Sometimes things fall into place and create an opportunity for a gamble that if you tried to set it up would probably prove impossible. Let me explain about one of the best gambles I have had, even though it could have been a lot better.
A friend of mine had a decent bitch called Graigue Jenny who he had bought from the family that rear my pups in Ireland, Matthew and Linda Scurry. When she finished her career they took her back to breed from, and when she went in season Michael Browning and myself who owned him offered them a free mating with Special TrIck who we were trying to establish at stud. We felt obliged to buy one of the pups when they were born and we chose a very cute fawn dog with a white strip along his nose.
My daughters nicknamed him Popcorn, it was their habit at that stage to call the pups after their favourite snacks or treats (Special Trick was “Crunchie” by the way). When it came to schooling him he was a bit of a challenge and was proving difficult to get going. He arrived at John Coleman’s kennels with the information that he chased…..”just about!” and would benefit from more schooling.
The information proved correct and at his first trial at Ockendon although he chased it was half hearted and with no real intent. In that first solo he clocked 29.50.
Bearing in mind he had been schooled already, it was far from promising. We had a rule that we would not take any dog to Walthamstow for an official trial until they had done under 27.20. That normally equated to around 30.50 at Walthamstow which was just about grading time then for pups.
However after a few more trials at Ockendon he managed to get down to 27.60, a time much slower than we would ordinarily attempt to grade on at the Stow with, but we bit the bullet and took him there anyway.
In his first trial at Walthamstow he was way off grading but managed to win his third trial, dipping inside grading time and was put on the card. Popcorn, or Special Vision, which became his racing name, surprised us pleasantly by running really well on his debut, finding quite a bit of trouble, running green but showing a hint of promise that he could win that bottom grade A9.
One or two of the decent judges there spotted it as well and remarked about it to me after the race. I had already thought that he might be a bet next time out but wanted to discourage them from backing him so told them that he came off with a bit of a problem and that he would be off the card for a few weeks.
I knew that these “judges” had a golden rule that they would never back a dog that had been off of the card for over two weeks. Of course he had no problem, but I had in mind a plan.
I was not truly convinced that he was genuine and wanted to see him pass a dog cleanly before even thinking about backing him. I persuaded John Coleman to make an excuse as to why he had to be off of the card for few weeks and arranged to trial him at Ockendon the next week against a dog that was a regular leader in A9s but was always getting caught or just holding on in races.
In the trial the other dog duly flashed out in front of him and was 4 lengths clear at the first bend, however Popcorn started to close on him coming off the second bend passed him just after the third bend and beat him 4 lengths in 26.60.
“Thats good enough” John Coleman said. “You can have your bet on him next time out”. But I was not convinced. I insisted I wanted to see him do it again. So we agreed to bring the same two dogs the next week to trial again.
Come the day of the trial the A9 dog was badly off colour and could not possibly trial. I didnt want a solo as times at Ockendon could vary quite a lot and could not be trusted to be totally accurate. The only dog available for him to trial with was a dog that had won an A6 in 29.60 at Walthamstow last time out.
At Ockendon before the trial I said to John, “if Popcorn gets within three lengths of him that will do”. However in the trial Popcorn broke a length behind the other dog, led him before the first bend and beat him around four lengths clocking 26.20. Now we were buzzing, we had a dog capable of beating an A6 winner sitting in an A9!
I had not been going very well punting wise at the time and my “tank” was gradually being eroded away by a mixture of losing bets and a run of unexpected household expenses.
I very rarely have what I consider a big bet and can honestly say that the most I had ever had on was £1000. But this was a real opportunity and I decided I wanted to have a real go on it. The A9s were always the first two races on the card on a Tuesday night and it was the worst attended meeting at the track, sometimes with only a handful of punters around at 7.45 for the first race. It would be impossible to get a decent bet on.
I decided that the way to do it was to place small SP bets in as many shops as I could without creating any alarm. The unit stakes were to be £40 only, so plenty of bets were needed to be put on.
I enlisted the help of a couple friends mainly my trusty putter-onner “Petethecab”. I went out myself so did Michael Browning and also Peter Mumford. I don’t know exactly how much was put on in total in the shops but my share of it was £1,800. All of our accounts had been closed over the years but my friend and betting business partner Bill Masterson had just opened a new William Hill account which at the time were allowing a max £1000 bet in any new accounts at SP.
He was to place the bet of £1,000 online, 3 minutes before the race, so as not to allow them to send any money to the track. He was sitting alone in our office, having been banned from Walthamstow track for using Betfair,. but that’s another story!
The excitement in me was building all day long and I was getting more nervous by the minute. As I drove past the neon lights on my right and turned right into Rushcroft Road I was full of nervous anticipation alternately thinking about things that could go wrong with how far Special Vision would win and the subsequent backlash.
After parking up in the back car park the first person I bumped into was Terry, “Grey Haired Terry” or “The Silver Fox” as he was known, one of the judges that remarked how well Special Vision he had run on his debut. It was as though he had parked up and waited for me to arrive as I roughly arrived the same time for each meeting and parked in the same space.
He walked over to me and asked if I was backing Special Vision. I said he might need the race experience tonight and was just hoping for a decent run. Knowing he would never back a dog off the card for 3 weeks I believed that was that and made my way up to the first floor bar where I would be able to watch the prices going up on the boards without being seen.
Some people might say I was putting him away but the last thing I wanted was for a well-respected judge to be walking in backing the dog in a very weak market, where I knew there would be hardly any action in the betting ring. It would be sure to shorten the price and make the whole thing an anti-climax.
I was standing with John Coleman and Michael Browning, we were jokingly chatting quietly about how much John might be fined for time finding at the inevitable inquiry that would follow. The consensus was that we would have a whip round among everyone that had benefitted.
It was then that John told us that in 30 years of training he had never had an inquiry for any reason including time finding. I don’t know if I really wanted to hear that as I was certainly expecting him to get one that night. Special Vision was in the second of the two A9s on the card that night. I watched the first race, won by the 7/4 favourite, there was hardly a bet struck on the race and I noticed The Silver Fox drawing few quid after the race.
Joe O Gorman was the bookie who generally opened up first and it was only about 2 minutes before the A9 on a Tuesday that any prices would start go up.
Special Vision was in trap 2 and as O Gorman went up at 9/2, The Silver Fox was straight into him and I saw the price taken off and no price next to Trap 2 on his board, a disaster for us. The other bookies always dwelt before following Joe up and waited to see any early moves before they put up any prices.
They all went up eventually, with prices for every other dog except Special Vision on their boards, running scared of it because The Fox had gone straight in on the opening show. I was open mouthed, there is no way he would ever back a dog off the card for three weeks I turned round to John and Michael in disbelief.
There appeared to be no other activity in the betting ring for that race as far as I could make out. Now the dogs were loading up and no prices for Trap 2 on any boards, disaster was staring us in the face. As the last dog was put in the traps Dougie Tyler put up 5/2 and shouted it out. The others followed as the hare started and 5/2 would be the SP. At least an SP would be returned.
The winning distance was a neck in 30.23. All that trouble in running meant there was still no inquiry for John Coleman!
John, Michael and myself spent the rest of the meeting propped up at the bar chatting rubbish and getting a little bit drunk, rueing the fact that without The Fox going in and backing it we would have got at least 9/2 as the SP. We were all puzzled though as to why he broke his golden ”more than two weeks off the card “ rule.
I was reluctant to ask The Fox what had made him break his golden rule about backing dogs that had been off the card but curiosity was getting the better of me so I asked one of his mates to quiz him about it.
It turned out that on the way to the Stow he always called into a Jennings betting shop and had a Trixie or similar bet on the nights racing and he was friendly with the manager who also went to Walthamstow regularly. What happened was that one of the ‘putter-onners’ had gone in that shop and had his £40 on and the manager had told The Fox.
Bad luck on us as without him taking the 9/2 it would have returned at least those odds. He never told me himself why he backed it and I never asked him, but we both knew that each other knew.
The drive round picking all the winning slips up was most enjoyable and it became apparent that the firms were unaware of all the bets that had been placed. However the £1,000 that was put on at SP with Hills did become a problem as they initially refused to pay it out pending proof of idenfication by Bill Masterson. It went on for about 3 weeks but they paid eventually.
Special Vision was put out a BAGS meeting the following Monday in an A8 and to all intents and purposes I should really have been a major bet again, but feeling that we had used up our good fortune getting him home I just had a token bet of £200 on him. He duly produced the run we knew he was capable of by leading at the third and clocking 29.55 at 5/1 an improvement of 68 spots on the night we had our money on.
As I said at the beginning of this if you had tried to plan a gamble like that it would probably prove impossible.