I’ve been writing about the betting ring for about 25 years.
I always fancied myself as a bit of a scribe so volunteered to write racing articles for the Tiverton Gazette back in the 1990s. These were unpaid but the paper negotiated that I got in for free at Taunton, Exeter and Newton Abbot as a reward. As I was working for bookmakers most of my writing was about what happened in the betting ring and not just out on the turf where I tried to bring the colour and the characters that inhabited the racecourse to life.
I used to get some really pleasing feedback, people often said that they weren’t interested in horseracing but loved to read about Balertwine Barry, Armaloft Alex and the bookie nicknamed Meldrew. Some even added reading them made them want to go racing and see how much fun it was for themselves, which always made my day.
My ‘writing career’ took a big step forward when my dreams came true when a series of articles for The Racing Post Weekender on the betting ring were published in the 2000s. I also had features published in the short-lived gambling magazine Inside Edge and Racing Ahead magazine. Sadly, I didn’t train on as far as the Weekender went but it was an honour to be involved for a few years. Years which overlapped working for TurfTV where I continued to write for Racing Ahead and published regular blogs for my own website.
Since 2017 I have been writing betting ring reports for Star Sports, which are as you’d expect centred around their business. As I’m lucky enough to still be writing them in 2024 they appear to have gone down well. They haven’t with everyone though. Funnily enough, it’s been some bookmakers that have been the most critical.
Now, I can totally understand, as it is their workplace that I’m writing about and am always happy to hear people’s concerns. That’s why I’m writing this. Most of my working life has been spent in the betting ring and I’m the last person who’d want to intentionally harm it.
The latest bookmaker to voice some concern, was worried that people might think that taking £10,000 as Star Sports did twice at Kempton recently is the norm. He was very polite how he explained things adding that racecourses might get the wrong idea about how much business there is in the ring.
I can explain any doubts about that straight now. Star Sports’ unique selling point, at least one of them, is that they actively court big punters who like to bet in lumps, especially on course when the horses are going to post. That’s why they employ me to publicise that they do. The fact they laid two £10,000 bets to known punters who did find them, hopefully means that their investment in me as working. It’s also a fair bet that they were the only £10,000 bets on course that day. I will add that there are other bookmakers that will take those types of bets, but don’t advertise the fact they do, unlike Star Sports, it’s certainly not the norm to be offered bets of that size.
While I’m at it, contrary to common belief, most bookmakers do not ‘Green Up’ every race. I’m not sure why punters perpetuate these rumours, but they do. To be able to ‘Green Up’ a bookmaker would have to not only field enough money to make it worth their while but also at a margin to make it possible. Business in betting rings, especially mid-week, can be very hard to come by, to attract the finite amount of money that there is on course the layers often have to be ultra-competitive with their pricing, not to margins that facilitate no risk.
Having said that, despite it being easier to ‘green up’ or ‘betting overs’ as the bookmakers pre-exchanges used to call it, by using software, it’s nothing new. My often-mentioned in these blogs first bookie boss Jack Lynn would bet overs from poor pitches mid-week if he could, it was good bookmaking but certainly not easy to do or possible every race or even day. Next door to him at Taunton Stephen Little would be taking huge bets and £1 each-way in the next breath, standing some horses for fortunes. Up a bit there’d be another bookie who have the jolly losing a bottle and the second-in £100.
Ivor Perry would have every favourite losing him £2000. There were others who’d go with short ones that they fancied and even back them with their field money while others would only want to lay the 33/1 shots. The rag layers would get laughed at the very rare times one obliged but were quietly getting a few quid. The London books up at Newbury would laugh at Jack Lynn’s ‘fiddling’ ways and chastise me for asking for ‘pathetic little back bets’ but when he died in his 90’s he was a rich man. ‘Take no notice of them Simon boy’ he’d say and point to one of his tormentors and add, ‘He lives in a f**king council house, potless that’s why they need a sticker in.
The point of all that nostalgia is that the betting ring has always had bookmakers with a different way of doing things. If they were still in business it meant that their way was working for them. If everyone tried doing it the same way nobody would have survived. A betting ring full of Stephen Little’s or Jack Lynn’s would never have worked.
The same is true these days, even though the way things are done have changed massively, it’s still the same story. Midweek meetings have always been very hard, the average bet is going to be very low and the business competitive. It’s the same at busy Saturdays, there are books in the best pitches that price up to hardly a margin an hour or more before the first. That’s why bookmakers are sometimes struggling and their numbers dwindling, it’s tough old game. The biproduct of the bookmakers finding business difficult and biggest real difference today from the 1990’s is the value that the punters are getting on course, they really haven’t had it so good. Come Racing.
Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.
Simon Nott is author of: Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring
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