Eight people became millionaires last Saturday, collecting £1,342,599 each when the Scoop6 bet, which had been rolled over for 12 weeks without a winner, was finally won. With racing’s narrative having been dominated for weeks by the gamble to find six winners on the day, there was more than £16 million in the pot: £11 million had been staked that day alone by punters large and small trying to collect an instant fortune. Let us hope no relationships suffer: I could not help thinking of the lottery winner’s wife who asked, ‘Will you still feel the same about me now you’ve won all that money?’ only to meet the reply, ‘I’ll certainly miss you...’
Whether racing itself made the gains it should have done from the Scoop6 excitement is another matter. Channel 4 choreographed the excitement well and should have boosted its ratings but the betting fever did not seem to move far away from the sports pages and we have to wonder how much of the 30 per cent rake-off from the pool that went to Betfred, owners these days of the Tote and organisers of the Scoop6, will be reinvested in racing. The horseracing business really does have an asset here: checking Lotto numbers is a soulless business; backing horses you can at least convince yourself there is an element of skill and enjoy the thrill of the races themselves. Every time you back a horse you have a small temporary stake in ownership as it competes.
Like most of my racing friends, regular punters or not, I had a go myself at Saturday’s Scoop6. I was looking for a little one-bed London pad in Marylebone for Mrs Oakley’s birthday — somewhere close to Daunt’s bookshop would be nice — but managed only a single winner. Our Twelve to Follow, however, have been belting in: of the five who have run so far, Madame Chiang won at 8–1, Gospel Choir at 7–2 and Vimy Ridge and That Is The Spirit each at 5–2 for a very healthy running profit. If they go on like that, she might at least get a new garden bench. Vimy Ridge ran second on Saturday at 7–1 and our only loser so far is Justineo, who showed blazing speed but not for long enough in a high-class Temple Stakes at Haydock behind the impressive Hot Streak.
This is not just the year of the veteran, with Kieren Fallon and Frankie Dettori demonstrating how well the over-40s can still do it in the saddle. It is also a year that is demonstrating how crucial confidence is in both man and beast. True, as Harold Abraham’s coach Sam Mussabini once said, ‘You can’t put in what God left out,’ but it takes confidence for talent to flower. Fallon is a man reborn since Godolphin’s trainer Saeed bin Suroor demoted younger jockeys and picked him up. Frankie Dettori has clearly been lifted back to his best, after Godolphin dropped him, by the lucrative retainer from Qatar’s Sheikh Johann, a new force in racing.
The ride Adam Kirby gave French Navy at Goodwood on Saturday for Godolphin’s other trainer Charlie Appleby was another example of the confidence factor. Partly because he made his name on the all-weather tracks, Kirby was once labelled an unfashionable jockey. But he has ridden consistently well for Clive Cox and is now used by other canny and demanding trainers such as Mark Johnston and Sir Michael Stoute. On French Navy, a horse who has been known to get too keen on the job, he relaxed his mount early on, closed on the leaders two out and led inside the final furlong, holding off the strong challenge of Fallon on bin Suroor’s Windhoek. Goodwood is one of the trickiest of tracks to ride and it was the kind of ride you bring off when you have the confidence imparted by being the choice of those who can pick from the best.
The question that always intrigues me is how important confidence is to horses as well as riders. Sometimes in the past when trainers or jockeys insisted that a particular result would improve a horse’s self-belief I used to wonder, but no more. Again we saw the perfect example on Saturday. The first leg in the Scoop6 was won by Tom Dascombe’s Bear Behind at 16–1, eliminating all but 238,627 punters. Despite having shown real talent early in his career, Bear Behind had not won since 2011 and had run poorly since returning from a spell in Dubai. ‘He couldn’t run a race,’ said his trainer. ‘He was giving up at halfway.’ So Tom dropped Bear Behind into a low-class selling race, which he won, bought him back for £16,000 and, lo and behold, in the Class 3 handicap at Haydock Bear Behind scorched out of the stalls, led all the way in the hands of Richard Kingscote and ran on well inside the final furlong when challenged. You simply have to concede that that victory over lesser rivals a few days before had made all the difference to his confidence.