Weblog: Betting Shop Manager of the Year
Prejudice disappoints but Ascot and Euro 2012 star
RACING POST’s headline-writer must be feeling pretty good about themselves right now, the paper on the opening day of Royal Ascot screaming out "Let's start with the BEST" and "It's Frankel Day at Royal Ascot".
Who could argue with that after witnessing such a majestic performance? As it happens there was not a fantastic crowd in the shop for the opening race. As a betting prospect having a 1/10F in a race isn't exactly going to attract the masses, it's not a "working man's" price. But, as a spectacle, it blew those who were in the shop away. Visually it was stunning, and the stats will show that on good to soft ground it was remarkably only 0.69 seconds outside the track record.
It is difficult to run a betting shop and keep up to date with all the reports of the day but I am led to believe that Frankel's official mark may not rise too much because Excelebration only just pipped 33/1 chance Side Glance into being best of the rest. Excelebration must be absolutely sick of the sight of Frankel's rear end, although on this occasion with an incredible 11 length margin of victory it is arguable that he may have struggled to see it!
I am not a huge horse racing fanatic. I enjoy it, I've really enjoyed taking my son along as he seems to love it, but for the last decade I have followed it mainly to keep pace with customer expectations. It is a betting shops product and staff in a retail environment should know their product. I can honestly say, however, that Frankel's 11th victory on the bounce has been the best showing to my naked eye I have ever seen, and judging by the comments of the customers that were in and from those who had placed their bets on a busy morning and returned for the afternoon/evening fare.
Peerless, Amazing, Beast, Machine, Unstoppable and Freak, all superlatives used by customers today, and Colin, our cashier, even chipped in with Frank-tastic.
The class Frankel showed ignited the Black Caviar v Frankel debate again in the shop, and with the Aussie supermare to run on Saturday in the Diamond Jubilee it certainly gives her a lot to live up to. Unsurprisingly the vast majority now believe there would be very little contest and, on that evidence, it would be hard to disagree, but you just never can tell.
I like the fact that Black Caviar has come over for lesser prize-money than is on offer in her homeland and risked her mammoth reputation for the prestige alone of winning at Royal Ascot, so in that respect Saturday's Diamond Jubilee Stakes is still the race I look forward to most, and I think that a few in Selkirk will be sufficiently impressed with a horse they wrote off without ever seeing race.
As it happened Frankel was the only favourite to oblige on opening day, and normally that would lead to a bumper day for the bookies and a poor one for the punter. In the end that is how it turned out for us, but in our case this was down to a busy evening and not down to the day’s showpiece event.
I understand that there is a big argument for the racing calendar to be cut, the logic of which is fewer meetings meaning races with greater prize-money, but whilst there is such demand for events later in the day then it is hard to get behind such proposals.
People are working harder than ever, and deserve to be able to spend their free time doing what they enjoy. So for those who are out at work through the day and not able to view their hobby, live racing, then why not in the evening at their leisure?
This obviously means that quality of racing is diluted somewhat, but is this not what makes the big meetings, like this week at Royal Ascot, all the more special? As people's opinions differ so does business in shops. The majority of my customers prefer the jump season, as I do personally, but probably the single most enjoyable aspect of the Flat season is the buzz in the shop in the evenings, where business is usually brisker than through the day. There is something special about the summer sun shining through the windows and being run off your feet with people who like to share a laugh and enjoy themselves.
Speaking of summer, which we may not have seen much of, but this summer sees the Olympics land on our doorstep. Quite literally, as it happens, as the Olympic Torch relay made its way through the Scottish Borders on Thursday past, and through Selkirk at just after lunchtime.
Many people believe that the Olympics are for London only, and there has been a fair amount of criticism for the money spent on this massive event when it is hard for people to see what the tangible return will be in these times of austerity. I was excited though. Kris, my son in Primary 1, was mega-excited. They have been doing an Olympic project at school and on Tuesday this week, at their end of term show, the topic was gymnastics, with a huge emphasis on the Olympic theme.
Scotbet as a business took over the old Post Office which had lain derelict in Selkirk's Market Square for over two years and given the place a much needed re-vamp. The Scottish Borders Council had sent out a Newsletter advising businesses of road-closures, parking restrictions and general interruptions. On the reverse it warned against "Ambush Marketing", where a business would try to associate themselves with the Olympics without paying any of the sponsorship fees that guarantee your involvement in events.
Let me tell you the turnout through the Borders was magnificent, with thousands lining the streets, and more importantly, the Square in Selkirk to see the torch pass through the town - a once in a lifetime sight.
A podium had been erected for the town's annual festival, known as the Common-riding, and it was planned that Town Provost Les Miller would greet the torch bearers along with our Royal Burgh's Standard Bearer for this year Gavin Henderson on this podium.
Moscow Olympic 100m Gold Medal hero Allan Wells did not receive the hero's welcome that was planned for him though, as the ceremony on the podium was deemed unfit! The reason? Scotbet Bookmakers’ sign would be in the background. Firstly, on such a momentous occasion who would notice? Secondly before LOCOG and the Council objected, could they not have approached us and asked us to cover the sign, as I have often offered to do in the past at public events? And are betting shops really so offensive that they must not be seen in the background?
With the efforts that companies have made to make the betting shop environment a much more pleasant experience, is it so horrific to have their presence seen on our streets, or only all right when reporting the aftermath of riots?
The end result is so many people were left disappointed and stunned at the amateur staging of what should have been a terrific occasion and the shoddy treatment of our esteemed visitors. I can only hope the main event goes better than the relay as the feedback from not just Selkirk, but neighbouring towns, has been disappointing. If this is the People's Olympics then organisers may have to start considering the 'People' and not the Pound.
Congratulations to England on a hard fought victory against Ukraine Tuesday night. It is a result that, if I am honest, not all Scots welcomed, but I believe a tournament with the Auld Enemy in the latter stages is a tournament enhanced, although I would have preferred to see at least one of the hosts in the latter stages also. As a result of Sweden's shock victory over France then England top their group and avoid Spain in the quarter-finals and face old foes Italy instead. There are no easy games at this level and the Azzuri will provide a stiff test, but after a text from Channel 4's Tom Lee I find myself in a strange position.
You see, I believe that in Roy Hodgson England have a manager who has exactly what it takes to provide a shock at the Euro 2012, and seem to be carrying that bit of luck that all teams need to be successful.
Had goal-line technology been in place then Ukraine would have had an equaliser, and who knows what happens after that but Frank Lampard must have been watching with a wry smile, perhaps these things do even themselves out!
Hodgson has a good record in Cup competition, guiding the unfashionable Fulham to a UEFA Cup final appearance a few years back and has the tactical expertise of keeping WBA in England's mega-rich top flight.
My other fancy, Portugal, who I tipped to any customer who would listen pre-tournament at 20/1, are also going well with a quarter-final against the Czech Rep to come and now avoid the English half of the draw.
This should matter not according to Tom Lee who assures me the clinically efficient Germans have their name on the trophy, but I can't help but think/fear that, cue Frank Skinner, 'Football is coming home'!
I'll nervously enjoy the rest of the tournament along with Royal Ascot and the imminent appearance of Black Caviar on these shores. We are so lucky to live in a generation where Frankel and Black Caviar take our breath away.
Enjoy the coming days and weeks as much as I do.