Mug Punting: Me, Bernie and the Bookie

My friend Bernie was one of those guys who was good at all sports. All sports were effortless endeavours to him. He was a star cricketer, footballer, runner, swimmer, golfer, tennis player, you name it, he could play it. Nay, he could excel at it. He even had interesting theories on sport. He always said that winning a tennis championship was much easier than winning a golf championship,because in tennis, you just had to beat just seven players, but in golf , you had to beat the whole field. Mmmh! I often think about this one. I admired him because he was good at all the sports I wanted to be good at, but couldn’t. I had all the bar-room theories of how things should be done, but in practice, I couldn’t excel at any. Maybe that is why I became a teacher. You know, those that can’t do , teach. And as Woody Allen said, ‘Those that can’t teach, teach gym’. Anyway, I  couldn’t compete with Bernie, except on the racetrack. Here, one man’s thories are as good as another’s.

We both loved the races and the punters against the bookies was another sport both of us wanted to win. It was 1984, I was at Flemington with Bernie. We were just out of high school , going to university and trying to get a little extra pocket money. It was in the middle of winter, a mid-weeker meeting. The fields were not too bad and there were a number of nice open betting races on the program. It came to a three year old 2000 metre race. I liked a horse called Civitas, to be ridden by Michael Clarke, who was then the leading rider Melbourne.

The atmosphere that day was calm, almost sleepy. This was still in the days before electronic betting boards were used. The bookies were slowly setting their odds and at conclusion would pull down the signs at  the bottom of their boards, which read ‘Board Not Set’. When this sign was removed the punters could start to move in and bet. I scanned the boards, some were ready, some were not. I looked casually around the different bookiesboards to see what odds they were putting up. Civitas was 6-1 everywhere.  If I waited a little longer I figured I could get 8-1 at best. Then again, I could get 4-1 if  I was too slow. I looked around more, and saw that Civitas was 50-1! I then quickly scanned down the board to see that the sign ‘Board Not Set ‘was still there. I rubbed my eyes, it wasn’t. I said to Bernie, “Look at that, 50-1”! He said emphatically, “Get on”!

I took out a dollar coin and wandered over to the bookie and said as innocently as I could, “One dollar Civitas”. He took the money and said, “Civitas, fifty, fifty to one”! and angrily turned it’s odds down to 6-1. He gave me my ticket and in a parting shot said, “I  hope you lose”!  Full of remorse , guilt and mainly, fear, I stood next to Bernie on the flat and waited for the race. God, I thought, I hope this horse loses. I consoled myself by thinking, I rarely pick winners anyway, so why should this be different. To add to my angst, Civitas looked a picture of health  as he went out onto the track. I honestly didn’t want to win. I thought that bookie might inflict some act of violence on me if I went back with a winning ticket. Deep in my feelings, I didn’t blame him if he did.

Morosely, I waited for the race, still with my guilty ticket in my pocket, thinking “Please lose, please lose”.  As the race began, the course commentator mentioned that Civitas was ‘well positioned behind the leader and travelling beautifully for Clarke’. My angst increased. When they straightened, Clarke pulled Civitas out and as the field raced past me 100 metres before the post, my selection was 3 lengths clear and cruising to a very easy win. Still, I felt no excitement, only anguish.How could I go and collect? I thought that as long as there was no correct weight, nothing was certain. Just as I thought this the announcer brutally announced, “Correct weight”.

So, it had come to this, I had won. I said to Bernie, “Could you go and get it?” After some persuasion he finally agreed. I watched the proceedings from a distance of maybe 150 metres as he sauntered across to the bookie with my ticket. The bookie took the ticket and immediately violently ripped the ticket into little pieces ,just before he gave Bernie the fifty one dollars that was owing me. As Bernie was walking back to me with a look of half relief and half satisfaction, the bookie shouted to him, “You shouldn’t have got those odds mate”!  True, the bookie was right, I should not have got those odds. But as a true punter I say , yes, but you shouldn’t have offered them. What did he expect me to do? That is the game. Any punter worth their salt would have done the same thing.

The moral of this story is if you are a bookie, be careful what odds you are offering . And punters, be watchful too! You might be lucky enough to get just a touch of overs! And Bernie, without your courage, I might never have collected my ill-deserved gains. Thanks mate!

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