The Manchester Review
Neil Rollinson
Backing a Loser
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      You can actually ‘watch’ the race unfold on Betfair. Not the actual horses of course, we’re not talking about a video feed here, just the movement of money as punters bet ‘in play,’ Thousands of pounds are gambled during the race, right up to the final moments, and you can follow the progress of the horses by watching their odds change. If Rumplestilskin is leading the field all the way, then his price will fall during the race, but if he’s held up, or bunched in against the rails, then his price will drift: all of which offers further opportunities for the canny, modern bettor.
      Let’s say that Rumplestiltskin is indeed held up in the middle of the field while an outsider, Swift Foot, is setting the pace and looks to be putting in a strong ride. Rumplestiltskin’s price has lengthened out to 17/1 – backers are panicking and have started to try and get some of their cash back by ‘laying’ it, hence the drift in price. But Mary is no fool, she’s got a cool head, and she has faith in Rumplestilskin so she’s sticking with him, she likes the rider’s colours, and she likes the story; and that’s a system too, of a kind! But not only that, she’s noticed an opportunity to make a few extra bob. Her horse is now twice the price it was at the start of the race. Excellent! She bangs in a further ten at 17/1 and sits back to listen to the race on the radio.
      Meanwhile Bob is rubbing his hands, he can smell free money, Rumplestiltskin is running like a stuffed pig, so why not put Mary’s tenner on this young filly, Swift Foot; make hay while the sun shines, kill two birds with one stone, etc etc. She’s three lengths clear already, so the sooner he does it the better, because her price is falling sharply. He stakes ten quid at 2/1.
      Meanwhile, Mary thinks she can spot another opportunity; she’s really on the ball this afternoon. The guy on the radio just said that he thinks the lead horse has set too fast a pace, and what with the heavy ground, she just might find it tough coming up the hill at the end of the race, it’s a tough ask for a young filly.
      It’s a bit of a gamble, but she decides to ‘lay’ Swift Foot, the price is falling quickly, and at odds on, it would be stupid not to. Mary gets on for ten pounds at 4/6. It’s crazy; there are so many bets going in, and so much money swapping hands.
      Sure enough, the filly starts running backwards as she tires up the hill, and Rumplestiltskin, bless him, with stamina on the sire’s side, gallops on through the field and seems to be relishing the conditions: he hits the front with a furlong to go, but just as they head for the finish, Billy Jo, another outsider, puts in a strong rally and it’s neck and neck all the way to the tape. They seem to cross the line together.
      Phew, it’s a tight one. Bob has already lost his late tenner on the filly of course, which was pulled up at the last fence, and Mary has won her ten quid on the same horse, which she laid. Now it looks like a photo. Jesus!
      The market is still open and they’re betting on the result of the photograph! See, I told you, you can bet on anything these days. Thousands of pounds are gambled as the chemicals wash over the milky paper, as the ghostly forms of the horses, neck and neck, appear in the developer tray: well, they don’t do it like that any more but you get the picture. They wait in front of their computers for the verdict, the prices fluctuating as people watch the replays on their television sets.