Tipster in a class of his own

Mark Howe celebrates Cayton's sixty years redistributing bookmakers' wealth
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Cayton has been tipping winners since before Lester Piggott was born, time enough to erode all illusions about where the odds are stacked. "You must have a bad run some time, it doesn't matter how clever you are," he concedes. "Even poor old Nick Leeson had a bad run, didn't he?" Punters could learn from the legendary Daily Worker tipster: they have nothing to lose but their gains. And then their original stake.

The Queen Mother, the Duke of Norfolk and a youthful Woodrow Wyatt are all reputed to have been among devotees, along with countless workers, of Cayton, the tipster who gave the 66-1 Grand National winner Russian Hero and who won the Sporting Life naps title four times.

Alf Rubin, the man behind one of the Turf's most famous noms de plume, began his career 60 years ago this month, when he joined the Daily Worker at the age of 18. He has been at the paper ever since and, although he has been in semi-retirement since 1990, his tips still appear twice a week in the Morning Star (as the paper became known three decades ago).

His life-long passion for racing was kindled by his father, whose photographic business in Deptford, South-East London, was a port of call for the local bookies' runners.

It was an interest which quickly focused on the notion of becoming a tipster. "I used to pester all the papers," Rubin recalls. "My father let rooms to a couple of comrades and they knew I was interested in racing, so they said, `why not try the Daily Worker?'"

When he joined the staff in September 1935, the embattled Communist paper was confounding its foes sufficiently to be expanding in circulation and pagination. Racing played a major part in the sports coverage that was introduced at that time.

It was, however, not the most obvious place to pursue his calling. Comrades more versed in Marx's Wages, Price and Profit than the less scientific punting principles of value, price and profit, had viewed racing tips as a latter-day opium of the people.

William Rust, the paper's first editor, later recorded how Cayton's predecessor in 1930 had lasted only three weeks, following "various endeavours to persuade me to permit him to sign his racing notes as `Nilats' -on the grounds that it was Stalin backwards."

Cayton proved less contentious. At the beginning of 1935 the paper had moved premises to Cayton Street, off the City Road on the fringes of London's East End. "All the racing names we thought of were more or less used, so we thought, well, Cayton of Cayton Street's as good as anything else," Rubin explains.

He soon began a winning spree. "In the first winter I was there," he remembers, "there was a paper called The Jockey and I did better for nap selections that season than their list of tipsters."

Perhaps dizzy with this initial success, the paper boldly predicted on the eve of the Flat in 1936: "Our naps, best of the day bets and other selections will show the biggest profit in the history of the Turf this season."

But Cayton fulfilled the ambitious one-year plan sufficiently for the Worker to report 12 months later: "Last season, Cayton selected more winners than any daily or weekly newspaper." It was an achievement in keeping with the Stakhanovite spirit of the times. Rubin recalls: "I did a lot of reading of periodicals. God only knows, I must have studied day and night."

The effort was rewarded as his talents soon became in demand elsewhere and he doubled, under a different name, as a tipster for the Daily Sketch for 18 months until the war intervened.

His own efforts at the Worker were complemented by a succession of lesser tipsters, who concentrated on the daily double and snippets of racing news. One, The Whip, was distinguished by penning an A-to-Z preview of the 1937 Lincoln in 26 rhymed couplets.

Cayton's most celebrated winner came in the post-war period when the Daily Worker was still at its peak. The coincidence of the Communist paper tipping Russian Hero, the 66-1 winner of the 1949 Grand National, provoked wry comment from its capitalist rivals.

But there was no coincidence about it for Cayton, who had tipped the horse successfully earlier that season. "I had napped it at 8-1. In any case, I only gave it as an each-way selection for the National," he readily points out. Two years later he was again the only tipster to find the National winner, Nickel Coin at 40-1.

Although big-race winners at extravagant odds are seen as Cayton's speciality -napping Beech Road at 50-1 in the 1989 Champion Hurdle stands out in recent years - four Sporting Life naps titles testify to his consistency over the decades. His wins - in 1972-73, 1973-74 and 1980-81 over the jumps, and in 1984 on the Flat - brought him tangible benefits. "Having won those prizes, I was able to pay off my mortgage. It's not all jam, but it did help," he admits.

The daily economic grind of capitalist society is seldom far from his lips, although he has never been a party member, reserving his loyalty for the paper whose often tenuous survival has proved a better bet in the long run.

The meagre rewards of such devotion have long placed high-rolling well beyond his pocket, although he remembers hiring a chauffeur-driven car for his first visit to Newmarket many seasons ago.

But it is not a lifestyle that appeals to him, any more than the corporate hobnobbing of Tony Blair and New Labour. "I can't see Blair doing anything. Why's he mixing with these people? If you're a socialist you don't mix with these people," Rubin argues.

Advice for punters hoping to discover the master tipster's secrets is less forthright. "Form, weights, jockeys, courses, trainers," he recites as the key elements of the equation. "You must watch the gallops when you can get any information on that. There are no hard-and-fast rules."

Except, don't bet unless you can afford to lose. "I think the best way of investing for anybody is still the building society," he suggests. But the struggle to arm the workers against the old enemy continues, with no thought of final retirement.

The salvo that gave Cayton most pleasure was one of his earliest, Mid- Day Sun, the 100-7 winner of the 1937 Derby, which again he was alone among sceptical pundits in tipping. "They laughed. They were all clever boys. But the damned thing won the Derby."