Sunday, 19 August 2012

Bookies Give Little Away, Except For Orange And Lemon Squash

So what is the problem with horseracing in the UK at the moment? Racecourese owned by property developers and huge consortiums? Councils looking for places to build houses? Too much bad racing? Too little prizemoney? Poor management? Too much change? Not enough change? Greed? Globalisation? Recession?

If you asked 100 people you would undoubtedly get 100 different answers.

The only group which has seen little change are the bookies. Sure, they are now part of huge multi-national conglomerates, but there is still a part of them which remains as the old description bestows on them - Turf Accountants. But they still command a monopoly over the sport.

What has changed in horseracing is the lack of fun there used to be around the sport. Now it seems to be just another business which employs a great many people. Take the above programme, with the picture of Grundy and Pat Eddery on the front for the 1976 Southern Bookmakers Association annual dinner and dance at Quaglino's in London.

People used to say it was a no-expense-spared affair. The claret flowed and the cigars were Churchillian. But most of all it was a chance for the bookies to meet up with the rest of the racing world. There were loads of these parties when I worked in the industry. PR men would meet with journalists in pubs like the 'Stab' - the 'Stab-in-the-Back'. Occasional bottles of whisky would be given as Christmas presents.

Now the lunches have been replaced by AGM's and Shareholder meetings, where people drink bottled water. The dances have gone and in their place are a few corporate awards ceremonies. Heaven forbid that any present should be given, unless it is declared in triplicate on multiple forms, one of which is sent to the Inland Revenue.

Racing is no different to the rest of life in Britain. Everywhere these days are so sombre and humourless. The bookies ball was different. They would take their guests into a corner, fill their glass to the top with vintage port, open a box of giant Cohibas and say:

'Now then, old boy, what about my pitch at your racecourse. Couldn't you................?

They were always half-hearted attempts. It was worth a go. They never succeeded. For the guests, it didn't matter. Though their port glass would not be filled up so regularly, they were safe in the knowledge that the orange and lemon squash was free.

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