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Z is for . . .

Zero: The amount, more or less, which off-course bookmakers contribute to racing via the Levy. This is hardly news, since perceptive punters have been pointing out for years that there is a significant difference between the level of off-course betting duty demanded by the Chancellor (currently 6.75 per cent) and the amount that the bookies charge on your bets (nine per cent, charged on either your stake before the race or your returns - if your horse wins - afterwards). It is true that an accounting anomaly forces them to pay tax on tax when punters pay up beforehand, but then, they also charge nine per cent on everything, even though it is only bets on British horse racing which require a payment to the Levy Board, which is then passed back to the sport via prize-money, interest- free loans for racecourse development and so on. The basic truth is that punters, not bookies, pay the Levy, and this would not be quite so irritating - any business, after all, will require its customers to pay its overheads - were it not for the fact that even now there are still some stubborn bookmakers' representatives who insist that the pounds 50m or so the Board receives each year comes out of their pockets. Add to this the fact that the bookies are represented on the Board and thus have a say in how the money is spent - a classic case of taxation without representation - and it is a wonder that the lumpen proletariat that is the British punting class has not long since risen up to secure some basic human rights. Perhaps they are still trying to decide who should be first against the wall.

Zaralaska: One of the more notorious horses to be given a "holiday" for not trying hard enough, when he finished fifth in a handicap at York's Dante meeting last year. Luca Cumani, his trainer, was fined, and Royston Ffrench, his jockey, banned after that run, but as it turned out, the 30-day ban from the racecourse imposed on a possibly grateful horse was not exactly a punishment from the Judge Jeffreys school of jurisprudence. Precisely 32 days later, Zaralaska bolted up in the Bessborough Stakes at Royal Ascot, which rather forced the Jockey Club to look again at its well-intentioned attempt to punish horses which do not give their all. As a result, the latest version of the non-trying rules includes a cunning little clause which forbids a horse banned for not trying (the penalty, incidentally, is now 40 days) from running in a major race until it has taken in a lesser event to allow the handicapper (not to mention punters) to have a close look at it.

Zigzag: The sort of path that thousands of punters will be taking out of Cheltenham racecourse on Thursday evening. And why? Because a few thousand years ago, mankind discovered zymolysis, otherwise known as the process of fermentation. Look it up if you don't believe me.

Zoophobia: An irrational dread of animals, which as it happens is another likely trait among the crowds leaving the home of jump racing next week. Stephen Little, the high-rolling rails bookie, is fond of remarking that he never lays a bet on "anything that talks". The nation's punters are about to embark on a wild ride through three days at the Festival which will probably remind them yet again that Stephen is a very smart man.