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Losing on a weekly basis or having a bad trot is not the exclusive domain of punters – in fact, their old foe the bookmaker has had his share of down times.
Over the past fifty years, bookmakers, like so many punters, have found the going too tough and that the economics of their profession denied them a living. We had one extraordinary situation in the mid-1970s after the last race at Seymour when an enterprising young bookmaker climbed the stairs to the broadcast box. While a commentator was going through the results of the day, the young man interrupted and said:
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‘I’m a little bit short on my payout, you wouldn’t have some folding to get me through?’ It made unusual radio – the bookmaker hadn’t believed that the commentator was on air at the time.
But one bookmaker in the late 1970s devised a plan that basically evolved around a boom-or-bust theory.
He had endured a tough run during the autumn of that year and it seemed the spate of favourites was never going to end. As the markets went up for the final race at Caulfield – a three-year-old fillies event – the favourite was put at 4–6. The bookmaker immediately went to 4–5 and then he went to even money, and the crowd around him was four and five deep, wanting to back the favourite.
The word spread around the course that the bookmaker was offering good odds on the favourite, and the crowd around the stand grew. With just five minutes of betting to go, the bookie turned the horse into 1–3 and then gathered his staff around him for a conference.
‘Look, just pack up the sheets and the bags and we’ll get moving before the race,’ he told them. ‘It’s pretty simple – we’ve laid the favourite for a fortune. If it wins we’re stuffed, and if it gets beaten we’ve got the lot.’
So, the team made their way over to Caulfield station and, from platform four, nervously watched the outcome of the final event.
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The bookie again told his staff that he’d deliberately taken on the favourite, believing she was vulnerable.
‘I’ve targeted this filly – I think she’s a bit of a squib but, just in case she does win, there’s an express train due to arrive from the city about five minutes after the race and we’d better be on it,’ he said.
As the field swung for home, the chestnut filly that the bookie had labelled as ‘heartless’ defied that reputation. At the 200-metre mark, she went from two to six lengths in front – much to the cheering of the punters in the ring.
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A bookmaker who had been fielding next to him recalled the scenes that took place after the race.
‘It was the strangest thing I’ve seen on a racecourse – the queue on the bookie’s stand seemed to stretch for miles. At first, the mood was one of jubilation that they’d snared even money on a horse that should have been 5–1 on. But the giggling and laughing soon gave way to shouting and yelling when they realised that the bookmaker and his staff had disappeared. The bookmaker’s supervisor came up and they harassed him and it turned pretty nasty,’ he said.
Eventually, the bookmakers’ association repaid all of the bets; the bookmaker in question had left on an express train out of town, never to be seen again.
And just for the record, the three-year-old filly was the brilliant Mistress Anne, who went on to win the Oakleigh Plate two weeks later.