Shouting the Odds – Final Part

Shouting the Odds – Final Part

It couldn’t last of course and it didn’t. Three consecutive winning favourites wipe out nearly half of the profit accumulated through the miraculously good first two races. We’re now down to the final two events and the chances of a winning day are back in the balance, with current profit barely covering the day’s expenses.

It was fun when we were winning but three setbacks in a row later the mood has changed. I’m feeling the cold more, I’m suddenly aware that I’ve been on my feet since before lunchtime and the race to race battering is becoming monotonous. This is dangerous territory for anyone with a gambling or a chasing instinct.

‘You can’t let it get to you’ says Ben despite the fact that he’s found fault with himself, quite unfairly in fact, after each of the losing races. ‘Normally I’ll take myself off for a little walk around. You’ve got to stay calm. You can’t get sucked into it. That’s dangerous. That’s why it’s so important not to get yourself into positions you can’t get out of.’

He stays calm and he stays focused. Importantly for his team and his customers he stays pretty cheerful too.

The penultimate race sees a familiar story develop. We go into the race with a couple of bad bogies and the rest of the field running for us. The theoretical margin works out at around 1% per runner but as ever the ‘live’ ones are no good for us.

A furlong out I’m pretty hopeful we’re going to be in good shape in just a few seconds time. A win for Grudge is going to win the book well over three hundred pounds and make a losing day unlikely and Grudge is looking good. In fact Grudge, powering down the straight towards us, is looking magnificent.

But wait. Who’s that looming up behind Grudge? It’s Diamond Blade. One of only two losers in the book, he’s emerged from the pack and is running down Grudge with a ravenous stride.

Diamond Blade is a loser for as much as Grudge is a winner, it’s a swing either way of more than seven hundred pounds on the race, as the judge calls ‘photograph, photograph’. The day is about to dip into loss with only one race to come, or emerge onto the sunlit plains of profit once more and it all hangs on a pixel.

The exchange photo betting makes Diamond Blade a four to one on favourite. Ben is convinced that he’s done his dough. Karl is convinced that Ben is the worst photo judge around. I’m convinced that it’s too close too call.

The result of the photograph is met with incredulity by those backing the odds-on Diamond Blade post race, with dignified satisfaction by Ben and Karl, and with a slightly embarrassing ‘oi oi!’ from yours truly despite standing to win nothing either way.

Thanks once again to some quick fingered place hedging and laying chicanery Ben has managed to leverage his profit on this race to put himself about 1200 pounds up on the day. ‘I can tell you now, we won’t be losing on the day’ he says ‘I’ll make damned sure of that’.

'never leave yourself in a position you can't get out of'

We then agree that the last race today is the same as the first race tomorrow and that winning or losing is immaterial in the lifelong battle. We also agree though that the drive back home is less of a long dark journey of the soul if you’ve won on the day and that that’s why, in terms of one’s mental health at least, winning on the day is a good thing.

True to his word, Ben chisels away at the laptop on the lucky last and goes into the race facing at the very worst a loss of a few hundred pounds on the race. The worst does happen and leaves Ben and company with almost exactly the profit that he’d started the day by telling me would make it a ‘good day’, about a grand.

‘A good day at the office’ concludes Ben but I can’t help but reflect that a good day means a net profit of less than £500 after a long cold day of effort. It’s also a profit that hung by the thread of a single pixel photograph outcome which, had it gone the other way, would have meant an operating loss on the day.

Bookmakers have a built in theoretical margin when they bet but the reality is that when competition for relatively small amounts of on course money is tough you have to take some degree of risk. Often you need to sail your ship pretty close to the wind to stand any chance of putting clear water between yourself and the rest.

I’ve learned how the place terms sometimes make it impossible for a bookmaker to offer competitive win prices and stand any chance of having a profitable place book.

A hard way to make an easy living

I’ve seen how much computer technology and the exchange backdrop have made it possible for anyone to become a layer and also how they have enabled a wider range of techniques to be employed. I’ve also seen though how that technology has eroded the skills that were once part of the colour and the character of on course markets. There was only one occasion during the whole day where Ben placed a bet with another bookmaker on course and none where a rails bookmaker bet into the on course boards. The off course firms didn’t play once.

The betting landscape has changed dramatically. Some find the change hard to take. Some adapt to it and move forwards as best they can. What’s for sure though is that the road an on course bookmaker travels is not an effortless carriageway to capital gain. It looks to me a pretty tough way to make an easy living.

There is some resignation amongst the on course bookmakers I’ve spoken to about how exchanges have changed the system. There is also some recognition of the extra tools the exchanges provide for bookmakers. There is undoubtedly though some bitterness about the lack of a level playing field. All bookmakers have to file returns on all of their exchange activity as well as their on course business. They are liable for gross profits tax and levy on all their online racing profits. Something that is not true of everyone making good money on racing on exchanges in their view. Some of whom have been plying their trade from the comfort of boxes overlooking the track.

‘Right, I’ll get the car then’ says Ben wrapping up what he describes as a ‘normal day at Southwell’. I walk out with him to the car park. The car in question is a modest Ford saloon. It looks comfortable, which it would want to be with an annual mileage of 65,000 plus. Reflecting on the day’s rewards Ben acknowledges ‘I’ve got some way to go before I get the Nissan GTR’, nodding in the direction of a £60,000 super car that carries a private number plate which includes the digits 101. ‘I wonder what he does for a living?’ chuckles Ben.

, , , , ,

2 Responses to “Shouting the Odds – Final Part”

  1. ken cambs Says:

    That was a bit of an eye-opener for me, Sean. It certainly explained why, on a recent ‘once in a blue moon’ visit to the races, I found so little variation in prices between a row of fifteen to twenty bookies. It’s so frustrating when you fancy something at a decent price and you’re having to pace up and down the row half a dozen times just waiting and hoping that one bookmaker’s computer will move a wee tad on the price. I might just as well have placed my bet in the on-course High Street bookies office. In fact, the on-course shop seemed to be far busier than the betting ring.
    As it was, I managed to get an extra point with seconds to spare but it’s not as I remember from years ago. Whatever happened to the vitality, the personalities, the opportunity to experience that rush of adrenalin knowing that you’d managed to find much better odds on your fancy from the bookie who was slow out of the blocks and hadn’t noticed the steamer? Now you see the computerised odds tumbling on the boards even though not a single punter has placed a bet at that pitch.
    I appreciate that things have evolved but, just my opinion, not for the better. The bookmakers are an essential component to racing but if the sport is to attract and, more importantly, retain more spectators, it’s essential that those calling the odds show a bit more colour, sparkle and entertainment. At least in the High Street shops you get a smile and a bit of banter (if that’s what you want) whereas all I saw recently was a line of long faces. I appreciate it’s a fraught business being a bookie but some need to acquire better social skills and ‘friendlier’ interaction with the customers.
    P.S. Enjoying the Blog. Thanks for the effort you so obviously put into it.

  2. TonyLusardi Says:

    Interesting but not revealing as I am also a racecourse bookmaker. ( Unfortunately the ‘maths’ of this day out are not revealed and I feel sure that Ben would have made more if he had stayed at home and laid the ‘live’ ones from the comfort of his own room. Especially bearing in mind that he wants >10/1 chances on his side. An inside to the ‘maths’…10% gross profit long term would be a good return. So on this day to break even Ben had to take at least £5000 in total on the day. To increase his days wages from the £100 to say £200 he had to take at least £6000 on the day. If he had stayed at home and laid the first 2 ‘live’ ones he would have won more than £200 for a small liability. Pointless being there and in the long term any where the ‘maths’ do not stand up I feel sure that he wil lose long term. As for mirroring the exchanges…read more on

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.