Sports betting PR legend GRAHAM SHARPE writes…
THERE WAS unexpectedly positive publicity for racing via the recent episode of the Radio 4 programme, ‘Desert Island Discs’, which featured dual Grand National winning trainer Lucinda Russell as its castaway.
Although she grew up in ‘a non horsey’ family – her Dad was a whisky salesman – ‘as a kid’ she ‘had Red Rum on the wall’ in photographic reality, of course.
Lucinda chose a camper-van as her luxury item on the programme and picked Andy Williams’ song, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ because ‘it reminds me of Mum, Dad and Scu’ – the latter, of course, her partner, former champion jockey Peter Scudamore.
Also amongst the records she selected on the show were ‘To Win Just Once’ by the Saw Doctors and Billy Joel’s ‘The Piano Man’, of which she said, ‘It’s about observing and listening to people – which is what I do all the time.’
But she also spoke of a double tragedy which has clearly affected her significantly. Jockey Campbell Gillies rode her stable’s first winner, Brindisi Breeze, and had partnered some 50 winners for her, before tragically dying on the day before his 22nd birthday in a holiday accident, while Brindisi Breeze was killed as a result of a collision with a fuel tanker, after bolting.
Racing and betting stories of various natures still turn up in conventional media outlets on a surprisingly regular basis, albeit often completely out of context, making them all the more interesting.
For instance, a recent BBC4 TV documentary about former Prime Minister Ted Heath included him telling his interviewer that when he became PM, ‘The first advice I got was that I ought to buy a racehorse, because Churchill had had great success with a racehorse….. I hadn’t got the money.’
I recently picked up a free daily ‘City A.M.’ financial newspaper which had a wraparound advert on the front and back pages headlined: ‘The Wrexham Tastecourse’ – which was obviously a play on words (something to do with Uber Eats and Disney+ – no idea!) for the football club’s ground’s real name, Wrexham Racecourse – which, in turn, got me wondering whether – and, if so, when – was there actually a racecourse in Wrexham?
After a little turf sleuthing I discovered that the first organised racing took place in the town in October, 1806, and by 1824 there was a three day, October meeting, featuring Gold and Silver Cups. Wrexham racecourse was, though. ultimately relatively short-lived, only surviving until October 20, 1876.
Still with City AM – it also recently headlined a story in its business section: ‘Two-horse race for revitalised bank’ Clearly there are racing fans at work for the paper.
*A few years ago I wrote a biography of the hugely wealthy, hugely eccentric and, frankly, just huge, racehorse owner, Dorothy Paget who gambled ferociously and owned the greatest chaser of all time, Golden Miller, who uniquely won both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National. She lived in a large house with a band of female staff where she often dined at night and slept all day if there was no racing to be attended.
Her house, known as Hermit’s Wood, was in Little Chalfont, very close to Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire.
I subscribe to Fortean Times magazine which collects and collates all manner of oddities. In a recent edition they carried a letter in their ‘It Happened To Me’ feature, from one Adam Barak, who told of ‘a very strange experience about 25 years ago in the late 1990s’ when ‘we lived in a semi in Little Chalfont, in a road called Lodge Lane which ran from Little Chalfont down towards Chalfont St Giles.’
He recorded that one evening : ‘We suddenly heard the sound of a horse outside our house neighing…..there were usually no horses in the fields and the sound seemed to be very close to the house. I went out the front door and yes, there right in front of me was the sound of a horse neighing, breathing, and walking on the drive – except there was nothing to see!’
Adam’s wife and two adult neighbours also came out and heard the sounds. ‘We were four sober adults.’
They ‘experienced the phenomenon for about six minutes…..we could all hear what appeared to be a single horse – breathing, neighing and clip-clopping on the ground.’
He concluded: ‘It is conceivable that…..there may have been stables and horses at the precise site – these houses were not especially old.’
It may be wishful thinking, but I like to imagine that Mr Barak was experiencing something which had happened back when Dorothy Paget was living close by to where his property is now, and had asked for one of her famous racehorses to be brought down to see its owner by an equally proud trainer….she was by no means incapable of demanding that such a thing should happen, and if she was in one of her ‘awake all night/asleep all day’ phases, it would have had to happen at night-time…….
As I was writing this piece, I’d recently spotted, listed on the Discogs.com site, a copy of a vinyl record for sale. This sent me off, delving through my quite extensive record collection, to find my own copy of this 12″ vinyl single from 1979, by the group, U S of A , whose cover consists of the image of a betting slip on which is written ‘2-1 I Bet Ya.’
The disc is on the very collectable Island label, and I remember helping with the promotion of the record, which, if I recall correctly, included a substantial bet, funded by the company being placed on the single topping the charts.
You won’t, I’m sure, be surprised to hear I subscribe to The Oldie magazine. Reading the most recent edition I found an interview with Tim Rice in which he mentions the musical he and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote for the late Queen Elizabeth, called ‘Cricket’. Explained Rice: ‘It was about a batsman going out to bat and seeing his girlfriend going behind the pavilion with a racing man……’
The same magazine recently ran an article I wrote for them about my early days as a betting shop boardman, and the next edition contained a reader’s letter noting, ‘It was nice to see mention of the betting shop featured in the BBC comedy drama, Big Deal’ – which I had, indeed, referenced – ‘My late father-in-law, Frank Mills, played Gil, the grumpy proprietor of that shop – he would be tickled to see the reference to the show’s authenticity.’
Indeed, I know it was authentic, right down to my memory of a betting shop manager I often ‘settled’ for on Saturdays, and whose main claim to fame was his method of displaying his impatience with punters who had the nerve to dare to claim their returns from bets which came to under a pound.
He would gather the money together in the greatest number of coins he could muster, and proceed literally to hurl the coins across the counter – under or over the bandit screen – in the general direction of the customer, who had to scrabble about on the floor for the money.
No, I don’t recall him being nominated for any Betting Shop Manager of the Year award!
The Daily Mail has not of late shown itself to be any fan of gambling and the promotion thereof for some while, albeit not quite daring to get rid of its racing pages , presumably for fear that the paper’s circulation would plunge as a result.
However, it was still interesting to see it running a story during the last week of September that ‘Britain’s oldest casino (opened in 1828) could be forced to shut for good as London fails to attract wealthy tourists’.
That establishment is Crockfords Casino and, rather than welcoming news that it could face closure because of falling business, the paper was supporting it by claiming that the CC was amongst those businesses being hit financially because of ‘the removal of VAT-free shopping for tourists’, with evidence of ‘shoppers and gamblers opting for the likes of Paris or Milan instead’.
And finally, news which might shock racing fans, about GB News presenter Eamonn Holmes, 63 who was reported by Metro newspaper, as suffering ‘crippling back pain’, and declaring that, if it might help, he ‘would drink horse pee.’
Just why he might believe it would help was not revealed in the story.
Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.