The three racecourse bookmakers I worked for regularly were all very different. The first one, Jack Lynn, an old-school bookie, he was D Day veteran, or as he’d always correct, ‘second-wave’ with the Welsh Guards. You had a better chance of coming home if you weren’t in the first wave.
Come home he did but wounded and with permanently damaged hearing. He forged his way as an illegal street bookmaker before plying his trade on course. Most of his pitches were modest, he always called himself ‘Jack The Judge’ but he had no opinion on the outcome of races.
Jack and his son Roy bet to figures and did so with great success. They would have no hesitation on pulling up stumps and leaving a meeting if the bookmakers were ‘Tearing it up’, that is betting to no margin. Likewise, if they were ‘Betting well’ they’d get stuck in. These days many on-course bookmakers are derided for ‘Greening up’, using the exchanges to hedge ensuring an ‘overs’ book, that is every horse winning whatever the outcome. That was Jack and Roy’s game, they’d bet overs whenever they could.
Given the positions they bet in, it was something to be admired not scoffed at. Plenty of the bookies used to scoff though. Not that it ever bothered Jack. He’d relish the opportunity of walking up and down the betting ring serenading the piss takers with the chorus ‘Come on all of you’ as the fifth favourite of the day bolted up. He died in his 90s and was still a regular in the betting ring almost until then, unlike most of those that laughed at him.
The next bookmaker I worked full time for was Dave Phillips of Torquay. He’s still betting on-course now, another that has stood the test of time in the ring. He was totally different to work for. Safe to say he was a lot calmer that the highly charged Lynns. Dave was a form judge. Probably the happiest time I had on course was working for Dave, from 1995 to 1998 before computers on course and the betting exchanges. We’d set off with the tools of the trade, hod (bookmakers’ satchel ) tripod, headboard, field book and money to do battle with the punters anywhere from a Cornish point to point to Aintree. Dave didn’t have great pitches either but rather than pure figures Dave used his knowledge and guile to beat his positions. He’d not really try that hard for a few races then there would be a favourite he didn’t fancy, and he’d get to work.
For the previous races I’d have been stood next to him with the field book casually writing down the bets, but when he started to ‘have a go’ I’d have to assume the position behind the joint to ensure getting the bets down as he machine-gunned them at me. There was a lot to be admired about the Lynn’s was of doing things, but Dave’s was much more exciting. You’d feel part of the team hoping the one he had opposed got beaten. Job done, you’d revert to ‘tapping away’ making a book for a couple of races he had no strong opinion on with leaving before the last to beat the traffic a regular conclusion to a successful day.
Third up was Ivor Perry, I never actually worked for Ivor, he’d just retired when I started for his daughter Wendy and Son-In-Law Jo, but he was nearly always there. The late Ivor was a Dorset farmer, racehorse owner, paddock judge and successful punter. He had a reputation as one of the bigger and fearless bookmakers to ply his trade in Westcountry Tattersalls pitches. Not only did the Ivor Perry firm use to stand horses for a lot of money but they also had telephone business.
There was a phone for punters off course who wanted to call and have bets on the live racecourse market. Some of these would be big bets which they would generally stand. The other phone was for business from other bookmakers, usually off course independents. This phone had a special ringtone. I tried to find the name of it on-line but failed, everyone would know it and associate it with a circus. When this one started to ring, we’d spring into action. The best part of the day, they’d want to back one, so the message would be ‘Take all the 5/2 up to £3000’. These would be the hardest, you had to be quite discreet and discerning with choice of bookmaker if you were to get it all on. There was no point asking Jack Lynn for example for £1000, you’d get £100 and his floorman would be scampering down the ring backing it back alerting all the other bookmakers as he went. Often Wendy would go left, and I’d go right to ensure we got it on. They didn’t want to lay it themselves of course as it was live money.
By far the best fun was where they just sent money back to try and shorten one up. In that scenario you’d have a certain amount of money and just keep backing it doing as much damage to the price as you could. So, in that case you would go into the smaller bookies on purpose, call the bets in loudly and a self-perpetuating snowball of a market move would kick off. The price would shorten without any business done by some firms, just in the hope they could lay it later cheaper. It wasn’t all that easy though, the big players would expect a decent bet, they wouldn’t just take the price off, they were there to lay them, not help you. You had to do it near the off too otherwise the price could soon bounce back out.
A message I would have loved to have heard, but of course never did, was ‘Back it and keep backing it until it’s odds-on!’ Imagine the fun we’d have had being involved in the move like the one for Full Noise at Punchestown on Sunday. 12/1 the night before into 8/11 by the off. The David Dunne-trained five-year-old had never won from eight starts, never sent off at odds shorter than 33-1 before Sunday.
Of course, the trainer had no idea where the money came from. Back in those good old days before the exchanges killed the hedging business it may well have started with a lively circus ringtone….