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Tails From the Rails

Haydock, throughout the summer, is one of the tracks I work at more than any, as the firm have two pitches in the Silver Ring, and I normally run the second one single-handedly. I only have to concentrate on taking and paying out bets, as we link the joints up and my prices are handled by the first joint.

You might think “what’s the point of having two joints in the same ring?” but on those big, music event summer evenings you need two, as there’s often queues to get on. Bear in mind some of the really big firms have four or five pitches at a track, such as yesterday at Ascot where, for Shergar Cup day, very much a social rather than a racing Saturday, the Sid Hooper firm (the one that bought out the William Hills pitches when they decided to vacate the ring) had all five pitches running.

Imagine the manpower and expense needed to run those! It must be worth it, or they wouldn’t do it!

Anyway, back to Lancashire. Our first visit post-lockdown (but at a time when restrictions still applied) was at the start of July, on Old Newton Cup day. We’re not sure what to expect, but the sun is out, so we’re hopeful.

However, the hope doesn’t last long after we see the layout that the track has put into place. If you want to have a drink, you’ve got to be sitting down, so there’s tables and chairs everywhere. Sadly, for all of us in the Silver Ring, they’re all behind us and not in front of us. We’re playing to an empty ring…

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The business is barely worth talking about. We’re taking about a dozen bets a race, and what we need is some rain to drive them under the stands, but there’s none about. Things improve a little as the afternoon progresses, but it’ll be the last before I take a three-figure bet.

We do at least get a skinner in the big one, as Alounak goes unbet with the public, and that saves the day. On the big screen, St Mark's Basilica wins the Eclipse, but it barely registers a flicker with the crowd. This is a crowd out for a day out, not a racing one.

At the end of the day, we’ve won, but it wasn’t the day we’d hoped for.

Fast forward to August and Haydock’s three-day meeting, culminating in their first Sunday evening fixture. Restrictions are now gone, and it shows. People are free to roam about, pints and wines in hand, and business is so much better as a result.

Nothing’s ever that simple, though, and for the Friday night fixture – where Boyzone’s Ronan Keating is playing after racing – the weather won’t quite play ball. There are heavy showers around, which doesn’t help, and as always on these music nights, the first three races are a waste of time. People don’t tend to rock up until midway through the night on these occasions, and you’re stood around not doing a lot.

They say you know where you were and what you were doing the moment the Twin Towers went down, and I’d say you can add to that “the day Celerity shed her maiden tag.” Yes, after a mere 104 goes, Celerity makes all to win the 6f handicap on the card. Most of the crowd are unaware of what they have witnessed, but to those of us that love their racing triers, we’re delighted. I’m even more delighted as I’ve backed the first two winners, and also have a Lucky 15 with them running on.

Business is improving, and although the favourites are winning, the fivers and tenners crowd don’t want to back them, and we’re doing okay. And then when Bell Heather, the third leg of my Lucky 15 wins, I realise I’m one more winner away from 40k.

Everyone’s seen me getting rather excited and loads of people wish me well for the last leg, Red Derek. I do the sensible thing and as the price collapses, lay seven monkeys to guarantee myself at least £1500, but I stick another 3k at evens in-running just in case….

Sadly, Red Derek can’t do the business, but I’ve had a good run, and £1500 is not to be sniffed at. Especially when I’m looking at buying a car in the next few weeks! As for the firm, we’ve covered off the expenses for the next couple of days, so everything we can win Saturday and Sunday will be profit.

The forecast for Saturday isn’t great though, and we wake up to rain. Light at first, but it gets worse, and it’s going to be testing. The crowd is a good one though, and when there’s a break in the rain before the first, there are queues. Plenty of scores and £40 bets come in, and there’s hope that we’re in for a good afternoon.

For three races it just about holds off, but the first three jollies go in, and Cold Stare is a disaster, as every man and his dog on the track knows that Cold Stare needs it like a bog. We can’t keep them off it, and the payout queues are long.

The rain comes again, heavier than ever, and more prolonged. I’m desperately trying to keep the kit dry, but the printer gives up on me and I lose ten minutes of betting time repairing it. Then I lose connection to the main pitch, and they can’t see my bets coming through, which is hardly helping.

The rain has driven everyone under the stands, and they are reluctant coming out.

We need a result, but the next two jollies go in, and Russco isn’t much better in the sixth. Then we finally get a result in the last as outsider of three Fools Rush In wins, only to again discover the connection between the pitches have gone down, and my bets don’t come through until after the race. That turns a winning race into a losing one.

Laughably, if the favourite had won, it would have been a big winning race! It’s hardly been the best of days, we’re all soaked, and to make matters worse, we are going to discover Sunday morning – with big, competitive fields to give us a chance – that racing is going to be abandoned.

Next up – the Ebor Festival. Please, please stay dry…

David Massey

Featured Image: Woodcote Stakes field rounding Tattenham Corner | Thunder St… | Flickr

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