Sports betting PR legend GRAHAM SHARPE writes…
MOST PUNTERS are not above offering up a prayer or two when their selections are about to run.
It seems a harmless enough semi-superstition, designed to get the fates on one’s side. I’ve done it myself.
Such superstition could date back as far as 163 years – going back to the time when the 1860 Grand National included a horse called Bridegroom, being ridden by one Mr Ekard. Now, this name was actually a pseudonym, cunningly hiding the rider’s real identity.
Mr Ekard contested the 19-runner race, going off at odds of 12/1 and coming home a respectable 6th.
After the race, his true identity was revealed – his full name was Edward Tyrrwhitt-Drake or, to give him his more recognisable and controversial title, the Reverend Edward Drake of Shardiloes.
Certainly the first and probably the only reverend gentleman to contest the race, his Bishop’s response when he found out is unlikely to have been approving.
126 years later a two year old filly named St Wendred became the first horse to race on behalf of the Church of England when a local trainer gifted her for a season to the parish of St Martin’s, Exning, near Newmarket.
The horse raced in the colours used for altar dressing – red, purple, green and white – and the Rev Cedric Catton was registered as her owner.
Sadly, there was little sign of divine intervention during her races, as she finished last on her debut and revealed no significant ability during her three later two year old career races – however, I was disappointed to note when checking the ‘Racehorses of 1986’ Timeform book that she was ‘sold, 1000gns Newmarket Autumn Sales probably for export to Scandinavia.’
However, in 2002 I had my own closest dealings with the clergy when representatives of St Michael’s church in Camden contacted me to say that they had discovered that 125 years earlier on February 25, 1877, one Reverend Edward Penfold had begun to carry out the work of the Lord in that area of London, and had done so in what was then known as the Mission House – on which site there was now a betting shop.
The church wanted to hold a service to mark the 125th anniversary by staging a service on the same spot. Could I help? As it happened, yes. So on February 25, 2002 the Reverend Nicholas Wheeler staged a service actually inside the betting shop now standing on the site.
It was attended by church folk, many of whom admitted they had never entered such premises before and looked as though they felt they should cross themselves before doing so. They came well prepared with altar, bible, flowers, cassocks, cross, croissants, coffee and doughnuts, the latter of which seemed to serve no significant role in what happened.
There was guitar playing, hymn singing and a prayer or two – all a little on the happy-clappy side for my tastes, to be honest.
When I tried to show willing and make a donation to the church funds, the Rev Wheeler would have none of it – and when I offered him a £125 free bet on behalf of church funds he looked as though he might arrange for the ground to open up and swallow me – although he contented himself by saying ‘That’s very sweet, but I think it would be inappropriate.’
My concerns that permitting this whole ceremony might result in every favourite winning that afternoon, bolts of lightning striking the premises and the punters, were unfounded.
It was certainly the only time in my life I ever felt even remotely spiritually inspired.
Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.