Gambler: prey who became the Predator
Patrick Veitch has stung the bookies for £10m in eight years and he owes it all to the gangster who threatened to cut off his legs and turned him into a fugitive, writes Chris McGrath
Thursday 23 April 2009
Who is Patrick Veitch? It is the question bookmakers ask themselves every morning, as they scan the racecards. Any given day he may be out there, lurking behind even the most innocuous horse – perhaps as an owner, his involvement mischievously concealed by the silks of his partners, or simply as a punter capable of perceiving something in a horse overlooked by everyone else. In either case, they are unlikely to recognise his money until too late.
Who is Patrick Veitch?
He could be this caller, the next, or neither. They know he is not going to ring up, offer his name and account number, and ask for a bet. They know he won't do that, because they won't let him. Instead, he operates through a phalanx of agents. Some of them might have sleeper accounts, harmless until the day that matters. Some of them may even be decoys, alerting the bookmakers to some alarming market trend designed only to inflate their odds against Veitch's true fancy. In this way, Veitch calculates that he made a profit exceeding £10m in an eight-year period from 1999.
Who is Patrick Veitch?
On the front of his book, Enemy Number One, his blurred silhouette walks across a casement window. The camera's focus is beyond, on the gardens that prosperously complement the stately shutter panels. On the back, in another portrait, Veitch's back is turned as he gazes through the same window. Here, plainly, is someone eager to be depicted as a shadowy, mysterious figure, who has found his own, inscrutable path to wealth. Sure enough, in discussing the book at Newmarket races last week, Veitch even declined to give his age (though anyone who reads it carefully may surmise him to be almost, if not quite, 40).
The illustrations within, however, tell a rather more candid story. Here is Veitch, with some decorative companion, flying to the races in his helicopter – one he had designed, as he writes with gauche satisfaction, in his own racing colours. Now the monarch herself is seen presenting Veitch with a trophy. For the one thing you will learn from Enemy Number One, if only from its tone, is that Veitch – to paraphrase Churchill on Attlee – is an immodest man, with much to be immodest about.
It's all there in the bottom line, in fact: the very last one in the book. For his closing flourish is to list his annual profits, over that eight-year period. "Grand total: £10,049,983.03."
It may seem incongruous that a man who cultivates such a secretive profile should suddenly prove eager to tell the world how clever he is. But you have to make allowances for Veitch. For the cornerstone of his whole career is the horrible episode that turned his life upside down in 1998.
Veitch was enjoying a carefree bachelor existence in Cambridge, supplementing betting income with a telephone tipping line. He had arrived 10 years previously, to read maths at Trinity, after submitting a precocious application, aged just 15. He acknowledges that you are supposed to "hope" to go to Cambridge, rather than "decide", but then writes: "I have to be honest and say I decided." Once there, however, he found himself increasingly distracted by his skill backing horses. Ultimately, he abandoned his studies altogether. Unfortunately, his success became known to a very dangerous man. Their paths had crossed peripherally, but one evening this villain appeared on the doorstep with a bulky "associate" and a tenuous suggestion that Veitch had cost him money. He was invited to pay £70,000, or have his legs cut off.
Being rather attached to his legs, and eager to stay that way, Veitch was terrified. But he did not pay. Instead, he went to ground. He asked the police to help. Eventually, he found himself testifying against his tormentor in court, in a bullet-proof vest. In time, the extortionist would be imprisoned for nearly killing a policeman, but not before Veitch had endured terrible corrosion of his emotional and financial resources. Someone, he resolved, would have to pay for what had happened – and the bookmakers seemed ideally qualified. He began his furious redress.
In the Newmarket sunshine, he still has an air of dapper, youthful insouciance. But he says a decade of explosive punting would never have been ignited but for the way he smouldered then. "I came back more determined and, at first, really in need of earnings," he said. "That made me very motivated. But also I probably got better for that: I worked so hard, and learnt a lot. I couldn't have my old life back, so there was a feeling that I would have to build a better one."
He would happily have forgone the extra millions, to be spared that original ordeal. But the crisis certainly summoned those assets that would subsequently nourish his success. His months as a fugitive demonstrated him to be resourceful, intuitive, methodical; and, above all, he showed the courage to face petrifying risk for the sake of long-term security.
Committing the saga to paper, moreover, itself proved cathartic. "What happened was very traumatic, and had a huge impact on my life," he said. "I promised myself at the time, assuming I was able to come back, I would try to do enough to make sure that it would all be worth writing about. To me, it was something that had to get done. In a couple of months' time, when the launch is over, to some extent I will probably feel that chapter has been closed."
Some habits of reserve he acquired then – such as the business with his age, or secrecy over his domicile – but others were always latent. In the manner of most prodigies, he was always an outsider. At university, after all, not all the lessons being learnt by contemporaries would have been academic ones. But studying the formbook is intense, cerebral and solitary.
"I suppose this concept, of steering a very different course, was hugely magnified by what happened," he said. "In recent years, I've tried gradually to introduce more balance. There's very little I miss out on, these days, whereas earlier I was so focused that I did. I did sort out in my mind that I couldn't do something so intense all year round. But, yes, compared with other people, some of those progressions in life perhaps came at a different time."
Funnily enough, his days in extremis did not so much bequeath a due sense of perspective, faced with lesser trials, as a useful intensity. "The biggest challenge you face as a punter is how you deal with difficult times," he explained. "The ability to bounce back, and really focus on the day after a bad one, is something I probably wasn't that good at before. I don't think many punters are. In a way, if I didn't focus on the next day, I'd almost be betraying what I've [been through]. There's almost a switch inside me. If I want to turn on that intensity and motivation, at a difficult point, I know how to do it."
In fairness, the bookmakers have given him few truly perilous moments. Despite the "touches" pulled off with his own horses, he insists nearly two-thirds of his profit has come from races uncoloured by information. However glamorous his lifestyle, the inspiration is worthless without the perspiration. By the end of the Flat season, he is shattered, but by ignoring jump racing, his appetite is renewed every spring.
And there is no mistaking the fulfilment he finds, not least in the logistical challenge of getting bookmakers unwittingly to accept his bets. That immodesty, moreover, that ego, is a vital tool of his trade.
"Provided it's kept in reasonable bounds, it's almost essential to have a great self-confidence," he said. "Because you're not going to make money going with the consensus. I suppose it is a pleasure. But as a pure punter I don't try to deliver the buzz as a big priority. The more you succumb to the adrenalin, the more difficult you make it for yourself when things go wrong, and you have to make balanced decisions. The actual process of picking a horse, you want to be as dry as possible, to use cool logic, but the business of the battle – how I trade a position, how I use anything from a very small number of people to a whole army, how that's executed, yes, that's the big buzz."
In his book, Veitch describes the split personality of a successful gambler: part brain surgeon, part mad axeman. In essence, the former must select the horse, and the latter back him. "Betting's an immensely layered logic problem," he said. "You've got potentially 50, 60, 70, 80 different factors, each very subjective. The skill is in recognising which factors truly are important on any given day, and whether the combination is enough to make a horse seriously underestimated in the betting. The cliché is of the killer instinct – being able, without drawing a massive chart, to sift it through your mind and sense that enough boxes have been ticked."
It is a clinical process, and few meeting Veitch immediately believe they are in the presence of a human sunbeam. But he can be pardoned a certain wariness. There was a time when his life might depend on the number of people who could answer the question: who is Patrick Veitch? In time, he thinks he will settle down, have a family. For now, however, he is happy to be admired, not adrift; to be the predator, not the prey.
'Enemy Number One', by Patrick Veitch, is published by Racing Post, £18.99
Winning streak: Veitch's biggest coups
Cerulean Rose (Goodwood, July 2003).
Having decided that this modest sprinter was improving far faster than even two successive wins had suggested, and seen her ideally drawn in her next race, Veitch reckoned this the biggest-priced horse he had ever considered a "certainty". He staked nearly £45,000 at odds between 6-1 and 9-2. Cerulean Rose won smoothly.
Exponential (Nottingham, August 2004)
Owned by Veitch and his partners, Exponential made his debut wearing blinkers – never a good sign in an unraced horse – and when his trainer was badly out of form. He finished last. When he next ran, the yard was back in form and Exponential had begun to flourish on the gallops. Veitch backed him from 100-1 to 8-1.
Silver Touch (York, September 2006).
Convinced that Silver Touch had been running out of stamina, Veitch moved in when her trainer dropped her back in distance. He staked over £75,000 to win, with another £10,000 in place bets. "The result," he writes, "was never in doubt from halfway."
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