The Net: You can't pick up a newspaper or style mag these days without being informed that online shopping is the future. Before long, apparently, we will all be cruising the virtual aisles of virtual supermarkets before joining a virtual queue for the checkout which moves 10 times more slowly than any of the others. Betting, too, is beginning to make its way into cyberspace, which raises at least two interesting questions. Do you, for example, pay tax on a Net bet, and if so, at what rate? And is there really, even in a global population of 5 billion people, anyone who is stupid enough to give their credit card details to a website on the other side of the world in order to play virtual roulette and blackjack? To judge by the growing number of online casinos operating out of the West Indies, the answer to the latter question would appear to be a resounding yes. Indeed, at this very moment there is probably a poor deluded anorak somewhere, committing his last few pennies to the information superhighway in the stubborn belief that the cyber-croupier surely can't get 21 again.
Needed The Run: Trainerspeak for "I didn't get him fit enough," and often interchangeable with Not Off, though anyone who suggests as much to the trainer's face may find themselves grappling with a slander writ fairly sharpish. The racing authorities - and, for that matter, the bookmakers - would like you to believe that almost every horse in every race is trying to win as hard as it can. Most punters, on the other hand, suspect that the exact opposite is the case, and you could probably find one or two arch-conspiracy theorists in every betting shop who believe that winners are simply the horses that are not trying the least. The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in between, though precisely where depends on the type of race, the quality of the track and the relative blindness of the stewards. In big fields of maidens or novice hurdlers at minor courses, the safest working assumption is that no more than a handful are there for anything but the fresh air. And when two-year-olds are involved, you can be sure that most of them are being quietly prepared for . . .
Nurseries: When it comes to lethal cocktails, whoever first decided to mix juvenile horses with handicapping makes Molotov look like an amateur. The rule which once allowed two-year-olds to go straight into nurseries if successful on their racecourse debut has now been abandoned, and punters do at least have a minimum of three previous outings to work with when assessing the form, but even the person setting the weights would probably admit that assessing such young horses, not to mention their potential for improvement, is little more than guesswork. The handicapper, though, gets paid to have a stab - for punters, it tends to be the other way around.
Nicholls, David: When Reg Akehurst announced his retirement a couple of months ago, punters with a serious handicap habit wondered how they were ever going to find another winner. No one, perhaps, will ever take an apparently exposed horse and proceed to make a mockery of its handicap mark quite like Reg could, but Nicholls's record in the six years in which he has held a trainer's licence does bear many of the Akehurst hallmarks. Other trainers' cast-offs will suddenly strike a rich new vein of form after spending a few weeks chez Nicholls, and do so, what's more, when the money is down. Definitely a yard to watch.