Hitting the Turf: A Punting Life by David Ashforth

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Hitting the Turf: A Punting Life by David Ashforth

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Category: Sport
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An amusing series of stories about horse racing and gambling in the second half of the twentieth century which makes light of what appears to have been a serious betting habit.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: June 1996
Publisher: Headline Book Publishing Ltd
ISBN: 0747216819

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I love racing, a sport in which a small animal sits on a large one and shouts 'goonyubugger' until the pair of them have caught up with a wooden stick, known as the winning post. With some horses, usually the ones you have backed, it can take an awfully long time.

Life ever and always has revolved around racing and betting; betting mainly. It's so easy. All you have to do is find your way to a racecourse, put your hand in your back pocket (unless someone else has got there before you), and pass the contents to a man called Jolly Jim. He gives you a small piece of cardboard which after a decent interval, you throw away. When you put your hand in your pocket and there is nothing there, you stop.

It's a good system, and I followed it diligently for many years, until my bank informed me they could see no future in it.

David Ashforth discovered the joys of racing and betting as a student and put a great deal of effort into studying form in the hope of placing bets which had a better than average chance of coming good. He's a doctor of philosophy, but has been a boardman in a betting shop, a lecturer and a regular columnist on Sporting Life. The book is about his memories of the racing world and his activities as a gambler. When he talks about betting he means that he's placing hundreds or even thousands of pounds on the outcome of a race or series of races. He doesn't believe in small bets - that's just a social activity.

The book is enjoyable, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, particularly if, like me you had an interest in the racing scene in the second half of the twentieth century. All the names are there - the jockeys, the trainers, the owners and all the people who slip through the cracks of being one or the other. If you have no interest in racing then the book will lack interest and may even be incomprehensible in places, as racing and gambling have a language all of their own.

The book is occasionally difficult to follow as it's not in chronological order. A theme will be taken - 'A Boardman's Life', 'Tigers' or 'Heroic Eccentrics' for instance and a chapter will cover all the various stories, anecdotes and relevant facts. They might well come before or after the contents of the previous and next chapters. This does mean that it's an excellent book to pick up and put down, but it's not so good if you're trying to keep track of Ashforth's life.

I would like to have known a little more about Ashforth the man. I'd like to have known how his racing and betting affected his life. He married at some point in the book, but we know little more than that, with his wife taking on the role of 'she who must be obeyed'. He was a shadowy figure at the beginning of the book and remained so at the end.

The style makes for easy reading, although there were occasions when I felt that most of the text was there simply to glue together some rather funny one-liners. And they are funny.

I would spend the mornings studying the treatment of poverty in the nineteenth century and the afternoons learning how to achieve it in the twentieth.

What worries me is that a light-hearted attitude to a substantial gambling habit cannot help but send the wrong messages. There came a point when I ceased to find his whimsical approach to losses funny.

I'm glad I read the book. It brought back some fond memories of race meetings in the seventies and the eighties and some parts of the book were genuinely insightful and funny. I doubt that I would want to read it again though and it's recommended to borrow rather than to buy.

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