Dogs: These come in two varieties: the racing dog, which plies its trade at 'Ackney and the Stow, and the useless old dog, which is, somewhat confusingly, always a horse. Greyhounds were status symbols to the ancient Egyptians, their ownership restricted by law to the ruling elite, but their real worth became clear only about 2,500 years later when it was discovered that they are daft enough to chase an unconvincing dud hare, week in, week out, without ever getting frustrated or bored. Individual dogs are astonishingly consistent - put one around four bends every morning for a week and its time will never vary by more than a few hundredths of a second. This, of course, is useless for gambling purposes, so tracks insist on sending six off at once with a sharp left turn about 50 metres away from the traps. An industry is founded on the interference which often results.
Double: And also for the first leg which does win, and the second, which doesn't.
Dreams: Rare is the punter who has not at one time or another had a vivid dream in which a big race is apparently played out in advance. Nor is this a modern phenomenon. In 1871, Lord Poulett, who owned The Lamb, one of the leading steeplechasers of his day, had two of them in the same night, both featuring the Grand National. "In the first, he was last," Poulett wrote the next day to the jockey, Tommy Pickernell. "In the second, he won by four lengths and you rode him." Pickernell was duly booked to ride The Lamb at Aintree, while his owner set about staking on the horse everything in his stately home that was not nailed down. A couple of months later, The Lamb won the National at 5-1, which some might say is conclusive proof that supernatural forces were at work. Cynics, on the other hand, will point out that the winning margin was just two lengths. For what it's worth, your columnist is prepared to share a premonition which has not yet come to pass. When a bright green horse with seven legs and the Queen booked to ride lines up for the Derby - get on.
Druid's Lodge Confederacy: Three very posh gents - one was the brother of the Governor of the Bank of England - and a trainer called Jack Fallon (no relation to Kieren), who ran a racing stable high up in the middle of Salisbury Plain around the turn of the century with the sole intention of hanging every bookie in Britain out to dry. Nothing was left to chance. Stable staff were padlocked into their quarters each night and their mail always opened, to prevent news of the latest Lodge plot leaking to the bookmakers. The Confederates cheated like mad, and gambled like lunatics - except that their plunges rarely failed. Paul Mathieu's definitive account of their 10-year reign of terror in Britain's betting rings (The Druid's Lodge Confederacy, the Gamblers Who Made Racing Pay, pub J A Allen) helpfully updates some of their successful coups to modern money. Ypsilanti, in the 1903 Great Jubilee Handicap, is reckoned to have made them the equivalent of pounds 4m. A few months later, when their filly Hackler's Pride won the Cambridgeshire having been backed from 33-1 down to 6-1, they are believed to have won pounds 250,000 - which today would be worth pounds 11m, the biggest coup in punting history. Mathieu estimates Fallon's share was the thick end of pounds 1.5m at today's rates. Unfortunately, this was still not enough to prevent him dying, three decades later, without a penny to his name.Reuse content