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During lockdown, racecourses have been devoid of paying customers and so quiet during the race that you have been able to hear the light crack of the ProCush, the shouting of the jockeys and if you listened carefully the gentle buzz of an array of drones overhead. Whilst helicopters were in the past nick-named the eye in the sky, it would be difficult to hazard a guess just how many eyes are behind each of those unmanned flying objects.  

In those good old days before the Covid restrictions racegoers may have noticed hospitality boxes on-course occupied by people that didn’t appear to be having all that great a time. The curtains drawn, a thick fug of silence certainly not broken by the popping of corks or chinking of glasses. Anyone that had hung around long enough back in those heady days would have seen an exit of people looking like they were leaving an airport after a weekend away rather than eight races at Kempton. Those little suitcases on wheels that trundle but containing the paraphernalia of in-running punting rather than a change of clobber. That edge for several years gained by watching the racing live on course has been curtailed by covid lock-down restrictions, hence the drones.

It wasn’t just the boxes though, ‘twitchers’ with a decent dongle lurking at the two-furlong pole or the second last were a common, if fleeting sight. As were characters with laptops hidden in copies of the Racing Post seen scurrying to deserted parts of the stand or a shady corner of Tattersalls. All getting their extra edge of on-course in-running betting by saving on not inconsiderable box expenses. Even some of the racecourse bookmakers were at it, at least they paid their way buying a betting badge. These guys often setting up in unworkable pitches but with a great view of the big screen. Those big screens used to be ‘live’ pictures, but they too soon reverted the broadcast speeds to thwart those ‘facetiming’ via smart phones and social media to punters back at home or even outside in the car. 

As I hope you can now gather, betting in running been a survival of the fittest old game prior to drones. Before reliable fast wi-fi on course and out and about the edge used to be gained by off-course punters. These guys could be found in ‘In-Running Shops’, rooms equipped with super-fast broadband with the fastest pictures. Plenty of these punters weren’t even racing men or women but just young adults who had grown up developing lightning reactions thanks to endless hours saving the world from alien invasion on Playstations and the like. In-running betting was seen as a real-life computer game where the quickest pictures and fastest fingers were all you needed. It wasn’t unknown for people to give up their jobs and win enough to buy flats and fast cars in their first year of trading at the expense of those less clued punter playing at home. It is dog eat dog though, these guys suddenly found themselves on the receiving end of the guys with the edge when the sharpest were no longer seen paying £40 a day in their usual trading room spot, they’d gone racing, see above. Players used to winning doing what they did the previous year went skint very quickly if they didn’t wise up, the game had evolved while they didn’t. 

Before the emergence of super-fast internet and pictures it was software where the edge came in. Betting exchange interfaces Bet Angel and Gruss with one click wagering and a whole host of tools to aid the in-runner punter gave their users a huge advantage. That advantage taken from those guys who had home offices with multi-screen set-ups. They’d tee up the horses that they expected to be interested in already for their own proto one click edge. They’d be betting on slow pictures though. There were comical scenes when the precursors to the box bettors could be seen on course. These teams were a man at home and one of course, the man on course would give a running commentary on the race and ‘call it’ when he felt confident of the result. His screams of ‘Yes Yes’ down a telephone on course would often raise a smile when something finishing with a rattle would prompt an even louder ‘No No,’ but of course it would be often too late. 

Those were the halcyon days for those looking for an edge. Legend has it that the betting for very early in-running markets were suspended from the TV. This left those that knew the result several seconds to fill their boots. The old saying that it was such easy money it was like finding it on the floor never been more accurate. The people that cottoned on to that scenario and acted on it are said to have literally become millionaires. It’s now part of punting folklore, so who knows how much of it is accurate, that boffin obtained dishes could receive live pictures at home. These dishes in Midlands’ back gardens were mounted on tank like tracks. It was somewhat hit or miss to find the signal as the dish, enabled by the mobility of its tracked mounting, scoured the skies for the racing. If they found it, they filled their boots, the ultimate edge, backing them when they have already won. Try counting seven seconds after a horse has passed the post, that’s the leisure they had to scoop the lot. One of my old bosses used to lament that he couldn’t get betting in-running right, if he thought they’d won and lost he was matched, he thought they won and they did, he never was. Poor old Ivor never had a chance, his pockets picked every time he had a go. This carried on until the exchanges cottoned on and started to suspend the market from the course, or so I’m told, it was a while back.

Back to the present, for every box-full or drone subscription list of punters trying to back them quicker than their neighbours, there’s a skilled punter at home. These guys can read a race so accurately that they still make betting in running pay despite picture delays, they know their form inside out and are just waiting. Their dream? Fast pictures for all. Those who have shunned in-running betting knowing that the playing field was far from level will be back in their droves and liquidity will shoot up. While the fastest finger boys will continue to scrabble to snaffle up the shadow of the post 1.01’s proper in-running judges will ensure that skill rather than dexterity profits properly for the first time in in-running betting’s history. 

It would be a winner for the exchanges too of course, all those people thinking it’s easy with equal pictures providing liquidity for those honing their skills against all the odds. These likely to find out the hard way. Lambs to the slaughter and plumper profits for those already paying their premium charge, just waiting for the opportunity to double it. Fast pictures for all, the real in-running punters dream. 

Simon Nott

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