24. And they’re off….

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“Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.”

Paul Newman


My introduction to horse racing took place in my grandparents’ council house in North London’s Chingford Mount area. Ghastly monotone commentaries crackled out of the black and white TV. Nanny’s hand shook with Parkinson’s as she sat at the lounge table, ignoring the live pictures from Sandown, Redcar or Wetherby. Grandad the ex-bookie tried to interest me in the action, which was inconceivably boring to my young eyes.

Admittedly, I would perk up at the Grand National each year. Eric would take bets from Phyllis, Neil and myself, and sometimes lay them off by telephone with his bookie. About 50 horses would charge around Aintree. Most seemed to come unstruck at some point in the race. My selection was usually at the back until it fell.

Neil had started betting with Dad at the tender age of seven, cheering home Pat Eddery’s rides for his threepences and sixpences. While Eric and Neil spent their Saturday afternoons perusing the racing section of the Daily Telegraph, I would almost fall asleep at the tedium. Find a book to read, or kick a football outside. Or maybe dream of the untold treasures which lay beneath the brassiere.

Around a decade later, at university, a few of the lads liked a bet on the ITV 7, or a yankee, on a Saturday. I joined in sporadically, and lost mainly, experiencing more tedium and ennui. One Wednesday morning, in June 1979, I wandered into Birmingham wearing a blue and white bobble-hat. Most of my final exams were complete, I needed a break, and noted that it was Derby Day at Epsom. Seeing that many tipsters were recommending Troy, ridden by Willie Carson, I bet the last £5 left in my bank account, at 6/1. I needed distraction from an overwhelming stress.

Back home I listened on the radio as Willie drove the beast home. And enjoyed a mild cranial orgasm, as I realised that I could pay my last month’s rent.

Some 11 years later, in autumn 1990, I sent a prospectus to friends and acquaintances. By January 1991, my betting syndicate, ‘Gameplan’, was up and running.

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