7 years worth of paper rounds, of getting up early every morning and delievering 40 or so papers to the neighbours in Netherwood Road and Howe Drive.

And then, of course, disasetr struck... the 5th horse (Parleur D'Or) had only come in second BUT there WAS a stewards enquiry (objection). I ran home and hopped onto the bike again to find out the result. I walked into that betting shop so full of expectation, but this was dashed when I saw that the result was left to stand.. Mellie had won, by half a length.

Inevitably, the other two horses I had chosen won their respective races. Unfortunately, of all the combination bets I had made, most of them had included Parleur D'Or, so my winnings were very modest.

It had been a thrill and from now on I was hooked. I'd spend afternoons when I should have been revising for my 'A' levels down at the betting shop trying to repeat or better my performance of that day at Taunton, without any luck. Indeed, I have never been able to pick out six winners in one day since, let alone six on the same card! However, when earning so little, losing it did not hurt and when one did win the occasional 10 pounds, it seemed quite a lot. A gambler always looks at what he might win. People who do not gamble tend to think more about what they might lose.

Anyway, so began a life-long (so far) passion for horse-racing... as I began to find the gambling far less interesting than the horses and the racing calendar.

I would skip off Games on the first Wednesday in June of that year and watch the Derby, which was to give me my first favourite horse superstar: Troy.

He won the 200th Derby by an amzing 7 lengths and then went on to win the best races in England of that summer. That Deby would be one of the best Derbys ever run, as almost every horse in the race would win races afterwards such as Ela-Mana-Mou, Northern Baby, Dickens Hill, Tap On Wood, Milford, Cetinkaya, Lyphard's Wish and so on.

The story would continue...


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