THE A-Z OF BETTING

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V is for . . .

Vet's certificate: Piece of paper which proves to the stewards that a trainer actually has a good reason for scratching a horse on the morning of a race, other than that they overslept and missed all the fancy early prices. This is good news for punters, who understandably prefer to know about any physical handicaps their selection may be harbouring before it runs rather than afterwards, when a dismal run will often be casually dismissed as the result of a . . .

Virus: Marvellous catch-all excuse which relies on the certain knowledge that very few punters care much for microbiology, other than that nagging worry about whether the bloke hacking his lungs up in the corner of the betting shop merely has a 60-a-day fag habit, or something more contagious. No one can deny that the average stable, be it at the racecourse or a trainer's yard, is very much like the average nursery school, full of youngsters with immature immune systems and a fairly casual approach to basic hygiene. None the less, The Virus is invoked so frequently to explain a disappointing performance that you could easily imagine bellringers with trolleys patrolling the streets of Lambourn and Newmarket, inviting the locals to bring out their dead. There are, of course, many and various bugs doing the rounds of the equine population at any one time, any one of which will take enough of the edge off a horse to cause it to run below its best. In these days of frequent blood tests, though, which should show up an incubating illness via a high white-cell count, The Virus is an excuse which should be going out of fashion. It seems, however, that it is just too convenient for many trainers to let go.

Vernet, Helen: Something of a overlooked heroine in the history of the womens' movement, Helen Vernet was Ladbrokes' on-course rails rep for more than 30 years in the first half of the century, and remains one of the only women to have made an impression in what to this day remains a deeply chauvinist business. Small and well-spoken, Vernet stood no chance of competing for attention with the bellowing male bookies on nearby pitches, but thanks to careful cultivation of her client base, she turned Ladbrokes into the bookmaker of choice, first for many of the upper-crust female racegoers of the time and then, by association, plenty of their equally well-heeled partners. She insisted on working almost until her death, in 1956, at the age of 79, and would surely be disappointed that no woman since has made an equivalent mark in bookmaking.

Value: Which means different things to different punters. There are still those, for instance, who insist that since an odds-on winner is better than a 10-1 loser, the best approach to betting is to maximise the number of winners you back, no matter how short the price. A growing number of punters, however, now take a long-term view, and appreciate that the strike-rate necessary to make a profit from hot favourites is impossibly high, whereas someone backing only at, say, odds of 5-1 or more simply needs to succeed in one race in six to break even. The arrival of newspaper features highlighting the best odds on offer has allowed punters to compare the odds in a matter of moments, although any prices picked out by the resident experts as worthy of a bet will vanish just as swiftly. Hunting for the best offer available and setting an absolute minimum - 3-1 is as good a line as any - below which you will never tread is no guarantee of ultimate success, but it will always show a better long-term return than an addiction to odds-on chances.

Valentine's: The day on which we celebrate love, both requited and otherwise. Also a huge open ditch which is jumped twice in the Grand National, and has broken just as many hearts.

View, Taking A: Once common but now all but extinct practice, whereby a bookmaker would decide that he did not fancy a particular horse and set about "getting" it, that is, extending its odds to attract as much cash as possible in the expectation that it would be staying in his satchel. These days, the major bookies tend to fall into line faster than a well- drilled squadron of elite troops, although Ladbrokes did do some good business - and also attracted valuable publicity - over their view that Carvills Hill would not win the 1992 Gold Cup. More often than not, though, you will find that if a bookie takes a view, he does so only when the stable lad doing the horse in question has assured him on oath that the animal dropped dead a couple of hours ago.

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