Hearing commentary from Aintree as he retrieved the ball, Shaw took longer over a throw-in than anyone in history

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The comment "If I was a betting man, which I'm not of course..." crops up so frequently across the airwaves and in print that you sometimes have to wonder how bookmakers manage to stay in business.

Seems there are a lot of people out there with the quite curious notion that moral debasement will be inferred from the act of striking a wager. If it is true that they have never risked anything on a horse's nose - and lost, and cursed, and walked up again to bet on the next race - they are missing out on one of life's more fascinating if often painful experiences.

Anyone in the habit of perusing what a distinguished American sportswriter, Red Smith, called the "toy department" of newspapers will not be ignorant of the fact that fortunes were paid out at roll-up odds of more than 25,000- 1 when Frankie Dettori brought in all seven winners last Saturday at Ascot.

Not to the heavy brigade, who doubtless considered this remarkable feat to be about as probable as coming across a generous bookmaker, but innocent types referred to commonly as mug punters. According to a Ladbrokes representative, quite a few were pounds 26,000 better off for a small stake.

Unfortunately, they did not include my friend and racing guru Dave Prescott, who went to the Ascot meeting armed with information that the most likely of four runners being sent out by Guy Harwood was Northern Fleet in the last. "If it takes your fancy, have a score (pounds 20) for me," I said.

Recently, I fell into conversation with Prescott over the stupidity of idle betting. "How many times have you watched racing on television and had a bet just for the sake of it?" he said. "How many times have you set off with a clear idea, got ahead of the game and then suffered from the temptation to bet on every race?''

This was not the way of things last week, however. When acting on the information he had been given, Prescott found himself opposed to the making of history.

At odds of 9-1, Northern Fleet under Pat Eddery seemed to have a decent chance, and sure enough it came to threaten. "The place was in uproar," Prescott said, "and it felt as though I was the only one not shouting for Dettori on Fujiyama Crest." Beaten a neck. Another torn-up ticket.

Of course, losing bets make the best gambling stories. One concerns a couple of characters who popped up in this column recently, the rascally Sulky Gowers and Jimmy Logie, who captained Arsenal when one of the finest inside-forwards of his generation.

Having fallen out with the club's authorities, Logie took the extraordinary step of joining Gravesend and Northfleet in the old Southern League. Seeking to repair the damage done by slow horses, Logie went for a handsome signing- on fee and three times the maximum wage of pounds 20 per week that Football League clubs were then permitted to pay.

Logie teamed up at Gravesend with another former Arsenal player and enthusiastic punter, Arthur Shaw, who was once advised by Sulky to give up football, take three months in etiquette and become his butler.

Acting on Sulky's advice, and luring in other members of the team, they were on Devon Loch in the 1956 Grand National. Because the race took place 20 minutes after kick-off time, Shaw arranged for a friend to stand at the front of an enclosure on the half-way line so that he could be immediately informed of the result.

Hearing commentary from Aintree as he retrieved the ball, Shaw took longer over a throw-in than anyone in history. Devon Loch was clear at the Elbow and sounded a certain winner. All over bar the shouting. When this news was passed around, the joy was such that Gravesend were soon losing.

Coming in at half-time, Shaw was puzzled by the sad look that greeted him. "It got beat Arthur," his friend said. "Flaming thing spread its legs on the run-in."

For a rather different reason I remember the 1983 Grand National vividly. Looking for a third horse to make up forecasts with Corbiere and Greasepaint, I came across the prediction that an Irish entry, Yer Man at 70-1, would get round.

Working for BBC Grandstand, I listened to the race while watching a football match at Luton. "It's Corbiere, Greasepaint and third, Yer Man." I'd found the first three, written them down in the correct order but ignored the tricast. I still have a photocopy of the slip. Cost me pounds 14,000.