Although the season is yet to get underway in Scotland, with the first meeting of the year scheduled for Sunday 15th May (also the new date for the postponed fixture at Tregaron), harness racing has finally managed to get out of the starting blocks with the first meeting staged at Tir Prince, north Wales, on Saturday night.
Smarty and I left home on Saturday morning at 09:00 to work our first shift at Haydock Park Racecourse for a mixed card of jumps and flat racing. There was a bumper turnout courtesy of the favourable change in weather conditions and although the results didn't go our way, Smarty bookied well and we enjoyed ourselves. I enjoy working the front of the joint as I'm a naturally more gregarious and interactive person; plus it allows Smarty to focus on making a book and controlling the prices. The only place where we switch roles is at the harness racing, as regular punters look to bet with Smarty, not his (glamorous!) assistant. Plus at busy meetings where Smarty and A N Other are doubled up taking bets, I'm faster on the computer to respond (although this only really happens at Tir Prince).
Speaking of which, Tir Prince was actually the venue for our second shift of the day, having left Haydock after the penultimate race (much to the dismay of some of our regular punters) to make it there before the first race in time to set up.
We needn't have worried, as true to 2015 form, the races were late going off. I don't know why this happens but it confuses the holidaymakers who have never been before as around the time of the first race there is usually a qualifier going on - I have in the past had to explain to a punter that the horse they'd bet which they thought had won, had in fact only finished in front in a qualifer and wasn't the horse they had bet for the first race. When they see the boards light up and horses on the track with numbercloths on, they want to bet. If we don't put the prices up until after the qualifiers (our new tactic), we get pestered to death by people wanting to bet on what they believe to be the first race. Perhaps the racecards could feature more of an explanation as to the format of the evening, as the holidaymakers do sit and read their racecards from cover to cover.
On the night there were 7 races, starting with the maidens and culminating in the feature event, the Anthony Russell Memorial FFA where last year's heavyweight FFA horse Stoneriggs Mystery was being taken on by other top FFAllers, Foolaround, Brywinsmagicpotion, Meadowbranch Josh, Ayr Majesty and Wellfield Official.
The evening was one of ups and downs for us as bookmakers, but we ended up on top. The crowd was below what I had expected with it being the first meeting of the season, and there wasn't as much money around as anticipated either. On social media the FFA had been pegged as something of a match race between Mystery and Josh, who has moved to the Laidler barn. The Josh fans did not materialise on the night and the money all came for Mystery, which was as sensible a place as any to put it. The horse is simply a machine. He gives me goosebumps to watch; when he races he carries his head low and stretched out as if chasing the finishing line. When he kicked on from the pack, he wasn't for being caught.
The weather had deteriorated rapidly during the latter races which drove the crowd inside and forced the FFA race to go without the start car for safety reasons. Tir Prince may be the flagship track, but the rain waits for no man.
Horses which caught my eye on the night were Ffaro (Dylan Lloyd-Jones), Showtime Big Cigar (Ian Pimlott), Mattriarch (Dylan Lloyd-Jones), Indie Hanover (Richard Haythornthwaite), Alexander Camden (Mick Lord), Ayr Majesty (Patrick Kane Jr) and of course Stoneriggs Mystery (Mick Lord) who I anticipate will dominate the FFA ranks this summer. Keep an eye on them every time they run.
I must admit, we both left the track on Saturday night a bit...deflated. The first meeting of the season should be full of anticipation and excitement. Perhaps it was because we'd both had a long day? I'm not convinced. It just felt a bit flat. The weather certainly didn't help, but the crowd wasn't as good as I had expected and somehow the night seemed to drag on. The drive home is a killer and it's taken me until today to recover, and even now I'm not convinced I'm 100% there!
Thankfully yesterday was a day off, spent jogging horses and playing with foals. There was a race meeting at Amman Valley, south Wales, at which there were no bookmakers. I fear this will have irreparable damage to the track going forward. Had we not got so much work at home to be done, Smarty said we would have been there. Logistically it was possible to head from Tir Prince to my parents', then down to AV the following morning. However, bearing in mind I have a day job to go back to on a Monday morning at 08:00, the journey home after the meeting would have been horrendous. I'm glad we came home.
All in all, not much to report from the first weekend of racing. Tregaron on Sunday may provide the boost I need.
What racing isn't doing for me right now, thankfully my own band of merry men are. Here's some photos from yesterday: Smarty and Cliff (Eagle Luck-Saunders Beachgirl-Beach Towel) playing in the field.
Over and out,
#1 Bookmaker's Assistant