THE A-Z OF BETTING

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The Independent Online
H is for . .

Handicap: The first running of the Derby would be many people's choice as the most significant moment in the early history of racing, but in its way the Oatlands Handicap at Ascot in 1791 was every bit as important. This was the first handicap - the name is said to derive from "hand-in- the-cap", an early method of allotting weights - to capture the public imagination. Some 40,000 punters turned up to watch and wager almost a million pounds on the outcome. The first official handicapper was Admiral Rous, appointed by the Jockey Club in 1855, and it is to the Admiral's credit that many believe him to have been the best as well. Rous also devised the weight-for-age scale, which assesses how horses of different ages mature and improve during the course of the season, and with just a few trifling adjustments, his original figures are still in use today. Racing would probably survive without any Classics, but not without handicaps, which power the entire turf machine thanks to their endless ability to generate betting turnover.

Handle: A good, honest word like turnover does not seem to be sufficient for the Americans, who instead prefer "handle" to describe the total amount wagered on a single race. Other useful phrases for anyone planning a day at the track Stateside include "Yeeeeeeeha!" (translation: I believe my horse got up on the line) and "sonofabitch" (ah, no it did not).

Hilton Hotels: One of the world's most famous and valuable assortments of international real estate, acquired by Ladbrokes in 1987 at what was reckoned to be the knock-down price of pounds 645m. This implies that if you are a regular and long-standing customer of Britain's biggest bookie, then there is almost certainly a room - indeed, possibly an entire penthouse suite - in a Hilton hotel somewhere in the world which was bought with your money. Sadly, it is not possible to identify precisely which room it is, otherwise it might be worth trying to negotiate some sort of timeshare agreement with your bookie - a week's free bed and board each year, for example, on the strict understanding that you will not bet with anyone else.

Hollywood Park: The site of tonight's Breeders' Cup meeting, though it might just as well be Churchill Downs or Aqueduct since Hollywood Park is identical to every other racetrack in America. It is the same shape as a very basic Scalextric set, and only a tad bigger, so it is hardly surprising that both the tight dirt course and the even smaller turf circuit on its inside are suitable only for horses which can run as if physically attached to the surface below. Those who as children never mastered the trick of getting their miniature James Hunt around the bends without sending him flying across the bedroom will experience a sudden and unpleasant flashback this evening, if they have backed a European horse which tries to take a corner too fast.

Horses for courses: The exception which proves the rule, the rule in question being that all betting dictums (back the outsider of three, etc., etc.) are unadulterated bilge. There have been dozens of instances down the years of horses which run a stone ahead of the rest of their form at one particular track, the most famous of all being Brown Jack, who won the Queen Alexandra Stakes over two and three-quarter miles at Ascot six years running from 1929. More recently, the handicapper Rapid Lad was an absolute banker when racing over 10 furlongs at Beverley during the late 1980s, but could never trouble the judge over a different trip at the same track.

Hunter Chases: Races designed to keep the young and idle rich out of trouble, presumably on the basis that after two circuits of Hexham on a hairy 14-year-old they will be far too exhausted to either crash their sports cars or be obnoxious to the waiters in smart restaurants. Would be nothing more than a quaint irrelevance as far as most punters are concerned were it not for the fact that they often form one leg of the Placepot, and sometimes the Jackpot too, and there are few things as irritating as seeing a decent payout go west because the useless Tarquin on top of your reluctant choice barely has the energy to stay in the saddle, let alone ride out for a place.

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