Weblog: Betting Shop Manager of the Year
Animosity from punters over Tote retention rise
The old saying goes 'No rest for the wicked'. That just about sums up my week off, and as I returned to work on Sunday I felt like I had never been away.
I wrote in my last blog that whenever Tracy and I are off together I promise to leave all things work-related behind, and normally I'm quite successful. Not this time, it's safe to say that promise was broken and any 'brownie points' I may have had stored have been well and truly used.
It's only a month until Tracy's birthday and you shouldn't need a second guess to know where my overtime will be spent over the next few weeks, and there will be lots of it.
It all started on Monday. The new till system was supposed to start rolling out then, I would be going to Gretna this week then had a list of shops for the following ten weeks.
At the BOS Trade Fair in Wolverhampton the previous week there were rumours that the project may be delayed slightly, and a BT Broadband problem confirmed this. The call on Monday came and the order that the shops would be fitted was postponed, Wullie would keep me updated through the week. No disasters there, just a little uncertainty.
Tuesday brought with it better news, and what will be a nice surprise for the punters in Selkirk. I've been working with Richard Landale, the Managing Director at Kelso Racecourse, at trying to organise another charity day that benefitted both them and ourselves. Richard had e-mailed me to tell me he would be in the area on Thursday and asked if we could meet up for a chat. He really is such a likeable character and, once again, Richard has pulled a rabbit from the hat and given us the green light to set the wheels in motion for a day out in the spring.
Final details of the package just need the finishing touches put on, but Scotbet have very kindly again offered to put on the coaches and, if it is anything like our visit at Britain's Friendliest Racecourse back in March, it will be some day. A 500-strong increase in crowd (without any concerts or other gimmicks) on the corresponding fixture is a good indicator of how hard the team at Kelso try to make a day there a memorable experience, and is backed up by a superb letter from David Pipe on behalf of himself and his staff that was published in the letters section of Sunday's Racing Post.
A Christmas shopping trip to the Metro Centre in Newcastle followed that meeting and Tracy, Kris and I all had a great time, although reading the Racing Post in the car on the way down did attract a glare or two from the better half. In my defence, Kris does like the pictures of the horses so it was a win/win situation . . . honest!
It looks like Santa will be good to my boy again this year, but judging by his school report he deserves no less, I struggle to find the words to say how proud I am of that wee man.
Which makes the news on Friday of my new rota all the more frustrating. BT and OpenBet have now worked out a schedule that will see me working in Perth, Cowie, Alva and Clelland over the next three weeks, meaning leaving the house at around 7:15am and getting home after 11pm. Fingers well and truly crossed that I can show the staff in the those shops the new till system in four or five days, but you just can't plan for how long these things will take so I'll have to be available if it does require that little bit longer.
The good news is that having had another look at the system this Sunday in our Loanhead shop it is user friendly and will benefit staff and the punters greatly too.
All that travel does sound a bit doom and gloom, but there will be a few days at Doncaster for the Racing Post Trophy meeting sandwiched in between and I am now excited about that, as I am sure the 24 regional finalists will be also.
After this hectic period things should settle down and I will be in shops mostly within an hour of Selkirk, which will be a relief. I am looking forward to getting round the shops though and meeting new people, both staff and punters alike. I see it as a fresh challenge and I'm sure it is one I will enjoy, the final phase of our upgrades should be completed before Christmas and the look on Kris' face on that morning will make all the hours and travel worthwhile.
The weekend also witnessed one of the most spectacular dives I have ever seen. Now I'm not talking about Gareth Bale against Scotland on Friday night or Luis Suarez against, well, anyone, I'm on about Felix Baumgartner. There are not many sports where bookmakers are reluctant to take a bet on what the outcome will be, and thankfully I haven't heard of any who were offering odds on Baumgartner's fate as he attempted to break the World Record for highest skydive, attempted to break the sound barrier, and attempted to break absolutely nothing else!
In a mission that took seven years to plan he leapt from a specially designed helium balloon at 128,000ft, quite literally the edge of space. He was in freefall for 4mins 19secs and reached 839mph as he plunged towards the New Mexican soil, putting my effort of a few weeks back at Strathallen firmly in the shade.
Quite an achievement, but after a dive of another kind Scotland now find themselves with an even taller task to reach the FIFA World Cup Finals in Rio 2014.
With both group leaders Belgium and Croatia still to come twice and a miserly two points from three games it seems that even glorious failure will be beyond us in this qualifying campaign, leaving many of our punters to question if Craig Levien is the right man for the job.
Andy Murray was charged with restoring the feel good factor to Scottish sport and he did that to some degree, narrowly missing out on a hat-trick of victories in the Shanghai Masters tennis final. Having defeated old foe and the man who has just claimed his 300th week as World Number One Roger Federer in the semis he missed five Championship point opportunities against Novak Djokovic and eventually lost two sets to one.
Having seen Heather Watson become the first British lady to win a tournament since 1988, a Murray victory would have put the gloss on an extraordinary year for tennis on these shores but given what he has achieved so far we can't hold this defeat against him.
The weekend's racing went the way of the bookies again as Aaim To Prosper became the first horse in history to win the Betfred Cesarewitch twice. Kieren Fallon, who this week distanced himself from speculation that he was planning his retirement, was the winning jockey so given that the horse was a previous course, distance and race winner and that the jockey was normally a popular one for punters to pick I was amazed at the fact no-one in Selkirk backed Aaim To Prosper, even given that it was 66/1.
Regular readers will know that the price of a horse won't put off our lot in Selkirk so that makes it all the more surprising, much to the delight of our bosses.
There were a few results that went against us, I'm told Reckless Abandon winning the Vision.ae Middle Park Stakes was the one that hurt the most. There was a chunky bet on Dawn Approach in the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes, but at odds of 30/100 that victory didn't sting too much and there was plenty of each way cash in that race which fell by the wayside, Ashdan finishing fourth not helping the punters’ cause.
Betfred came in for some heavy criticism, the Cesarewitch sponsors getting a pounding over their decision to increase Tote pool deduction. Speaking to the punters in Loanhead on Sunday they believe that however the announcement has been dressed up, it is about the bookmaker trying to recoup some of the heavy investment they made to secure the Tote when it was eventually released by the Government and put into private hands.
It will be interesting to see if many punters will refrain from using the Tote, or if the reaction will blow over. It is hard to tell how strong the feeling is when you are in a different shop and meeting punters for the first time, but there was definite animosity.
A mammoth few weeks ahead for me and also for horseracing and this week is 'Frankel Week' in the Racing Post in anticipation of his sure to be final appearance on Qipco British Champions Day.
There is not much I can say that hasn't already been said about this phenomenon, and come Saturday I'm sure people will be searching for some new superlatives to describe the beast. There is also the small matter of the Cox Plate and the Emirates Melbourne Cup to come from Australia, I noticed that Black Caviar's half brother All Too Hard managed to beat Cox Plate ante post favourite Pierro in the Caulfield Guineas at the weekend. Having seen Sheikh Fahad Al Thani part with 2.5m gns to pip Coolmore to the leading prospect in the Tattersalls Book 1 Auction, how much could you fetch for the offspring of Frankel and Black Caviar?
On that mind-boggling thought I leave you until next week, lots to organise for the week ahead. Yep, no rest for this wicked bookie. Happy punting.
Postscript: As I picked Kris up from school on Monday and played his favourite games, Champion Jockey elect Richard Hughes became the first man since Frankie Dettori to ride seven winners on the same card in the U.K.
It was a fantastic achievement and left the bookmakers running for cover. On the afternoon that I picked up the Racing Post/SIS Betting Shop Manager of the Year award I was sat in the majestic Ballroom of the Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge along with the bigwigs from all the major companies and on that same afternoon what should have been a jolly day out for them turned into a bit of a nightmare.
Nicky Henderson had a perfect seven from seven and as winner after winner came in you could sense the atmosphere in the room change and grown men and women were squirming at the thought of yet more punishment.
Today must have felt very similar for those at the sharp end after Hughes incredibly took the first five races before finally being pushed back into third on Ever Fortune. He subsequently went on to win on Duke Of Clarence and picked up a spare ride from Ryan Moore to make it win number seven on Mama Quilla. The combined odds of the seven timer at S.P were 10,168/1 so I got in contact with the office to see what the damage was and the reply I got from Gordon was "Thank god he did it on a Monday and not a Saturday!"
Here in Selkirk there were only two Lucky 15s which didn't come to all that much, a situation that was mirrored throughout the company according to Head Office and it appears we have had a lucky escape although the full extent of the liabilities will not be known until the morning.
Richard Hughes was quoted as saying "I feel over the moon but I said I might do it at Windsor, my lucky track. But I wouldn't be anywhere without the Hannons".
A very humble reaction after such a tremendous achievement, and from the man who this day last year picked up a suspension at Salisbury and was close to quitting the game completely.
Twitter tributes have been flooding in for Hughes (follow him @hughsiejockey) and they are well worth a read. Congratulations to him.