Brian Viner: I would always back myself in the expert timing stakes - but only each-way

Yesterday morning I caught the 11.15 train, bound for London Euston, out of Liverpool's Lime Street station. The train that I boarded had just disgorged dozens, if not hundreds, of horse-racing enthusiasts bound for Aintree.

Yesterday morning I caught the 11.15 train, bound for London Euston, out of Liverpool's Lime Street station. The train that I boarded had just disgorged dozens, if not hundreds, of horse-racing enthusiasts bound for Aintree.

Not for the first time in my life, I felt like someone had handed me the wrong script. For a sports nut, I have always had a troubling tendency to wind up in the right place at the wrong time. I have been to one Barcelona v Real Madrid fixture and it was widely considered to be the most boring in living memory. At Wimbledon last year I watched Roger Federer only once, in the men's singles final, yet it was the only match in which he failed to play like a god.

I am similarly adept at being in the wrong place at the right time. At the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews, when Seve Ballesteros holed the winning putt on the 18th green, accompanied by his famous clenched salute and million-watt smile, I was sitting in a stand by the 17th green, too far away to see what was going on. Conversely, at the Augusta National two years later, on the final day of the US Masters, I elected to sit for eight bottom-numbing hours by the 18th green, while all the drama unfolded elsewhere.

The very best sports writers are traditionally in the right place at the right time: in the Royal Garden Hotel getting drunk with England's 1966 World Cup-winning footballers; ringside when Muhammad Ali beat George Foreman in Zaire; at Sabina Park last year when Steve Harmison took seven for 12. They weren't chugging out of Lime Street yesterday, they were chugging in. Those that weren't in the Deep South for the 69th US Masters, that is.

Still, I made the most of my fleeting visit by visiting a couple of betting shops in the city centre, where the Grand National buzz had already begun. I have an almost genetic affinity with Liverpool bookmakers since my late father was one. The shop, from which he operated his one-man counterblast to the adage that the bookie always wins, was on the corner of Slater Street, and I remember it fondly for a pair of saloon-style swing doors next to the counter. It was the late 1960s and I was about seven, probably a bit too young to be playing cowboys in a betting shop. Most betting-shop cowboys are at least 21.

It is almost three decades since the celestial bookmaker tore up my dad's mortal betting slip, but in Liverpool yesterday I dropped in on an old friend, Jed, who has been working in Merseyside betting shops since the year we both left school. I went to university and he went to William Hill and it's a toss-up as to which of us learnt more.

Jed told me about a common scam known in the business as the "Slow Count".

What happens is this: the punter dashes up to the counter just as the race is about to start and hands in a slip with a scribbled bet that might be £5, or £50, or even £500. He always chooses the most inexperienced cashier, who takes the bet and begins to process it. This is where the "Slow Count" comes in. The punter laboriously counts out his money, by which time the race has started. It's usually a dog race, lasting scarcely a minute. If he can see that his dog is winning, he counts out £500; if it's losing, he stops at £5. The scribble could conceivably be either amount; either way, the cashier is intimidated into accepting it.

When Jed takes on new staff, he tells them they will encounter the "Slow Count" scam at least once in their first few months. But of course the Grand National, being the longest of long races, is immune from such confidence tricks. This afternoon, Jed will cheerfully take bets after the race has begun, but will close the book as soon as the first horse takes off over the first fence.

He will expect his takings to be at least quadruple those of a normal Saturday and is delighted that the royal wedding has pushed back the race by 25 minutes, because that's 25 more minutes to take bets.

As he pointed out, the group of people most delighted about the wedding is the group of people least likely to be watching as Charles and Camilla go under registrar's orders: the nation's bookies. May the saints preserve them, at least until Strong Resolve romps home and they've paid me out.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'