Royal Ascot still a betting bonanza

May 19th, 2020 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

Of course, we are all missing racing (and various other sports) but some people are more concerned than others. Putting my cards on the table and admitting to a strong personal bias, I want racing to be up and running, in front of packed stands, in time for Glorious Goodwood and I want Southampton to win two or three games quite quickly behind closed doors so that Premier League football is guaranteed next season. There is a third wish but if Goodwood goes ahead it follows that the Carnaby seller at Brighton on September 7 will be safe.

It’s not as selfish as it sounds. If you told me that everything would remain shut down until the turn of the year I’d simply carry on reading and walking and seeing my grandchildren on Skype as often as possible. I’m not appalled, as some are, by the Premier League’s naked desire to be up and running again as soon as possible, though finance is clearly the main consideration. But I agree with the mayor of Liverpool, who says thousands will descend on Anfield when the title is officially theirs, even if it means milling around outside the ground. Scousers go their own way and will not be listening to anyone else when it comes to making good a thirty-year gap. But just think of the risks.

Royal Ascot behind closed doors? Well, all right. The cameras will focus purely on the horses, there won’t be a television audience from outside racing or a betting ring as such but interviews will go ahead and in quite a few cases opportunities will be found for horses between June 1 and the opening day, so there will be a smattering of recent form to go on. There will be no atmosphere to speak of but that will be outweighed by a general determination to bet, come what may.

(We tried to introduce Hong Kong racing when SIS opened up over thirty years ago and I was presenting. People didn’t want it then and said so, and they don’t truly want it now, but when it’s the ONLY betting outlet the game changes. If turnover on HK racing has increased fivefold in the UK since the pandemic knocked us sideways, there is little doubt Royal Ascot will flourish.)

Will betting shops be open? Presumably not, since it would be just as difficult to maintain social distancing as it is in pubs. But even as I write these words, I know pub regulars are starting to work out their own ‘relaxation’ of the rules. They simply use a pub where food is on offer and there are tables outside. If necessary, they turn up with their own drink and behave as normal, except for sitting further apart. Given a hot summer it will be quite impossible to ‘police’ public behaviour and many people will persuade themselves and their friends that the danger is over. Needless to say, it won’t be.

How will bets be placed? Well, if the shops are closed it will have to be on-line or via the telephone. Credit betting, except for old soldiers like me, is largely a thing of the past so accounts will have to be set up. Presumably, the big chains will make it obvious in their television adverts that you have to sign up and make a deposit. Can you imagine the reaction in the media? (Except that every day is a coronavirus day now  –  quite rightly  –  so everything else seems relatively unimportant.)

The bookmakers will argue that if people are already playing the lucky numbers games online and signing up for draws like the Postcode Lottery, there is no reason for racing to be excluded. They also know that the shops are dying on their feet anyway, of course. Just tinkering with some ideas for a second book, I was keen on including an article from the Racing Post several years ago in which I listed six shops that meant a great deal to me  –  from the teenage years in Southampton through to the William Hill in Shepherd Market, W1, where one day Julia Feilden’s Don’t Drop Bombs won a Brighton amateur riders’ race by such a wide margin that we started dancing two furlongs out  –  but everything has changed now, most notably the rapport between counter staff and customers. In London, two silent counter-hands on the minimum wage serving a handful of customers is the rule rather than the exception.

Two more Coral shops in central Bristol have recently closed and others will follow. There are very few young people taking the place of the oldies and those who bet are far more likely to favour football accumulators. You need only listen to groups of them before a match to know that this is the case. They must have signed up to place their bets so, in the unlikely event that racing suddenly appeals to them, they need only arrange something similar. Viewed this way, the big firms know they have enough existing and potential customers to make Royal Ascot an attractive proposition.

Personally, I’d be more than happy to wait for Glorious Goodwood, even though the Anglesey Arms at Halnaker has closed. Huge garden, trestle tables everywhere you look and social distancing a formality. Irony is never lost on me.


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