Mike Quigley

Irish horse racing, betting and other stuff

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Stratford strife

Stratford-upon-Avon. It sounds quintessentially English doesn’t it? I can’t say that good feeling translates to the racecourse. I’ve never really been a big fan of the place. In fact I was trying to remember the last time I’d been there. It was certainly before I was married – and that was almost twenty years ago.

I can recall going with a bunch of friends – on reflection it must have been in the early 70s. One of the girls in the party was known as “The Black Book”. Not because you kept her phone number in it but because she was a devotee of Timeform. The only other memory is one of our group having a £2 win bet with a bookmaker who’d chalked up 20/1 instead of 2/1. The horse won a short head and winnings were collected in full – no palpable error claimed!

Anyway I digress. I had been in Stratford on business on the Friday evening, which warranted an overnight stay. Next day – August 10th – racing just one mile from the hotel. No rush to get back to London so decided to check it out. Fortunately I had remembered the parking hassles getting in and out. The trick is to park just outside the town and walk the ½ mile or so to the track.

The card looked poor. Typical summer jumping I suppose. It was difficult to know what to back and why. I decided to concentrate on “Racing’s favourite bet” - the Placepot. Did you know the Placepot celebrates its 25th anniversary later this year? It began life at Newbury on November 22nd 1977. It’s a great favourite with one of my friends who does it almost daily. Recently he won a total of £10k over two meetings in the same week. He never stakes more than £50 a meeting. Incredible. I dabble occasionally when the pools are large, at Cheltenham or Royal Ascot, but have never had much success.  

What was interesting about the Stratford card was the second race, which had two non-runners reducing the field to four. As you will all know, this Placepot leg therefore became win only. The theory is that not all the crowd would realise the field had been reduced and those selecting non-runners would default to the favourite. If the favourite lost then a greater percentage of people would be knocked out.

The perm was 1x4x1x3x1x4 = 48 bets @ £1  

The first race was a terrible claimer, with Pipe’s Caesar’s Palace going off at 2/9. (I actually saw someone step in early for £20 @ 1/6!). This was one of the most incredible McCoy rides I’d ever seen. He led on the first circuit but was then passed by Durack on Bushehr. The latter was going easily five out and the favourite was under the whip big time. Three lengths behind at the second last, it looked very grim for favourite backers. McCoy, with unbelievable hard driving on the run-in, got up in the last stride to win a short head! Amazingly someone claimed the winner for £8K. I don’t think it was my friend spending his winnings! Needless to say this was the Placepot banker.  

The crowd seemed to appreciate the ride, although I can’t believe many got involved at the price. It was a good crowd actually. There had been abandonments at Haydock and Redcar so maybe this had an effect. When I say good I should say large. There were several “Stag” and “Hen” parties at the track, most of them drunk by early afternoon. I don’t go racing much in England ; perhaps this is the norm on a Saturday.   Certainly you would not see such behaviour at Irish racetracks. During the first race I got a glass of alcohol in my face, courtesy of a drunken young lady in the grandstand.

As for the new grandstand, this is one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen. Horribly designed slopping glass front and what appears to be a minute capacity. It really is frightful.  

Back to the racing. They bet 7/4 twice, 4/1 and 7/1 in the four runner.

Filscot was the “Tote” favourite, being the lowest race card number. It was soon beaten. The other 7/4 chance Hailstorm drew away with the rag. For the last circuit and a half our enjoyment was spoilt by a Hawaiian shirt repeatedly cheering on the 7/4 chance. It gave me great satisfaction when the cheering dissolved into swearwords as the 7/1 chance forged clear on the run in.  

One of the Hawaiian shirts was later seen running nude amongst the bookmakers pursued by the police. I kid you not.  

O.K. I’ll tell you one good thing about Stratford. The variety of food has improved in the last twenty years. You can now get very decent seafood or Chinese as well as two or three other choices.

Next race was easy for the Placepot. 10/11 chance, McCoy for Jonjo O’Neill in nine-runner field. Won easily.  

Fourth race was a seven-runner chase. Three selections, leaving out the Pipe favourite. The latter would be popular. Dream result- Pipe’s drifts badly, unplaced. I get the one-two at 5/2 and 6/1. Fifth race was a two horse race – well actually a fourteen runner Novice Hurdle. The two market leaders went one-two, so it wouldn’t have mattered which one I bankered.

The heavens opened before the last and we began to wonder if it would be run. It was the most competitive race of the day, a twelve-runner Handicap Hurdle. The rain soon stopped and we were off and running. My four selections were priced between 4/1 and 8/1. The winner was returned 9/1 and the second horse 20/1.  

Fortunately one of my selections sneaked into third place. Total Placepot pool was £33.5k. A total of 92 winning tickets, of which I was holding two. Dividend was a respectable £266.10p     

Despite the near monkey win on the day, I don’t think I’ll be back for another twenty years…

12 August 2002