The Wit and Wisdom of a Racecourse Gambler by decree


									            The Wit and Wisdom of a Racecourse Gambler
On the eve of St Valentine‟s Day was held the February meeting of the Club, at the usual
venue, Jury‟s Kensington Hotel. The guest was sure to draw a big crowd, and he did. He was
none other than the professional punter Dave Nevison who, once upon a time, was himself a
member of London Racing Club. In the chair was Nick Luck, but the Dave was so fluent that
Nick did not have to work very hard on this occasion; he simply made a provocative
introduction (he and Dave seem to know each other well) and Nevison was off.

It was noticeable that many in the audience had equipped themselves with pen and paper to
note all the money-making points to be learned; after which punting would be easy, but the
reality is that nothing much changes. Most of those present probably know as much as Dave.
The vital difference is in commitment, hard work and the taking of eye-watering risks with big
sums of money; a pattern that is not good for family life, and though Dave has four children he
no longer has a wife.

This is Dave‟s 16th year as a pro gambler and all previous years have been profitable, though
one soon realised they had to be. He vehemently rejected the suggestion that this is a golden
ago for punters “Cobblers. We‟re living at the end of punting.” Indeed he says that when he
began as a full-time punter he just caught the tail end of a real golden age, the days of cards
schools on trains and a veritable circus of „characters‟ rolling uproariously around the country
from racecourse to racecourse.

Dave Nevison is from Halifax, “Timeform country”. Like so many he picked up his love of
horses and racing from his grandfather “an awful judge” who never had any money, so “no-
one loved him”, though Dave probably did. Dave bet from an early age and had some startling
successes. While at school his runner was his English teacher!

Computer screens are not for Dave. He is a racecourse bettor, but he did use computers when
he was a foreign exchange dealer in the City. That was his “final port of call” in terms of
conventional jobs before he went to the races full-time; he goes to the course practically every
day. Dave‟s employer in the City was a French bank (not named) and he had eight people to
supervise. He must have been one of those „light touch‟ regulators for he seemed to spend a
lot of his time in a nearby betting shop, which narrowly took priority over time spent in the
pub. That is still his approach to life, to have fun and “make it pay”. When Dave „hits town‟
for one of the big summer race meetings it is party time but by September he is knackered.

Dave is not sure that if he had to begin all over again that he would become a racecourse bettor
though he loves the ambience. He says that nowadays a would-be serious punter has to
specialise in one area of racing; the whole scene has become too big. Dave hardly bets in cash
any more and has several people who „put on‟ for him, one in particular who scours the world
markets through a computer screen looking for any „edge‟ he can find. They make it pay.

As far as backing racehorses is concerned the most important point to come out of the meeting
is that Dave makes up his own prices; that is the major part of his homework. He equips
himself with all the aids and subscribes to Timeform but in the end he relies on his own
judgement, nobody else‟s. When he finds a horse priced at odds significantly greater than his
estimate then that horse is potentially of great interest. That‟s how he chooses his bets. A
subsidiary point is that Dave expects to profit to the extent of 5% of his turnover (if things are
going very well that can rise to 7%), so he is working to the same sort of margin as his
opponents, the ones who stand on orange boxes and shout the odds.

When Dave decided to become a full-time punter he had enough money to last him four
months and, as he said, “The one thing I have is the work ethic.” But those were not enough.
Soon his new career was under threat; with no income to rely upon the need to bet bigger sums
affected his choices. It looked as if he might have to go to work for a living. He has “never
skated on thick ice”, though, and avoided having to slink back to the City when he realised in
time that he had to change his methods, which he did.

Dave lived in London just “around the corner” from Eddie „The Shoe‟ Fremantle who has so
often obliged London Racing Club as a guest and who was to be on the panel for the Club‟s
meeting next after this one. Dave recalled days that Eddie and he bullshitted one another on
the train to and from such faraway places as Newton Abbot but „The Shoe‟ provided vital
pieces of education for Dave, especially over compiling his own „tissues.‟ Another great
educator was the trainer Tom Kemp, with whom Dave had horses. His other trainers have
included Norman Babbage and Philip Mitchell.

Soon Dave moved on to tales of coups landed with Teenage Scribbler and National Flag both
of which were trained by Karl Burke and ran in the name of his wife, Elaine. It was the first of
those victories that confirmed to Dave that he could „make it‟ as a pro punter; but much better
than that “It was the best plot ever”.

Teenage Scribbler must have been difficult to train, as they say, because his big day was only
his second race in twenty-four months and he finished lame and never ran again after it. The
scene was Catterick and the race was the Bridge Selling Hurdle; doing the steering was Guy
Upton. The date was 13 February 1993 but nobody at the London Racing Club meeting, least
of all the guest, seemed to realise that the tale was being fondly re-told on the 15th anniversary
of the coup.

Teenage Scribbler was forecast “in the paper” to start at 14/1 but opened on course at only 6/1.
The odds then drifted to the anticipated 14/1 but came in to 12/1, the SP. The money was
placed in £20 bets at shops all over the country. At the course things became tense because the
start of the race was delayed ten minutes due to fog. When they set off Teenage Scribbler was
soon twenty lengths clear and disappeared into the murk. When they re-appeared he was still
leading and won easily. The gross figure landed was about £100,000 and Dave‟s share was
something over £40,000. After that he was determined to carry on.

“We did it again with National Flag” in a juveniles‟ selling hurdle at Worcester seventeen
months later. But it was not quite so. Though the bets were supposed to be placed only with
„independents‟ the fact was that Ladbrokes knew. That was disastrous for the odds. National
Flag “opened at 3/1 after 33/1 in places”. What‟s more Dave thought National Flag was a
lucky winner as a very dangerous opponent fell at the second-last flight, but National Flag was
ridden by Rodi Greene and the faller had a 5lbs-claiming amateur up, at least until the second
last. National Flag was bred by Darley and that „seller‟ was the only race he ever won.

Dave gave some general advice. For instance he said that what sets punters apart from each
other, divides them into the sheep and the goats, is the sort of mind that is betrayed by a punter
who wants, say, 8/1 about a horse but cannot get that price and accepts 11/2.
Dave used to want to get every favourite beaten but is not so prejudiced against favourites
these days. For instance that very afternoon he had fancied Charlie’s Double in the last at
Leicester. The horse won at 25/1 but Dave did not back it because “the trainer put me off”.
The trainer is his business partner John Best, with whom he has invested £1,000,000 in horses
that are now two-year-olds. The idea is to campaign them in such a way as to increase their
capital value as much as possible and to sell at the opportune moment. The horses will run
under the name Kent Bloodstock. Dave described this as an exclusive syndicate because “no-
one wants to join it”. Some details are given in a footnote to this piece.

To fool a bookie on course it can be useful to look a bit unkempt; the layer won‟t take you
seriously (they have never taken your correspondent seriously); the difficulty of „getting on‟
was mentioned but not dwelt upon; Dave can quite often back three or four horses in the same
race and, when he does, he tends to spread his patronage around different bookies; ante post
betting can be dangerous but if one must indulge the races to concentrate on are the 1000
Guineas and the Oaks, as alternative races for good fillies are few so the selections are more
likely to run.

His biggest wins have come when he has been “on the brink” and often have come over horses
he has backed in the morning and whose odds drift out in the afternoon. When that happens he
goes in again. It is logical. Dave says this is what one must do if there is not an apparent
reason for the drift in the odds.

Other remarks included - “You pay to learn at this game”. “Goals must be high.” “If you stop
learning ….” If you start getting comfortable ……..” The racecourse betting market has been
badly weakened by the disappearance of the £100 punter while “the £500 boys from the City”
bet by telephone. The Scottish bookie Freddie Williams got a favourable mention because he
tends to have “a bit of an opinion”. Is the soul of racing dying? “Yes.”

The groundwork for his recently-published book, details below, which was on sale after the
meeting with Dave signing each copy sold, was done in the Strand Palace Hotel. David
Ashforth made the recordings. The two had regular sessions there. Staff wondered what they
were up to and seemed, at least at first, to be quite dubious about them. Other sessions were
held in the Maple Leaf pub nearby.

For the second half of the meeting Nick Luck reversed the order of play and threw the meeting
open to questions from the floor.

There were no betting exchanges when Dave started as a pro but the information provided on
the screen to people using exchanges represents the opinions of the “collective brains of the
world.” That recalled an earlier remark by Dave about his days in the City where he described
his abilities as being pretty good but by no means in the front rank, where the “best brains on
earth” fill the places. So the real brainboxes must like money, too.

Some races are too good to bet on; many are too bad to bet on. On-course prices are
effectively set by people using exchanges. “A minute before the off you won‟t beat Betfair.”
“In high-class races Betfair will be right.” He has met many of the racing journalists who were
his heroes as a boy. They turn out to be flawed. One of the best-known soon tapped him in
the racecourse press room for the loan of £20.
Dave is expanding into ownership of horses by accident, as he put it. He was referring to a
new vehicle, Kent Bloodstock. He fancies himself as a buyer of bloodstock, though, oddly, he
also says, “Don‟t ask me what to deduce from horses in the paddock”. With the £1,000,000
invested he and John Best could only obtain seven horses of the type they wanted. Dave fears
he may have overstretched himself financially (again). Is he on the brink?

This was where last year‟s Group 1 winner Kingsgate Native got a mention but Dave did not
say that he stood to win £100,000 on the colt when he started at 66/1 on his debut at Royal
Ascot, where Kingsgate Native was beaten a head. What he did say about the colt was that
half the trainers at Newmarket and most of those in the north of England now claim “We were
going to buy that” when Kingsgate Native was offered at the St Leger Yearling Sales. But it
was John Best who actually bought.

Dave was on Sizing Europe at 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle and that was his charity bet.
Nuff said. Last year he had a terrible Cheltenham Festival but just about got out on Kauto

About small-time professional punters Dave was scathing (he expresses himself sardonically,
wittily and robustly) and described them as the sort of people you would rather did not sit next
to you on a bus. They work one hundred hours a week for about £4 per hour “but they don‟t
pressure themselves to the point of wanting to jump out a window”.

Dave ran a half marathon on the Saturday before this meeting, the same day a race with his
name in the title was run at Chepstow, the „Read Dave Nevison on Conditional
Jockeys‟ Handicap Chase‟ (winner, Madam Harriet, 25/1). Dave was due to run in the
London Marathon on Sunday, 13 April. His heroics can still be sponsored, proceeds to Racing
Welfare. The sometime chairman of London Racing Club, Richard Hoiles, has contributed.
You can, too. It‟s an on-line thing; the address of the website is below.

Though a good deal of what Dave said sounded like an elegy for what were said to be the great
days of racecourse punting - “It was just great fun” - summer beckons once again and he is
gearing up for the Flat season. To cut out drossy racing he is going to confine himself to
following the cameras of BBC and Channel 4 Racing around the country. So, „The world‟s
great age begins anew, the golden years return‟. It is sure to be fun in the sun and lots of
money will be turned over. Let‟s hope Dave retains a fair bit of it and that the horses of Kent
Bloodstock come good.

Footnotes -
Charity Bet – Sizing Europe in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle.
Journalism – Dave has a “retrospective” column in Racing and Football Outlook. – he has a column on this website, but it‟s not simple to get access to it.
Tipping Line – shortly after this meeting Dave started one of these; see his adverts.
TV – Dave appears on the Racing UK channel; various punditry and interviews.
Racehorses Syndicate – Kent Bloodstock; trainer John Best, Hucking, near Maidstone.
Website – (it is not up to date).
Dave Nevison‟s book (ghosted by David Ashforth) - A Bloody Good Winner - £15.99.
Racing Welfare – make a donation on-line at

To top