Weblog: Betting Shop Manager of the Year
Aintree remains a sore subject with my punters
THE first two Classics of the season have come and gone and, with them, brought drama and controversy in equal measures, and no small amount of tragedy either. Saturday saw a gutsy performance and glory for the O'Brien family as Joseph rode Camelot to victory in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas and set up a big race double for father Aiden, but not in the form that most punters anticipated it.
Maybe was expected to romp home and few in Selkirk backed against it, but it was the stable’s second string Homecoming Queen who took the plaudits and made it a good weekend for the layers with a stunning nine length success, at generous odds of 25-1. Reaction to those victories have been mixed, with arguably the less impressive Camelot installed as the hot-pot favourite for the Investec Epsom Derby, as short as even money in places whilst Homecoming Queen is at least a couple of points away from favouritism in the Oaks, trading at 5-1 here at Scotbet.
The Channel 4 coverage of the Qipco 1,000 Guineas and events immediately before the race proved to be the major talking point in the shop rather than the actual racing itself, unfortunately it seems like something of a recurring theme in that respect.
A freak accident in the starting stalls cost poor Gray Pearl its life, a broken back being the end result and the horse was euthanized.
A horrendous set of circumstances that, among other things, led to the race going off almost half an hour late. In reality this was not too much of a problem to the punters who were in the shop on Sunday, but the ones who came in and placed their bets in anticipation of watching the racing on C4 were disappointed at the last race being dropped from the schedule. Having been fortunate enough to appear on Channel 4's The Morning Line and see first hand the professionalism of the team at the production meeting I can tell you all that no blame for this can be attached to any of the team.
That on its own however was not enough to appease unhappy punters who questioned why programming could not be put back as happens when football runs over time. It left some people questioning Channel 4's commitment to racing.
I find that absurd; you only have to look at the investment in racing and the lengths it went to to secure the big events that were held by the BBC to realise that Channel 4 is whole-heartedly committed. They are the sole provider of British horseracing on terrestrial TV, but that has worried some of our punters who talk of a complacency setting in.
The ground conditions at Chester for the first day of its three day May meeting meant that racing was pushed back again and viewers only just got to see the 5f Stellar Group Handicap, but Mike Cattermole did warn us that had it been a staying handicap coverage would again have been cut short.
So the Channel 4 team's ears must have been burning, but one of the team's ears more than most, and that man is Racing Post columnist Alastair Down.
The death of Gray Peal is tragic enough as it is, but following so hard on the heels of the John Smith's Grand National fatalities it is a blow to image of the sport. Alastair revisited the subject in Tuesday's Racing Post and his words did not go down well with everyone in our shop.
I was dealing with the usual morning rush and hadn't got round to reading the paper but Brian, who is as passionate about the game as anyone you are likely to meet, came to the counter particularly agitated about the column. This made me desperate to read what had got him worked up so, at the first available opportunity, I went and had a peek.
I like Alastair's work, enjoy his columns and input on Channel 4 and thought his post-National article was exceptional. I feel that the resulting 'outcry' to these deaths in the media and animal rights bodies was this year far more balanced and that that was in no small part due to the response of our governing body, the BHA, and from respected journalists like Alastair himself. So for his article on Tuesday now to sell short his own hard work and the efforts of others in what was a trying time is to say the least unfair, and in my view, arguably mistaken.
He said: "One unexpected aspect of the aftermath of this year's race was the reaction of the media and, as far as can be judged, the public". Alastair had feared much worse.
The major difference this year to the previous one was the swift responses of the BHA through Paul Bittar, and off the top of my head and the ones that stick out, efforts from people like Bruce Millington, Clare Balding and Alastair himself.
There were of course many good points raised in his Tuesday column but Brian and a few others - who remain genuinely distressed about the deaths at Aintree - thought that more credit should have been given to the way the situation was managed rather than picking the bones from Mr Bittar's comments. To take a small part and point out "any opponent of the race worth his salt would seize on that sort of spin in an instant" seems more than a little harsh.
I don't think it was spin and I don't think it was a fluke that the reaction was less harsh. I do think Alastair and many others really do deserve a pat on the back for their work both at the time and the handling since.
Someone else deserving of a pat on the back is Tanya Stevenson who in her blog tipped two winners in Chester's opening day, All Fur Coat and Rosslyn Castle. The punters have been having good fun teasing me about my tipping abilities after my ‘Morning Line heroics’ (their words, not mine) so it's great to see Tanya picking up from where I left off!
It seems we have a new tipster on our hands judging by Mary's picks today. Mary is a fantastic customer, a really lovely lady. She brings her husband Dougal's bets up to the shop as he is no longer able and never misses a day.
Every day she also goes and feeds the local horses in a field just outside of town, and is to blame for my expanding waistline with the cakes she feeds me in the morning.
Mary managed two from three in a trixie today, with her third selection Foxy Music beaten a quarter length into second. Her winners, Tanya's tip All Fur Coat (9-2) and Good Morning Star (50-1) meant as disappointed as she would be with the Foxy Music's defeat, the consolation of that double should ease the pain somewhat.
It was a busy first day with the quality racing from Chester and hopefully more of the same Thursday. Sadly Kelso's fixture has fallen to the conditions.
Best of luck to all who fancy trying to go one better than marvellous Mary!