Friday, 18 September 2009
Betting Shop Dispatches: Sea The Stars
When I walked in the Londonbet shop there was an argument in full swing about Sea The Stars and whether he will win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Del, short, bins, smartly dressed, cockney, fifties, ruddy with drink and blood pressure, cab-driver outlook and immensely genial, is seated at the one table in the small shop. Next to him is Jack, his equally smartly dressed and cockney sidekick. They are in there frequently, Del holding forth on all subjects and Jack occasionally knocking out hooky designer wear and other bits and bobs.
Del backs horses in the shop and lays them over his mobile. The pair of them know their onions, or appear to, and take racing seriously. Jack isn’t always around, but Del is there every day. Effectively it’s his office.
Behind them sat two other men, scruffy and dirty, one tall with wild eyes; one short, with no teeth. They all knew each other.
The tall one with wild eyes was losing his rag: “I’m telling you, Sea The Stars was on drugs at Leopardstown. Simple as that.”
“Fuck off, Johnny,” said Jack.
“He was drugged and they’ll drug him at the Arc and he’ll win. That’s why I’ve lumped on. I’ve got 15/8 and I’ve lumped on.”
“Different race, the Arc,” observed Del gravely. “French. It ain’t like here.”
“’S a fucking horse race, Del.”
Del’s sanguine cheeks flushed deeper and suddenly he became very animated; he tore off his reading glasses and put on his normal glasses and said: “When they run a Group One here or in Ireland they move the fucking fence, so the horses race on virgin ground, right Jack?”
Del, vindicated by what he clearly regarded as supreme knowledge made a serene yet I-told-you-so face, highly reminiscent of Jesus in Guercino's The Incredulity of St Thomas.
“…so they race on the best turf. Turf what ain’t been fucked by previous racing. They don’t do that in Paris. That’s ’cos the French don’t, ’cos they’re fucking awkward cunts like that. Chances of him getting stuck in the ground or in traffic is big. It’s a long season, remember, and he’s at the end of it. I wouldn’t bet till the day. I don’t even think he’ll go to the Arc. I think they’ll fucking back out. You got to have luck as well. Look at Zarkava last year. You got to make it through the traffic there, boy.”
“Sea The Stars will have the Arc,” said Johnny, “don’t you worry about that. They’ll drug him, like at Leopardstown.”
Jack looked round in disgust. We’d been alone in the shop that afternoon when Sea The Stars had displayed superstar quality at Leopardstown. When he got up to win we’d both looked at each other with that head-shaking, awed respect you only see men give to phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime performers in any medium.
“Drug him?' said Jack. "Woss the Arc, a fucking Seller at Brighton? He don’t need drugs. He’s a natural athlete. He’s the best horse we’ve seen for forty years. Be sensible.”
“Whatever; he’ll win. Any ground. He’s an any-ground horse now.”
Del’s voice rose and became imploring. “Any ground that ain’t fucked, you mean. You got to think about the ground, Johnny boy, the state of the fucking turf. Wait till the day comes and see then.”
Del focused on the street outside. A hot blonde walked past. “Fuck me, look at her. Look at that. I’d like a bit o’ that. She could do what she liked, she could. She could p*ss all over me.”
There was laughter. Then the man with the wild eyes spoke again: “Sea The Stars will do it, Del, don’t worry. I’ve lumped on.”
“So have I,” said the short man.
“Oh, Kenny,” said Del almost tenderly. “I hope it wins for you.”
Silence descended. A dog race occurred. Del pulled a five-pound note out of his pocket and regarded it. “I’ll get some beers with this for tonight. A fiver’s worth of kip, that’s what that is.”
Then he kissed the ragged note with his eyes shut.