Tales from the Rails – York Ebor Festival

Four long days ahead of us, then, as we arrive in good time on Wednesday for the first of the week’s “picks” to decide where we’ll be betting. It’s something new for me this week – normally at York I’m either on the rail, or working on the front line, but the firm have bought a new pick – in the 50s – which means I’ll be working on my own on the back line. You may think the back line would be no good at York, but on a fine day, many sit outside on the grassy areas with their pints and come round to bet with you. So as long as the weather stays decent (and until Saturday, it is set to), I should be fine. 

I’m up and running an hour before the first, and as ever, it’s slow to get going. So slow, that I can have my lunch, rather than taking gulps of it between races later. That’s a bonus.

Once betting commences, there’s plenty of money around for Twilight Calls, but unsurprisingly, it’s York regular Copper Knight that they want. Plenty of fivers and tenners for him mean that it’s a losing race to kick off with. 

However, good results in the Acomb (although one woman, having her first ever bet, has her fiver on Royal Patronage at 25s – I explained to her as she picked up, we let you win first time, make you think it’s easy) and Voltigeur (I take a £900-£200 High Definition that never looks like copping) get us back in front, only for Mishriff (£900-£400, and a £600-£200) to give us a kicking. Arcadian Sunrise is a disaster in the 2m handicap that follows, but the way the track is running (suiting pace) I give Colin a nudge to keep Tweet Tweet onside. It’s a good nudge and one that gets us a good chunk. The last, Flaming Rib, is an absolute skinner, and after day one, we’ve got half the expenses back. 

Thursday. Rob Speechley, owner of S&D Bookmakers and betting at his first ever York, has discovered the Champagne Bar, and more importantly, that the price of champagne here isn’t through the roof. “I don’t feel great”, he says to me at lunchtime, having already sampled their wares. “I’m pi**ed” before we get going.” I suspect his partner, Vanessa, is going to be doing the heavy lifting this afternoon. 

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Zain Claudette winning the first is a good result, but sadly business was slow. But surely, we can get a result in the 20-runner sales race that follows? No, we can’t, as 3-1 favourite Ever Given is too good for them (I take a £600-£200). However, here comes Cruyff Turn, who I’ve put up as a bet that morning. Can he do us a favour? 

He leads, as I expect, and although the last half-furlong seems to last an eternity, he holds on by a head, and I go a bit mad. A blinding result for me, and the firm. Is it time to put the nail through it, Colin? 

There’s no big money around for Snowfall, so we don’t force the issue, and lose small. Harrow is popular each-way in the next and costs us a few quid, but Forbearance in the Galtres will make sure it’s a very good day. Halfway, and expenses are now paid. Two days to crack on. 

Friday is normally the quietest of the four days, but with York carrying over and honouring badges from 2020, when tickets were sold, only for crowds unable to attend, business is a bit brighter than it normally would be. Sam Cooke is a terrific result in the first, with barely a ten pound note taken for it – sadly, we could have done with that result at the end of the day rather than the beginning when business is quiet. 

Stradivarius time. “Do you take card?” asks one bloke, after seeing some 4-5 on my board. He’s going to have a decent bet. I’m not taking cards but the other pitch is, so I take him over and he has a grand on. That gets the book going. In comes another £500 at the same price, and plenty of £100 bets. “This ought to be two’s on,” says bookmaker Paul Johnson, standing next to me. I ask him if he wants any 4-7 and get told to go away, in a manner of speaking. 

I’ve backed Spanish Mission ante-post and am in a good position. I’m in an even better one with a furlong to run as Spanish Mission goes a neck up, only for Strad to remember why he’s a champion, and rally to score. Costly result all round. Time for a Twix. 

Lusail’s no good in the Gimcrack either (two bets of £600-£200, and plenty of smaller money) but the Nunthorpe looks wide open. There’s a word going around the ring that some certain shrewd Yorkshire faces are backing Emaraaty Ana each-way at big prices. We decide to keep that onside. There’s lots of Frankie money around for Golden Pal (a couple of £200 bets and a £900-400) and Suesa, but both are sunk as Winter Power blows them away with a devastating display. It’s a cracking result for us, and better still we’ve dodged all the each-way money for Emaraaty Ana as well. Some haven’t, though, and there are some long faces in the car park after, with some 66s laid in the ring. 

There’s no money around in the maiden, and for all that The Flying Ginger goes off 33s when scoring in the fillies’ handicap that follows, you’ll never dodge a few fivers and tenners on a day like this when the follically-coloured oranges have their “fun” bets. If that had been a Saturday winner, the payout queue would have been a long one. People have run out of money and the last is a quiet affair, but it’s been another very good day. 

Saturday. We wake to rain, which stops mid-morning. We know it’s coming again later, it’s just when. There’s some tired-looking faces in the car park Saturday morning, and the threat of bad weather is hardly helping. The wet weather gear is getting an outing for most firms. 

Real World gets favourite backers off to a good start (I lay a couple of £200 bets at 11-10, and plenty of forties and fifties) and although Valley Forge isn't a disaster in the Melrose, the places are poor for us, and it’s a small losing race. Not as small as when Space Blues wins the City Of York easily, though, and we’re behind after three. 

There are queues to get on for the Ebor. They love Euchan Glen here and he takes much of the smaller money, but it’s the front two, Ilaraab and Mt Leinster, that attract all the money.

Five minutes before the Ebor is due off and the rain comes, and it comes heavily. Those having a pint outside on the grass dive for cover under the stands. That spells game over for my pitch on the back line, but thankfully the Ebor betting has all but finished now. If that rain had come fifteen minutes earlier it would have been a catastrophe. 

It’s a good result, with the favourites well stuffed and winner Sonnyboyliston largely ignored. But as far as the day goes, that’s it now, business falls off 80% and the rest of the day is largely spent trying to keep the equipment dry. 

Until the last. We’ve had a small group of loudish lads betting with us throughout the afternoon, and one of them “knows” Blackrod will win the last. He pulls £200 out of his pocket and has a £900-200 with us. He then reaches into his other pocket, pulls out a ball of twenties and has another £200. Spurred on by this display of bravado, his mates’ weigh in with £100 and £50 bets. Matey then finds another nifty in his top pocket and has that on too. They’ve had the best part of a grand on between them. 

3f out and Blackrod’s going nowhere. A furlong out he starts running on, but has a lot to do. But he whittles away at Digital and in the last few strides, we knew our fate. Matey is carried high on shoulders as they all pick up, and basically wipe out my cash float. 

I’m cold, wet, have a dreadful sore throat and am ready for home. Turns out, a couple of days later, I’ve picked up a lovely summer cold to carry through the week. Do it all again next year? Absolutely I would….

David Massey

Featured Image: Bookies | Lots of folks to place your bets with | Steve Burt | Flickr

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