Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Tommo the terrible tipster

He's gone clear of the field

Well that is what the Observer said way back in 2001. As they say, old news is never good news. But this is still a good read!

 Derek Thompson: 89 tips 72 losers. The essence of the tipster's art has always been to convince the gullible that the bookies can be bashed and that enormous profits are just around the corner.

In Flann O'Brien's 1939 novel At Swim Two Birds, this approach is memorably captured in a letter written by a certain Vernie Wright, a tipster with a Newmarket address.

'Bounty Queen was indeed a great disappointment,' Vernie writes, 'but anybody leaving me now because of bad luck would indeed be a "puzzler".

You had the losers, why not row in and make a packet over the winners that are now our due.

SENSATIONAL NEWS has reached me that certain interests have planned a gigantic coup involving a certain animal who has been saved for the past month. To all my friends forwarding 6d and two SAE's I will present this THREE-STAR CAST-IRON PLUNGER and we will have the win of our lives and all the bad luck forgotten.'

Six decades on, sixpence and a stamped addressed envelope have given way to the premium-rate phonecall, but the flow of money from punter to bookmaker has never been interrupted.

'All horseplayers die broke,' wrote Damon Runyon in 1938. A select few professional tipsters are in a position to disagree. One is Melvyn Collier, the Racing Post's Pricewise correspondent, who will soon join the ranks of those with private subscription services.

By limiting his advice to a handful of races every week, those for which the bookmakers offer morning prices, Collier has turned a profit for eight successive years. The only secret, he says, is assiduous study of the form book - and that would also apply to the country's top (and very expensive) tipping lines, Isiris and Marten Julian.

Another tipster with a Newmarket address is Derek Thompson, better known as a Channel 4 racing presenter. Asked for an opinion on the merits of his fellow tipster, Collier hesitated. And then he laughed. Read on, and you'll discover why.

Clean-cut, forever smiling and keen to please - if Derek Thompson was a novel he'd be something by Barbara Cartland. His Channel 4 Racing bosses admire him because they know that if a 90-second gap appears, Thompson will ad lib 90 seconds precisely. 'Tommo' sells himself expertly as the punter's pal. On our evidence he's anything but.

Tommo brings this same effortless quality to his other job, that of professional tipster. Flick through the Racing Post and you will find him, along with many others, casting his net for more customers. Need some tips for Royal Ascot? Tommo can oblige. Just call 0901 5638238 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 0901 5638238 end_of_the_skype_highlighting and, for 60p a minute, you're sorted.

If you have an aversion to premium-rate telephone numbers, you can pay up front, £199.99 per year, to join the Derek Thompson Racing Club and get access to a non-premium line. There's even a visit to a Newmarket yard thrown in, an opportunity to see Tommo in the flesh. As Tommo says: 'Shame on you if you haven't joined!'

But if you're the cautious type, the kind who prefers to try before you buy, there's no shame in not joining. Far from it. In the spirit of punter solidarity, Observer Sport called Thompson's tipping line every day for four consecutive weeks, as well as those of two of his rivals. We staked a notional £50 to win on each selection and put a stopwatch on every call.

Of the 89 horses tipped by Thompson - many of them obvious and short-priced - 72 were beaten. Even though he was 40p a minute cheaper than his two rivals, one call to his line can still cost four times as much the Racing Post .

Thompson seems to believe that his callers live in a land where newspapers have been suppressed and he is the source of all information.

'I've got very good news,' he said during the second week, when he was tipping at Pontefract, as though it would never have occurred to anyone that In Space, the 5-4 favourite in the 2.45, might be in with a chance. The horse finished fifth, the same as Puffin, Thompson's tip in the 4.20. After asserting that Benedectine would 'take the beating', he moved on to a lengthy plug for his racing club.

Benedictine was second. Three tips, three losers, but for Thompson, there was no need for an explanation. Had he backed any of the three himself? Did he feel his callers' pain? We can, perhaps, deduce something from the words with which he greeted his regulars the next morning.

'Hi, it's Tommo - and I've got some good news.' It was as if Pontefract had never happened.

One of Thompson's rival services, The Sweeney, is more into bombast than intrigue. Every tip is 'a pearler' that will put his clients 'in clover', every defeat attributable to factors beyond his control: the jockey, the misleading going, the 25-1 shot that should never have been there.

His faith in his own powers would be touching, were it not so misguided. 'I have no doubt whatsoever about the victory of Dubai Seven Stars,' he said on 17 May. Only 'an act of God' could stop this filly. Step forward that act of God in the shape of Arrive, the winner at 6-1.

After tipping four losers, The Sweeney will admit to being 'not totally inspired by the profits'. In week two, he made 24 selections, but the real story was not that 19 of them were beaten, it was that learning their identity cost £64.75, or £2.69 for every tip. At 71p per tip, Thompson was practically benevolent by comparison.

The Sweeney was a master of the delaying tactic. He didn't quite reveal what he had had for breakfast, but it was close. 'Without further ado, let's skate over to Ripon,' he said one day. 'Well, not in a literal sense, of course, but with your newspapers, or whatever...'

The third tipster we followed, Henry Ponsonby, stressed almost daily that he rides out for Mick Channon, but otherwise played a straight bat. He still ran up losses of £748.10.

Over the four weeks, Thompson's tips resulted in a loss of £1,846.05, which rose to £1,921.37, with the cost of calls. Fighting off stiff competition from The Sweeney, he was confirmed as our survey's worst telephone tipster of the four weeks we covered only on the last day of 25, thanks to a clean sweep of five losers at Newbury and Thirsk, including 11-8 and 7-4 favourites. Of course, it may have been a bad four weeks for our selected tipsters, and they may not be alone in that.

Fourteen of Thompson's 17 winners were returned at 3-1 or worse; five were odds-on. In short, they were never going to put callers ahead of the game. In the Channel 4 Racing Guide to Form and Betting , Thompson's advice to readers is brief: 'Never bet odds-on - it's as simple as that.'

If only. On 11 May, Thompson plumbed the depths by tipping two 4-6 shots, both of which were beaten.

On Friday, Thompson defended his tipping line: 'If people don't like the service, then don't ring.'

Asked how much he thought callers should have on his tips, he said, 'At the most, a fiver.' Did he back his own selections? That, said Tommo, was 'a very personal question'. When pressed, he replied that he invested his own money 'as often as I see fit'.