Racing: The A-Z Of Betting: I is for . . .

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The Independent Online
Index betting: With its echoes of the FTSE and Dow Jones, index betting sounds altogether more serious and important than flash-Harry spread betting, but it is simply another name for the same thing. A colleague once compared the switch from traditional fixed-odds to playing the spreads as akin to moving straight from sharing an occasional joint with friends to a full-blown crack habit, which is fair assessment of the potential highs and lows. If you do not yet understand the mechanics of betting on spreads, you are probably better off keeping it that way, but the basic principle is that the more right you are, the more you win; and the more wrong you are, the deeper the quicksand. Hit a good run and you will feel you can take on the world. Come down too sharply and very nasty men will be banging on your front door, since losses on spread bets, unlike those on fixed odds, are recoverable in law. When Brian Lara made his record Test innings of 375 there were plenty of punters in the happy position of knowing that every boundary he struck after passing 80 added another pounds 100 to their winnings. Somewhere, though, there were probably a few others for whom every extra run removed another treasured heirloom from the mantlepiece.

Inquiry: When there has been such obvious interference during a race that even the stewards could not miss it, they will generally hold an inquiry. This is like a trial, with one important difference - it is not just the defendants (ie. the jockeys) who stand to be fined if found guilty, but anyone in Britain who has backed a horse concerned in the finish. Despite this, however, inquiries are almost always held behind closed doors, with punters denied any chance to observe the procedures and thought processes which may determine whether they can pay the rent come Friday. A minor breakthrough occurred at Goodwood in July, when the BBC was allowed to film an inquiry, but without the sound to go with it, which did little to dispel the suspicion that the collective IQ in the stewards' room on such occasions is so low that it might be a better idea to interview the horses. Only when cameras and microphones are allowed past the doors will the country's backers be assured that the fate of their cash is safe in the hands of the stewards. Or not, as the case may be.

Ireland: Horse racing may have originated in Great Britain, but without doubt, Ireland is its spiritual home. There could possibly be a closed order of monks somewhere in the wilder reaches of Connacht which does not take much interest in the turf, but few would care to bet on it, and elsewhere, and in the countryside in particular, racing is an essential thread in the fabric of everyday life. Above all, it is National Hunt that gets Irish blood racing, and steeplechasing even takes its name from a cross-country race in Ireland in 1752, between a Mr Blake and a Mr O'Callaghan, from the church at Buttevant to the steeple of the village of St Leger. Every year, several thousand of them make the pilgrimage to Cheltenham and set about the serious business of showing the British how to enjoy themselves. Sadly, we never quite seem to get the hang of it, so they just have to come back and do it all again 12 months later.

ITV Seven: It may not have seemed like it at the time, but from a couple of decades' distance, we can see that the era of the ITV Seven was truly the golden age of racing broadcasting. Unlike the Channel 4 Racing of today, which generally offers twice as many yammering heads as it does races, the action-heavy Saturdays of yesteryear could survive without either picture puzzles or grovelling interviews with C-list celebs, and best of all, for anyone born in the 1960s, the ITV Seven was thoroughly educational. "Mum, why can't I understand a single word Lord Oaksey is saying?", the children of Britain would ask. "Because he's a toff, dear", would come the reply, and suddenly the concept of class division was that little bit clearer. And who would ever have known of the existence of places like Ludlow and Catterick had they not witnessed the distressing sight of Brough Scott, perched nervously in what appeared to be a jerry- built tree house above the paddock, shivering so hard that you feared for his teeth? Those days are long gone (just like Harringay stadium, which provided dogs as a filler when the racing was frozen off), but a generation of punters will never forget.

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