Racing: Time is money for the master punter

Click to follow
The Independent Online
After his successful foray into court Jack Ramsden is ready to return to what he does best.

WHILE he has been in court this past month, Jack Ramsden's erudite manner and perching of spectacles on his nose have led to many referring to him as owlish. There are several, the Sporting Life team included, who could imagine the shadow of a much larger bird of prey being cast over the courtroom.

If Ramsden has had the talons out for his opponents this past month, the sparrow has been his wife, Lynda. When he talked of her unswerving honesty and righteousness after Thursday's adjudication, there were echoes of other descriptions in the very same court, where once there was comment on the "fragrance" of a participant's wife.

Jack and Lynda Ramsden first met over 20 years ago when she worked at the Epsom yard of John Sutcliffe Snr, where Jack, one of Barry Hills's first owners, had horses. Ramsden was working in the City, but the City wasn't working for him. "I was a pretty useless stockbroker," he admitted this week.

Jack doesn't settle for being even a little useless at anything and, after the couple married in 1977, the Ramsdens embarked as trainers in the Isle Of Man. Their horses had to embark as well, sailing on vessels that took them over the Irish Sea to do battle on the British mainland.

Jack became an official of the Manx Turf Authority and official handicapper, and then he became bored with the insularity of his surroundings. After scouting around the north of England, the Ramsdens found what seemed little more than wasteland with a few shacks in North Yorkshire at Sandhutton. About the only physical advantage was a private bore hole, which now serves the 12 pop-up sprayers per furlong on Breckenborough House's gallops. The stables, which have boxes to house up to 52 horses, are regarded as one of the most lavish north of the Trent.

Ramsden's punting prowess soon started to attract great attention. It is not known how many of the grand betting stories about him are true, but it is certainly the case that the big bookmakers quickly closed down his accounts. And it was not because he had gone over any pre-arranged limit.

Ramsden, like several of those said to make a living from this sort of speculation, is a devotee of speed figures. He works on the premise that while a good horse is capable of doing a bad time, no bad horse is capable of doing a good time. He has his own computer formula for evaluating speed figures. He also has his own bookmaker in Colin Webster, from whom he receives pounds 5,000 a year for "advice on horses".

In addition to this arrangement, Ramsden also has bets put on for him (even Robert Sangster has helped out) to protect his anonymity and the price.

Ramsden does not boast about his punting skills, but then again he is not shy about offering thoughts about the turf when required. Those that do not like the man think him a bit of a cleverclogs.

That he is clever and self-confident will not have escaped members of the jury this past month. What did escape them, however, was Jack's gaze, as he considered locking his eyes into those of the jurors a bad idea. When asked about his specialist subject in the chair he said, without modesty, it was British Flat racing.

It can be said that Ramsden is not bragging unduly. He is not a creature of the dark and will happily volunteer his ideas on races. From this newspaper's point of view, he has offered four winners from four when asked for stable horses to follow over the last two years.

In 1996 Jack marked our cards about Master Charter, who on his reappearance duly won a 20-runner handicap at 6-1 before going on to win at Pontefract and Newmarket, and Sujud, who won over hurdles. Last year he put us on to Epic Stand, whose subsequent three victories included one at 10-1 in a 25-runner handicap, and Fame Again, who won at Nottingham, Doncaster and Pontefract (at 12-1).

The gradual stacking of the Ramsden tales, however, has built up into a situation where just about all the stable's runners are now monitored rather carefully. While it may be true that the yard's representatives have fully exploited the rules of racing in the past, the demonisation of Breckenborough House has become excessive.

What is certain is that the Ramsdens get disproportionate criticism for their runners, while there are others, better connected to the sport's hierarchy, who escape such scrutiny. This has constructed an atmosphere of deep mistrust, towards the Ramsdens themselves and from the yard to the press.

"You chaps [the media] keep feeding them [the public] these lines, and there are innuendos in the papers about a lot of our runners," Jack said after Thursday's adjudication. "The money is not everything. It's nice, but the main thing is it sends a message out that our horses are trying to win and we're trying to do the best for our owners. The betting is secondary."

The notoriety of the yard is evident from the words of Kieren Fallon. "Before I went to the Ramsdens I used to believe what I read about the big gambles and stopping horses, that they were possibly the biggest crooks in the game," he said in an interview with The Independent. "The people in authority wanted to prove the Ramsdens were dishonest."

The people in the jury box, however, begged to differ. Jack and Lynda Ramsden will now go about their work once again, and it would be churlish to say their presence is not a fascinating element of the British turf. For how long it will continue is open to debate.

The documentation shows that Jack Ramsden is 56, and although his appearance suggests he is 10 years younger, he is no longer a youth.

The Ramsdens have almost packed up before, in 1991, when Jack could not get bets on and the yard was not making a great deal of money. On the court fringes this week, the couple said that if the case was lost they would not be speaking to the press for 12 months, and after that freeze they could not be sure they would still be around.

The Ramsdens have great contacts in South Africa, a holiday destination before the trial started almost four weeks ago. If they feel a sense of persecution continues following the High Court trial it would not be astounding to see their caravan following the route of the Voortrekkers. Some would miss Jack Ramsden. Others might have a different attitude.