Jim Clarke bookmaker at the racecourse

Back in the early 2000’s when I worked for on-course bookie Ivor Perry I was always looking for work with other bookmakers around Royal Ascot week. Ivor had never applied for Ascot or Goodwood pitches. He was first and foremost a farmer so the height of summer was harvesting time, racing took a back seat. One year I got a day’s work with fellow Dorset bookmaker Jim Clarke. Jim and I got on really well but our day working together at Royal Ascot was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I am not at Royal Ascot this year but sitting down to write about it did get me reminiscing. Here is the story, a tale of woe, people who do not like to read about bookmakers losing, stop reading now!

I was always welcoming extra work but did not always go to plan. Jim Clarke was a bookmaker who sometimes worked for Ivor too had his own pitch at the Royal meeting. He asked if I’d fancy a day’s work with him. As his pitch was a fairly low pick so he had decided to only go to Ladies Day on the Thursday, put the £500 maximum liability sign up and tap away and try and get a day’s wages for us all. We didn’t bother with top hats and tails and all that clobber. The end of the ring where Jim bet was near the grass where the ladies liked to sit and get slowly sozzled as the afternoon wore on. Their bets along with the other recreational money other firms tried to avoid with £10 minimum bet signs would do for us, £2 all day long, each-way if you liked, just keep tapping away. 

That is exactly what he was doing, when in one race, I can’t even remember the name of it now, just as the last couple of horses were going in the stalls a guy went up to the joint with £500 in cash and had it on Frankie Dettori’s mount at 4/1. Jim called me in and asked me to get £400 hedging bet back on the horse in the betting ring. There was 4/1 all around us but the last horse had just been loaded into the stalls so it was a race against time. The first bet I called was into a biggish firm with whom I thought I’d get the lot on with no problem. I asked for it all and got nothing; they no doubt already had a tidy book and were not interested in ruining it to help me out. I asked for the whole £400 with the next bookmaker purely out of desperation as they were all in the stalls and the starter was on his rostrum. This bookie called the bet to clerk, had a think about it, then changed his mind and said I could have just £100. 

They were off and running and I had left Jim with a huge liability.

Due to the crowds, it had been impossible to get up to the highflying end of the ring to try beg a bet from one the biggest firms. To make matters worse the beast in question was in front and going well. I ran back to the joint and told Jim that I had only managed to get £100 on. He didn’t bollock me or flap but just said that it would make the race more exciting and that we would just have to hope the horse beaten. His demeanour got more edgy as the bogie with Dettori on board, continued to lead and nothing appeared to be coming to get it. As they passed us with less than a furlong to go only an act of the Gambling Gods could have stopped it winning. Fickle as they are they weren’t about to jump to the rescue of a pesky bookmaker to the detriment of a punter, at least not this time. The book had lost just under £2000 which was a massive sum for Jim’s way of playing. To rub salt into the wounds, the official SP was 9/2 so we could have had an earner had I been given a little more time.

I was all ready for the huge scream up that I expected to follow. After all, the floorman only has a couple of jobs, the most important of which is to get hedge bets on when requested. I was going to respectfully point out to Jim that he had his ‘Max Liability £500’ sign on display so he was only duty bound to lay the punter £100 and that having laid it all out of ego wasn’t my problem blah blah. A perquisite of the job is to get the blame so you have to have an answer but I did feel genuinely guilty and a bit ashamed as a good workman not to have got it all on. Though of course it still wasn’t my fault, obviously, see above!

Jim didn’t say anything to me, he didn’t need to, he was mortified,  it was written all over his blood-drained face. He just got off the stool and walked silently away in no particular direction, anywhere as long as it was away from me. There were only about ten minutes before the next race when he came back. His pallor had returned to something like normal and he just said we had to start somewhere to get it back. We didn’t get it back, or anywhere near it. He never mentioned it again that day. 

He has reminded me of the occasion pretty much every time I’ve seen him since. He did offer me some sort of hint of redemption when he alluded that I was no longer at the very top of his black mark book. He noticed my smile then added that I was still very bloody close to it. I can’t even remember the name of the horse all these years later. I bet Jim can though. I also bet I’m still near the top of his black mark book, though I’d like to think just a little further down as the Royal Ascots come and go

Simon Nott

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