The Winners 2000 Under 26 Winner

A hairy dog, of dubious parentage, lounges on a cigarette-stained carpet. Over a number of years, she has claimed as her own a small area of floor, situated between a gaming machine and a "nasally challenging" lavatory.

From this vantage point, she has witnessed more races than Graham Goode, while simultaneously perfecting the art of apathy. The only energy that she seems able to muster is channelled into angry glares at occasional clumsy-footed individuals. However, despite her apparent lethargy, the hound possesses an unerring sense for the whereabouts of her master - a fat man to whom she is, inexplicably, devoted.

She is conscious that he currently stands across the smoky room, thumbing through his wad of betting vouchers. He places bets in the same manner as he consumes cigarettes. And he’s a chain-smoker. The tracksuit into which his ample figure is squeezed bears testament to the sporty nature of the chap - he watches football, horseracing, rugby et cetera.

He believes that he’s a pretty shrewd punter; "slightly ahead" or "about level" if asked, depending on his short-term success. In reality, his net investment to the bookmaking company is such that he arguably deserves a seat on its Board of Directors.

His years of race-watching experience from these premises have given him a fine sense of horsemanship. The Cauthen-like understanding of pace that he has developed allows him to appraise the jockeyship afforded to each of the steeds cursed with his wager. This is always done post-loser, vociferously and with criticism involving multiple expletives.

Two old men share the company of the portly dog-owner. Both are veterans….. of the shop. They each sport beige anoraks, of the style that all old men wear. One cuts a dash in his maroon house-slippers. He scrutinises the form guide of a loose-leaf racing page from a tabloid newspaper - holding it at a variety of distances and angles to aid his ailing eyesight - before opting for the third-favourite in every race. The second man struggles to master his trembling hand as he illegibly scrawls the instructions for his "Tuppence Goliath", which incorporates an interest in the majority of the afternoon’s action for a price commensurate with his State Pension.

The old-timers mumble sounds of agreement as their acquaintance calls for the execution of the champion jockey, who has been flung from the back of the favourite in a Novice Chase, and has subsequently taken several hoof-induced knocks. They seem to have forgotten that, just thirty minutes ago, they have lavished unrestrained praise on the same jock, following a stirring conclusion to a final furlong battle (despite the big man actually seeing the second-placed jockey "pulling-back" his mount in the power-packed tussle). In fact, the victory of this third-favourite had invoked such a boost to the comfy-footed OAP that he had subsequently thrown financial caution to the wind and purchased refreshments for his friends - two teas and a decidedly unfrothy cappuccino.

A bell sings out across the shop to signal the starting motion of an unhairy hare at an apparently deserted greyhound stadium. It is also the cue for another speedy mover - a small oriental man, clad as always in shell-suit bottoms and a vest, who sprints across the room (nimbly avoiding old men and a dog) before launching a roll of high denomination banknotes at the cashier. He then watches casually as his chosen canine bounds away from its rivals to clinch the minor prize in glorious style.

The cashier exposes too much leg for a lady of her years and her yellow-tinged blondness owes more to peroxide than the retained youthfulness. Her most frequently overused word is "love", with which she addresses every one of her customers. However, despite her unashamed flirtatiousness and sporadic Carry-On style double-entendres, she has diplomatic capabilities worthy of the United Nations. She is able to congratulate one punter on his big win, commiserate with another who has just blown his wage for the week, while simultaneously taking an authoritative stance against a third, who claims that he asked to "take a price" before the odds of the steamer halved.

Some of the regular clients are almost like work colleagues to her. Another of these stands at the fruit-machine, inserting pocketfuls of change as he bridges the five minute gap between races. Dressed in his customary pink shirt, he feels affluent. He believes that he has the trappings of a wealthy gent - rings, bracelets, chains and shoe buckles; all chunky and golden. Any objective observer would deduce that he is a big-cheese in second-hand car sales.

He is a habitual loser and consistently underperforms the Law of Averages. This, however, merely fuels his enthusiasm to broadcast the news of any successes that he does have. This is the case as he scoops the "cashpot" - albeit by luck rather than skill - on the machine. He takes delight in initiating the pump-action coin release, which makes the fifteen pound return sound somewhere between a Las Vegas rollover jackpot and a small Civil War.

The head-turning thuds of the ejecting nuggets is nothing more than a minor irritation for the hairy dog that sprawls beside the offending machine. She stretches a leg, sighs and shuts her eyes - blocking out her surrounding environment as she considers, once more, the implications for British Horseracing of a reduction in betting tax.



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