A Glorious Goodwood
Alf was carefully chalking the numbers from one to 36 around the front tyre of the coach. This was Stewards’ Cup day in 1959, and for many the ‘sweep on the wheel’ would be their first bet of the day. The coach trip to ‘Glorious Goodwood,’ run by our local working mens’ club, was always fully booked and many of the stalwarts on board had been saving for this day since Christmas.
This year, I had been assigned by Mum as ‘guide for the day’ to Martha and Bucky, distant friends over from Dayton, Ohio. Keen racegoers in the States, they were eager to sample the delights of an English race meeting. However, by choosing a working mens’ club outing, they were about to be exposed to the primitive delights peculiar to that genre.
Five miles out of Woking, Alf, the senior bar steward, was joyfully handing out bottles of pale ale, Bass and Worthington for the men, and miniature bottles of spirits for the ladies. Having got everyone loosened up, he then went round collecting two shillings a head for the numbers on the wheel, (each passenger being allotted the number on their seat), and the same amount for the traditional Stewards’ Cup sweep.
Alf, by this time, pleased with the smooth running of the business end of things, generously assisted my bookmaking ambitions by announcing, “If any of you are going to have small each-way bets, I suggest you give them to young Michael, as they probably won’t take them on the course.”
Our first stop for ‘refreshments’ was the Half Moon in Petworth. Everyone was keen to stretch their legs, and it was ‘getting to know you’ time as the passengers mingled. Alec and Danny, two ‘likely lads,’ certainly used the time well, chatting up the Littlewood sisters, Wendy and Maureen. Meanwhile, having collected about a dozen small bets, I kept a distant eye on Bucky and Martha, unsuccessful in their quest for either Root Beer or Daiquiris. They had been cornered by Smithy, an expert on the Turf, but badly handicapped with pebble glasses and two walking sticks.
“Back on the bus folks, or we’ll never get there,” Alf pleaded, and slowly the pints were emptied and the seats were filled. Traffic was now building up alarmingly and in the next half-hour the passengers’ bladders reached capacity. Even Martha and Bucky politely enquired about the next washroom facilities.
As we were then stationary, Stan, our driver, decided to follow the example of the coaches ahead and release the passengers to take their chances in the hedgerows. Gents to the right, Ladies to the left, seemed to be the etiquette. Although the more discreet ladies could be observed laughing and stumbling towards the privacy of a distant thicket.
Eventually everybody returned, some more dishevelled than others but, after another round of bottled beers, including a Bass for the driver, any inhibition that lingered was swept away, as the volume of noise and laughter rose by a hatfull of decibels. ‘No Limit Banker’ was in full swing across the back seat, and a four handed game of Spoof (three matches per hand), stretched across the gangway. Martha and Bucky, who in necessity had taken advantage of the hedgerow washroom, watched in awe as the Littlewood sisters got down to some serious snogging with Alec and Danny. Such was everyone’s preoccupation, that no-one (except the driver, of course), noticed us turn into the racecourse. Journeying along from the straight six furlong start, we lined up with 30 to 40 other coaches.
In time-honoured tradition, Stan the driver was first out of the coach and, checking for the winning number on the front tyre, let forth a stream of expletives. Soon passengers were pressing in on all sides.
“What’s the winning number,” Bucky enquired.
“I wish I bloody knew,” replied Stan, “someone must have peed over the wheel at the Half Moon!”
Alf, well trained in thinking on his feet, instantly came up with a solution.
“The money on the wheel goes into the big race sweep – that should double the winner’s prize.”
Moments later, Alf, small but with Sampson like strength, was sliding out trestle tables from the under-carriage of the coach, assisted by a number of glazed but willing helpers. And while the ladies spread out table-cloths and covered them with all manor of meat pies, sausage rolls and sandwiches, Alf, now having enlisted the assistance of Bucky and I, distributed a full bottle of spirits to each of the passengers. According to Alf, this was all in the price, thanks to the generosity of the Committee.
A pork pie, two radishes and a glass of neat gin was not my usual diet for picking winners, but half-way down the gin bottles and well before the first race, many amongst us were confident that it was going to be their lucky day. Even Martha, who had managed to dilute her vodka with a Pepsi, had suddenly become psychic.
“Today the Smiths have it,” she said. “I’ve been talking to Smithy of the pebble glasses; I think it’s an omen. He was telling me about the Smith brothers, Doug and Eph; said they were the jockeys to follow.”
Bucky preferred to bet on the names, and being in England, fancied Queensberry and Tudor Monarch, the latter particularly, since it was owned and bred by Sir Winston Churchill.
As part of my duty, I proudly guided my middle American charges up to Trundle Hill, where they admired the view, but had to admit they had never watched racing from so far away. Lending them my binoculars went some way to placating them but, after Doug Smith won the first race and brother Eph the second on Queensbury, they seemed to be settling in nicely.
Next up was the Stewards’ Cup – 21 runners and the biggest betting race of the meeting. Bucky, looking to play up his winnings on Winston Churchill’s, Tudor Monarch, and Martha, convinced of the infallibility of the Smith brothers, headed off to the Tote, taking with them my ten-bob each-way Deer Leap.
Trying to call a race head-on from about a mile away is almost impossible, but halfway up the straight, I could see Manny Mercer on Deer Leap heading affairs. Into the final furlong, now well clear, I was counting my money. Suddenly, the pink, chocolate sleeves and cap of Tudor Monarch came out of the pack to challenge. Could Mercer hold on? Bucky hoped not, and he was right. The Tannoy announcement wavered across the downs, “First Tudor Monarch 25-1, second Deer Leap 22-1, third St Elmo 100-8.” The Yanks were delighted and I was more than pleased with my 10-1 place odds on Deer Leap.
Throughout the afternoon, Martha had been obsessed with the bookmakers and tic-tac men, and although her profits had been dented by Lester Piggott winning the next two races, she desperately wanted to bet with a bookie before returning home. Naturally it had to be on a Smith.
Doug was riding the Boyd-Rochfort two-year-old Jet Stream.
“That’s the one,” Martha said, pressing a pound in my hand. Bucky wanted the same and gave me another pound.
“Do your best Michael, we’ll come and watch,” he added.
Bookmakers on Trundle Hill weren’t usually known for their wild generosity, but amongst all the 7-2’s I spotted a 4-1 and dived in.
“Ten quid to collect if you win,” I told them.
Giving them a commentary on the race was a pleasure – Jet Stream led from tape to line. And Martha, given the ticket to collect the dough, made much play with the ten one pound notes, laughing and waving them around.
Battling back through the crowds to find our coach, Martha and Bucky, eager to tell the tale of their success, rejoined their fellow travellers who, had formed a large, seated circle on the grass. Predictably, about a dozen of them had not moved from the coach all afternoon, and were now more laid out than laid back. Meanwhile, Robert, the assistant bar steward, check waistcoat and beret, was serenading the circle with his accordion, and two gypsy women who had gate-crashed the party were, in the absence of tea leaves, reading palms.
At this point, one, ‘drunk as a skunk’ Turfite from another coach, staggered into our circle. His binoculars having worked around to the middle of his back, appeared to balance his equilibrium, since after having taken three steps forward, the weight of his bins contrived to drag him back.
Soon it was obvious to everyone that he was going to fall, but which way? Thinking quickly I borrowed Smithy’s walking sticks and crossing them in the centre of the circle to give us north, south, east and west, I encouraged the punters to bet on which way he would fall. The 2-1 odds I offered were not, in truth, for their benefit, but the entertainment value was great. Everytime he tottered north, folk would shout across their bets and throw over their cash, then, when he staggered back, they would call out south and throw over more money for me to record. Since his shambling progress continued for nearly five minutes, a small crowd had gathered to watch the fun, and my take on the event would have been the envy of any bookmaker on Trundle Hill.
Just when we thought he might stagger out of the circle, he went down to a great cheer. After close inspection, it was agreed he was inclined east, which, I am ashamed to say, was a very good result for me.
Climbing aboard the coach, we learnt that Alf had won the double sweep, but, appeared in no fit state to receive this news or any other. Out cold, he had been carried back to his seat by his conscientious family members.
Looking around, I noticed that the Littlewood sisters, whose petticoats and beehive hairdo’s were looking more than a little distressed, had changed partners with Danny and Alec. Meanwhile, those who still had a little money and were conscious continued with the ‘No Limit Banker’ and rounds of Spoof.
Feeling a little queasy, but otherwise contented, I settled down to count my day’s profit, when suddenly, I was disturbed by angry voices a few seats behind. Looking around, I saw two chaps, both very much the worse for wear, taking poorly aimed swings at each other. This continued for a short time until they both simultaneously passed-out and keeled over onto the seats, where they laid happily for the rest of the journey.
As we pulled into the Crown for the use of their toilets, Stan shouted out, “Fifteen minutes only, if you’re not back I’m going without you.”
Thirty minutes later, he went in to dig them out, but by then most people could not have told you who they were, let alone how long they had been there. Eventually, just as Stan was shepherding a few folk back on the bus, those aboard having become restless, were going in for the second shift. This pantomime continued for some time with most of those passing to and from the pub, breaking into impromptu dances on route, Martha and Bucky executing a very well received square dance.
Eventually, all were aboard, and everyone agreed that Stan had been a ‘brick’ by not driving off without us. So rather than ask him to do the usual, slow, one-by-one, drop- off routine, we all agreed to go back to the club, tipping generously when the hat was taken round on his behalf.
Tumbling out of the coach to the church clock striking 12, we were still a very rowdy bunch, since many had now got their second wind and were determined to sing their way to their doorsteps. Martha and Bucky thanked me, in song, for my company and then slowly wended their way along Church Street, harmonising their own particular version of ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’.
If I could have had one last bet that day, it would have been that Martha and Bucky would never, ever, have a day’s racing quite like that, again.
This story is from Michael’s book Ripping Gambling Yarns,
of which he has a few signed copies for sale.
The illustrations throughout the book are by Julia Jacs