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Racing at its purest, point to pointing, has been hit hardest during the pandemic. Being classed as an amateur sport their season has been badly truncated, unable to continue, even behind closed doors unlike its under rules counterpart. There was a sigh of relief when racing was able to resume albeit under very strict rules when Covid restrictions were eased.

With plenty of horses out there to race, point to point meetings have been well-supported with entries since their resumption in April. Sadly, for it’s army of followers, racing between the flags has been held behind closed doors with only essential staff and latterly connections able to attend.

Two bookmakers have also been permitted. Racing has been ‘live streamed’ on-line for those unable to be there in person. Two on-course bookmakers have provided a telephone betting service for punters sat at home and accepted cash bets for the lucky few on the turf. 

The daring duo of bookmakers in the Westcountry, Richard Pittard and Dave Phillips, haven’t exactly been coining it in. The combination of very light business in cash and only the real shrewdies and connected calling for bets, they have been up against it. One wag did suggest that they looked like a couple of highwaymen with their masks on, with prices to match. In fairness by necessity they’ve had to open betting defensively but there has been value for punters wanting to get involved. 

The fortunes of the layers appeared to have changed on Saturday at picturesque Flete Park down in Devon. Dave Phillips and Richard Pittard bet in separate pitches either side of the Amber and Green Zone divide. I was part of the live streaming team covering the betting with Cornelius Lysaght. Going into the seventh and final race only one favourite had obliged that afternoon with results including 10/1, 12/1 and 14/1 winners. It would be going too far to say the bookmakers were crowing, but let’s just say for the first meeting this season they were happy with their lot. 

The whisper of the meeting had been for Melvyn in the last, trained by super-shrewd Tom Malone and ridden by champion rider Will Biddick, its only form having been pulled up when sent off at 4/1 in its only start in an obscure Irish point to point, just the type to hack up in a maiden. Bookies Phillips and Pittard had the gelding as a tentative 2/1 chance and expected that to shorten. I scampered off to the broadcast area to inform the folks watching at home. On my return the layers looked ashen.

They had priced the rest of the field, including Dr Time, a nine-year-old maiden trained by Francesca Nimmo and ridden by Josh Newman, at 8/1. ‘They came in at the same time’ Dave Phillips told me, they had a decent bet on at with me over here and Richard over there’. Both bookies halved the price of the horse, but the punters came in again, then people that had watched joined in too. The gelding was eventually sent off at 5/4 and landed the gamble with some ease. 

Despite the fact there were very few punters and only two bookies stood in a comparatively empty field, connections had still managed land a gamble. Both bookies were grim-faced packing their kit away. The best they’d admit to was losing all that they had been winning prior to the last that afternoon. Admittedly it wouldn’t have been Cheltenham festival figures they lost you had to feel sorry for them. 

Dave Phillips had the last word though, ‘Yes they did very well but imagine how much they might have won if there’d been a full row of 16 of us here!’

Quite right Dave, there’s always a silver lining! 

Simon Nott

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