Weblog: Betting Shop Manager of the Year
Nerves and laughs as the last 24 prove their mettle
The final Group 1 of the flat season came at Doncaster on Saturday as the Racing Post Trophy brought Aidan O'Brien right back into contention for the coveted Trainers Championship, Kingsbarns' stunning performance bringing the Irishman to within £160,000 of John Gosden who leads the way with only two weeks to go.
It was an outstanding showing from a horse that was to be installed as favourite for next year's Investec Derby, being as short as 3s with Stan James and only a point bigger with Coral and Paddy Power. While it is hard to argue that the two year old deserves anything less than favouritism, many would argue that price to be an over-reaction and Ladbrokes had 8/1 showing not long after the dust settled, which seems a bit more realistic.
Kingsbarns was one of many stars on show at Donny over the weekend, and not just the equine variety. This week I met the next person that will carry the title of Racing Post/SIS Betting Shop Manager of the Year as the Regional Finals took place and 24 of the finest people our industry have to offer gathered for the first time at The Crown Hotel in Bawtry.
I remember last year's event like it was yesterday, but that didn't stop me from feeling nervous as we met for an informal dinner just after seven. This time last year the mood around racing was so negative. The new whip rule at the time was causing major concern; the threat of a strike from jockeys was a very real one, and the prize-money crisis was showing no sign of abating. Fast forward a year and a new deal on the levy; increased revenue from media rights means that 2013 should see record levels of prize-money, and the whip fracas seems like only a distant memory.
The figures show how hard the jockeys have worked to re-educate themselves and hot on the heels of Frankel's victory it has been a very positive week for the sport. If that were not enough it was an absolute pleasure to meet the contestants and I hope I didn't bore them too much with my tales of what has been a fairytale year for me too.
The judges again make everyone feel at ease in the situation, and in the relaxed atmosphere hours passed like minutes and the talents of this year's crop shone through.
The laughs continued at breakfast the following morning and before long we were on the coach and headed for the racecourse some eight miles from the hotel. I think it was on arrival that the magnitude of what these people have achieved began to sink in. We were situated in the fantastic Lazarus Suite on the fourth floor of the new stand, a spacious room with breathtaking views of the track. On behalf of everyone I'd also like to thank the staff at Doncaster racecourse, and in particular team that looked after us, from start to finish they were terrific and that attention to detail only enhanced what was a very special day even further.
The day on its own would be a star prize in itself and although only eight of the twenty-four can progress to the Grand Final as Regional Champions, each and every single person that attended will have left Doncaster on Friday evening feeling like a winner after such an incredible day.
I was staying over for the big day on Saturday, a trip to the Royal Box awaited and if that were not enough I got a call from the irrepressible Tom Lee, who invited me down to the Morning Line studio to watch the show and enjoy some breakfast. That invite was a blessing and was to help me immensely, as at dinner on Friday Gill Heaney, who does such a sterling job organising these events for the Racing Post, asked me if I wouldn't mind doing a brief tipping talk on the third race on Saturday. I knew the card was outstanding but had not properly looked, and foolishly agreed without thinking the whole thing through.
A five furlong handicap with 20+ runners is not the easiest race to choose from but with a Scottish connection through trainer Jim Goldie, Jack Dexter was always going to be the choice. In great form following wins in the Bronze Cup at Ayr and over seven furlongs at Ascot on British Champions Day, my tip made it a hat-trick of victories and brought yet another winner for Graham Lee, who had also enjoyed a productive day on the Friday.
Choosing that winner was one thing, but finding the right words to say in front of 120 esteemed Racing Post guests in the Royal Box was something else completely and I must thank Tom Lee for taking the time out of a busy schedule and coaching me on how to approach the situation. With news of Channel 4's reshuffle the show's staff were bound to have felt under that bit more pressure and, just as back in April when I appeared, their professionalism shone through. Also on the show was Tom Segal, who each week seems to bash us bookies in his Pricewise column and if anyone doubted the power of his tips then this story should convince even the sceptics of just how much influence one man can have on the prices available to a nation.
As well as his regular Racing Post column he saved a tip for live TV and the result of this tip was honestly astonishing. I was sat beside Tanya Stevenson about ten feet behind the camera and as Tom announced Lamb Or Cod as his choice we found it on the exchanges. In a 60-second spell the horse went from just over 12 on Betfair to 6, more than halving in price. Needless to say the horse duly took the spoils and the 'punters pal' struck again, much to the dismay of the layers.
There is a saying that 'It's better to be lucky than good". On Saturday I optimised this during the Royal Box's tipping competition and although Tom Segal and Derek Brown, who won the Racing Post and Coral Naps competition for the 2012 Flat season were involved, I managed to come out on top, picking Be My Rock (3rd of 11) in the first, Party Line (12/1 winner) in the Racing Post iPad App Handicap, Kingsbarns in the Racing Post Trophy and, of course, Jack Dexter who managed to lead 21 of them home in the Genting Casinos Levy Board Handicap.
The prize for that was an brand new iPad, and to be presented the prize by Tom Segal was amazing, I felt I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming. It felt like winning this amazing competition all over again and I may have to 'sook a lemon' for the rest of the week to wipe this massive smile off my face anytime soon.
In three weeks that feeling will belong to one of those 24 people I was fortunate enough to meet over the Thursday and Friday, but for them right now they can enjoy the pull-out in Tuesday's paper and look forward to the announcements of who the Regional Champions will be, made live in betting shops on SIS on Thursday at around 11.20am.
I don't envy the judges' task narrowing it down, best of luck to all of the contenders and to all of you in your punting week. Thanks for reading.