Thursday, 26 March 2020

Vaal 2020 .. last meeting in S.Africa before Lockdown

30 yrs ago .. wow how time flies :

True Story - circa 1990 (when I was potless)

Being a racecourse bookmaker is a difficult profession. There is a learning curve to any industry, but being on the front end, entertaining the public, whilst trying to manufacture balanced books from punters who typically just want to back one horse, gets testing.

In S.A., there are normally 9 races per card, with the Pick 6 (your jackpot) starting from race 4. It is not unknown for jockeys to ride the whole Pick 6 – ‘Striker’ Strydom has done it a few times – he once rode 8 winners to a card – not sure if he has done the lot.

Naturally, once a jockey gets on a roll, punters tear up the form book – if it exists, and just back the jockey. This makes sense – as the top jockeys agents only pick the top horses in each race for them to ride (they are normally freelance) – so, unless a big stable is represented elsewhere, there is a fair probability they will ride a few winners.

Being a novice in the game, I initially had a limited bankroll, and was a prime target for insiders, who knew certain jockeys were going to have very successful days. Quite how they knew – I won't say, obviously, they had good connections.

In S.A., a fair proportion of the trade is in fixed odds doubles/trebles/quads. It is not unusual for people to select 6 horse accumulators – staking 10 rand, to win 50,000 etc.

These bets can be at fixed odds or SP. There is a framed copy of a bet, in one of the tattersalls, where a punter had 100 rand to win 1.2 million. (about 100k pounds in those days). The guy was just a mug, who got lucky, and come the last leg, he was still going. The last leg was ante-post 8/1, but as it was an SP acc, the bookie, was trying to buy back, to cover his position. Being a bit sharp, he had taken doubles/trebles/quads from the 4th leg – the bet was 7 selections, and by now, the industry was in serious trouble. It opened on course at 3/1, and touched odds-on by race-time. The punter didn’t even know he was still going – not even having a radio on for commentaries, but if he had, would have been on tenterhooks, as they went passed the post in a desperate finish. After an eternity, it got up, and he collected a block of flats in part payment.

I had no block of flats, (not even a parking space) - so in my early days, was always a bit wary of large fixed –odds accumulators (my staff would typically price up the betting boards at big margins, to give an even bigger edge). The problem was, although this was great business to take, there was no where to hide, if a certain jockey found multiple winners.

One Jockey .. Rhys Van Wyk  (Reece Van Vake).. was known as Hand-brake, Van Vake ,, just why, might be libelous, so maybe will avoid. He was the jockey in the following story.

One day, at a low level track just out of Johannesburg, called the Vaal, I laid a multiple bet consisting of 5 horses. In the normal course of business, the bookmaker would not even be aware of the bet, until after the first leg has won. After each race, the clerk taking the doubles/trebles will go thru his tickets, bin the losing ones, and pass the winners to my personal field clerk, for incorporating in my field book. As the first leg has been missed out, it comes into my book as a bad bet to lay, (but obviously, all the losers are not fielded either, so its swings and roundabouts). To try and recover some value, the

Bookmaker will tend to inflate the next 2 legs, and hope to make a fairly balanced book on the race. If the next leg wins, this money is carried forward to the next race, and so on. As each leg is fixed price, you know what liability to carry forward, and how it will come into your book in the last leg, if it is still running.

Unfortunately, the first 3 legs had won, and now I had a serious look at the bet. The whole bet was a stake of 50 rand (5 pounds) to win 80,000 (8k pounds). The first leg had been 20/1, so I was in trouble. By fielding the 2nd and 3rd leg, I had managed to accumulate some field money of 3k, but now, in the 4th leg, I had laid 4/1, and it was expected to go off 5/2, and the last leg was fixed at 3/1, and I was already fielding calls from bookmakers, asking what price I was going to open the horse, so I knew it would be shorter.

I didn’t know what to do. If the bet arrived, my guarantees (lodged with the authorities would be wiped out), and being a new bookmaker, it wouldn’t look too good. I decided to take a loss on the 4th leg, and fielded the bet as 24k to 3k, 8/1, about a 5/2 chance, so I was going to lose 7k on the race, whatever won. The idea behind this was, that I would then carry forward 27k to the last leg, and would have laid 53k to 27k (2/1 – not too bad, and maybe I could recover).

The 4th leg duly won, and then the fun begins.

To say I was on-tilt was being kind, and my phones just never stopped ringing. The whole county was in the deepest shit, having laid similar doubles/trebles, all starting with the 20/1 chance, which was definitely hooky. I was forced to open the horse on-course at 4/5 – which didn’t help me in the slightest and was in danger of laying it – which certainly wasn’t going to help. In the end, I managed to buy back some evens, (about 20k) – so effectively laid 33k to 7k the last leg – 5/1, about a evens chance.

The race went off, and I genuinely felt sick. The race was over a straight mile, and the horse (and jockey) were obviously in the know, as it was lobbing along in front, with no definite triers behind. With about 2 furlongs 2 go, it bounces 4 lengths clear, and is starting to pull away. I cannot watch anymore, and start to walk away from the tv monitor, when I suddenly hear a roar. In hope, I turn back, and see the jockey lying on the floor.

From the veld, (grass), which runs alongside the track, a meercat had run out, which had startled the horse, swerved, and unshipped the pilot. To this day, I believe it was an act of God.

In a way, I can now feel sorry for the punter, who I suppose has a good story – I escaped with nervous exhaustion, which probably prepared me for later days in the sun.

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