I was looking forward to my day’s work with London based bookmaker Sherlock, we were off to Lingfield, it was the first time I’d been since the late 1990’s. I was being picked up in Devon by Trevor and Lewis, a couple of guys I’d never met before. Both soon proved to be lovely chaps, Trevor pointed out to me that driver Lewis, nephew of Sherlock, was a bit of a celebrity in the farming world, and so it was, known as The Dartmooor Shepherd the youthful sheep farmer has been a regular of TV and radio of late and even has a Landrover sponsored by Prince Charles, follow him on twitter @DartmoorShep.
It’s a fair drive up from the Shire but the journey went smoothly, no traffic hold-ups and plenty of talk of rare breeds and Young Farmer shenanigans. On arrival a Lingfield a fair bit had changed from what I remember of what still is a lovely course, not least the fact it was packed. No doubt stalwart regular all-weather bookies Barry Dennis and John White were looking around wondering ‘Where are you lot the rest of the year’ to the three ranks of books in Tatts and the full rail and not least the estimated 10.000 punters.
The weather was fine enough for picnics and the day was set fair to live up to its billing of a family-friendly day of superb racing. Judging by the face-painted kids in evidence there appeared to be a lot going on but we expected to have our work cut out to take money in Tattersalls being near the end of the third row. Stevie Stretch had bagged the plum pitch next to the picnic area on the grass but we of the Sherlock team were happy to try and pick up any crumbs from his punters.
Even with low expectations he first race was a little bit disappointing as the punters failed to filter down to us, turnover quite poor. Typical then that we got a result with 33/1 Forceful Appeal defying the fast-finishing the jolly by a nose, the favourite would have lost though us so small mercies. Then business picked up. We had decided on a £2.50 each-way minimum but had to play it by ear turning little down. You’d be amazed how many people come up with a score, ask for £2 each-way, then rattle off another £20 worth of bets.
7/1 Winning Story was an aptly-named winner in the next. By the third business was really brisk and we were getting our own little gaggle of loyal punters. Bets were ranging from a couple of quid to hundreds so we took the rough with the smooth. I did have to draw the line and not accept a bet from a fully grown man who wanted a pound on one. I did feel a bit mean as a he looked slightly impoverished wearing a pair of what I’d imagine were his sister’s skinny jeans and apparently unable he was unable to afford socks, but hey come on lads, a pound?
6/1 Realtra scraping home from well-backed even money shot Muffri’Ha was another that kept the hod full and the punters hungry, it was shaping up to be a good day. When I used to be a regular at an often desolate Kempton Park when I worked for Turf TV we’d often comment on just how exciting the all-weather finishes often were and that they were wasted on an near-empty arena. It was fantastic to witness the same electric surges to the post cheered home by 1000’s. No so great when one of the them is the 4/1 joint-favourite Kimberella in the Betway All-Weather Sprint Championships Conditions Stakes and the first reversal in the book. Sovereign Debt winning at 8/1 in the next put us back on track though.
I always feel it’s good to engage the punters so decided to play on the ‘we came a long way from Devon to bet here today, keep us busy’ mode if our regulars were standing back. Maybe I shouldn’t have got carried away with what had been an agriculturally-themed conversation on the journey up by adding that we’d be late home for the milking and the like. I could have just kept to the truth, Lewis the Dartmoor Shepard did have lambing to get back to but the nearest I’d be to milking a cow when I got home would be the milk in the fridge from Witheridge Stores.
The Gambling Gods evidently frown on fibbers. Just when it looked like we have a cracking day the punters opened their shoulders. The bets seemed to double and treble in size from our regulars as they waded in and the last two jollies stormed home, Second Thought at 11/8, bish and Convey at 11/10 bosh. The latter picking up £124,500.00 in prize money.
We lost considerably less but the shine was taken off the day. What an excellent day it was though, business was brisk in the third and back row (not something you hear often these days) the punters were all in excellent humour, the obvious novices evidently enjoying getting involved with betting in the ring and hopefully the banter, and not the least the racing which was spectacular. Well worth the drive from Devon, even if we didn’t really have to neglect the farm to get there.
Oh and to top it off Sherlock’s winnings did run to treating us all to a fish supper in Lingfield before heading home, proper job, as we say in the Shire.
Next stop Newton Abbot.
(c) Simon Nott