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Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Happy Punter Of Ally Pally (Part 3)

John Mort Green (Alias the Butterfly) 
But while he will not talk about the upper classes, Green studies the nobility's behavior assiduously. He knows exactly which persons are making bets for which noblemen, and if you should see the niece of the Duchess of Trifle wander over to the bookies' ring, look sharp and you will see a tall, skinny man with a red butterfly on the back of his Tyrolean hat standing nearby, counting the house and studying the weather.

It would, nevertheless, be a disservice to John Mort Green to characterize him merely as a man with rabbit ears. He is also a consummate handicapper, a brilliant analyst of all sorts of disparate material and a competent administrator who directs a team of "sprayers," or helpers, or flunkies. His father was an Australian bookmaker, and when the Butterfly was 16 Green gave him binoculars and a betting allowance of l pound per day. Within a few years young Green was a bookie, and after that a bettor. "But they only race two days a week in Australia. When I saw the situation here, with racing six days a week, I said, 'This is for me: the Mayfair area at night for pleasure, and the racecourses in the daytime for business.' I knew I had found my land: 'This little plot in a jewelled sea, this sceptred isle, this happy breed, this England!' That's Keats or Yeats or somebody.

"But my first year I had a big thing to overcome. They all thought I was a flyweight. They said, 'Look, an Australian! See? A bloody Oswald! Don't give him any credit!' But in my second year they said, 'What? He's back again!'

" 'And why not?' I'd say. 'I'm making a bloody fortune here.' Finally I brought them all to order, and now they can't be courteous enough. It's 'After you, sir' and 'Can I help you, Mr. Mort Green?' Men like that are low mongrels. They're bloody small men, that's what they are."

For a few minutes the Butterfly allowed himself to muse on what he regards as the essential English character: "The British are happy sufferers. They've been destroyed by two wars, oppressed and oppressed and oppressed, and they adore hardship, standing in queues, shivering in their homes, being turned out of pubs at 11 o'clock at night. Why, if I get up in the morning and I can't put some hot water on my face straight away, I'm through for the day! But the English thrive on adversity. This makes them good workers, good followers. Now, in Australia you've got to beanindividualist to survive in racing. You've got to say to yourself, 'Now, this horse is a good thing today,' and believe in your own judgment. You can't be waiting around all day for somebody else's opinion, like the British. It takes confidence. Money lost is nothing lost. A tenner is just a piece of paper with a one and a nought on it, nothing more. But confidence lost is everything lost. Once you'ye lost your confidence you lose your reasoning. Then you start making these 100-to-16 bets that never win. You try to force matters, win money on horses that normally you wouldn't fancy. I've never in my life seen a fellow that's mortgaged the furniture to bet on a good thing or sold his car for 200 and put it on a good thing—I've never seen them win a bet like that. If I'm gonna make one bet that could break me, I'm gonna go broke on class, on Man o' War or Citation, on Arcaro E. and Shoemaker W. and Hutchinson R. Stay with the class; you don't want to go off and bet Billy Puddins on a horse you never heard of down at Folkestone."

When the Butterfly talks about himself in public he is quite capable of sounding like an insipid braggart, but it is my impression that this is a cover, that he is trying to project an image of bumbling idiocy and that underneath it he is genuinely and uniquely skilled at playing the horses. "And why not?" he asks with typical brassiness. "I had horses as a kid. I'll go up to a horse and pull out its tongue and put me hand in its mouth. Some of these racecourse characters in England don't know a thing about a horse. I can pick up a horse's leg and show you hock, coronet, hoof, frog, cannon bone, stifle. I used to ride, and I drove trotters when I was 16. I've never worked a day in my life, never cleaned a car or a pair of shoes. I hung around with my father and his friends, hearing the conversations of men over 40, all about horses, and I'm only a boy of 16! I lived with these older men for so long that I became a lot smarter than the boys who hung around with other boys.

"It's all I've ever known, the racecourse. A fellow said to me, 'How did you become a racecourse layabout?' I said, 'I'm too frightened to thieve and I'm too tall to sell newspapers.' I could be a taxi driver, but who wants to be a taxi driver? I'd rather be a pickpocket or a turf editor or something on that order. It's like Shakespeare said: 'And man shall leave a celestial paradise with angels all about, to prey on garbage.' That means you can live in a beautiful house on a hill and still you'll leave it to do things like drinking, running with women, betting on horses. I'll tell you: I can feel like a derelict one minute, terrible! And then I place a bet and I hear the announcer say, 'They're under starter's orders,' and I'm exhilarated. To see two horses go to the line nip and tuck is like watching Nureyev and Fonteyn doing 14 encores. That's why I don't do any other kind of gambling. There's not the beauty to it."

At the track the Butterfly is on the move constantly, collecting information, passing on a soupcon less than he receives, picking up signals from his jockey friends and, as he puts it, "looking cunning." ("If you look cunning, people tell you things, trying to find out why you're looking cunning.")

The race day starts at 8:30 a.m., when he has one large cup of milk coffee and begins his study. John Mort Green reads absolutely nothing but racing material. He buys three newspapers in the morning and throws away everything that does not pertain to his craft. "I don't even so much as look at a headline or a soccer final," he says proudly. "It takes away from my concentration. I must spend the morning studying, thinking, 'sussing things out,' as we say."

To suss things out, a British horseplayer has at his fingertips an assortment of printed material that would tax the medulla oblongata of a quantum theoretician at Caltech. To begin with, the Englishman has the same sort of statistical information available to the American bettor in The Morning Telegraph. But he also has tome upon tome of variegated material such as Timeform, a sort of loose-leaf book to which one adds new information as it is provided during the season. Timeform includes the performances to date of every horse and every jockey in the season, plus a short biography of each horse, plus the home phone number of every owner, trainer and jockey, plus assorted other information. As of early May, when the British flat racing season was only six weeks old, Timeform was already 416 pages long, and by the end of the year a serious punter has to hire a batman to carry it around.

Part 2 (click)
Part 1 (click)

HCE: ''We are lucky enough to have the original (1995) paperback of Come Fly With The Butterfly. The Ten Secrets of Successful Punting by John Mort Green''

It will be given asprize this keep reading HCE to have your chance of winning it simply for reading our little blog. 
Part 1 (click)