Bob Carter, International Man of Racing

When I lived and taught in London the mid 1990’s, I wasn’t much interested in racing. Somehow, shockingly, during my tenure I never once attended a horse race, though I did hear the BBC Radio 4 picks of the day each morning, for tracks like Lingfield and Doncaster, as I got ready for school.

I thus never knew that my former colleague Bob Carter was brought up with racing.
Bob and I met up at a reunion for the school a couple of months ago, and when he learned of my interest in racing, he said that he’d be back this spring for another reunion. “If I come in a couple of days early, can we go to the races?” he asked.

What a question.

Saturday, I picked him up at the Queens Village station, and as we made our way to the track, he told me about his early exposure to racing. “My father was a bookmaker, so was my uncle. This was before the betting shops were legalized in the 1960’s. My dad had an office in our house.”

Taking bets, he tells me, was legal, as long as it was done by mail or over the phone; it was illegal to take bets in person. At that time, the post and the phone company were owned by the government, so it guaranteed (or so it thought) its cut of the betting profits by requiring people to buy a stamp or place a phone call.

Unsurprisingly, Bob’s father decided to work around this little bit of taxation, and instead sent young Bob down to the caf to collect bets from the punters there. “I’d sit there and order a cup of tea, and just wait as various people came over and slipped their bets to me envelopes.”
Did you get tipped when you brought them back their winnings?

“I didn’t bring them their winnings. My father took care of that. I got about a shilling for each run I made.”

This early experience did not lead Bob to the racetrack; he didn’t attend his first horse race in 1972. It happened to be the Arc de Triomphe. “Yeah, not bad, is it?” he comments. Do you remember who won? “San San.” Did you have it? “No. I bet on Piggott. English loyalty, you know.”

(Those holding post-Revolutionary grudges might be happy to learn that San San was trained by Angel Penna, Sr. Following the race, Penna commented, “I am very happy for two reasons. First, for the American trainers with whom I was associated for many years, and secondly for Argentina where I was born.” The New York Times noted that this was the first time a trainer from America had won the Arc.)

Now, Bob hits the track on occasion with some racing friends in England, and like most trackgoers, he’s happy to share his best bad beats. On a trip to the Chester course, he was given a tip on Cheshire Prince, whose odds were 9 – 1. He ignored the advice, and you know how that story ends.

Last Friday, the horse returned to Chester and won at 25 – 1. “If I’d known he was running, I’d have put a few pounds on him.” (Apparently, “woulda, coulda, shoulda” translates the same in both American and British English.) I informed him of the genius of the watch list, which might have resulted in his pocketing over 50 quid on this horse for the Chester course, or, as Alec Doyle called him in the Chester Chronicle, “course specialist.” (Though exactly how does a course specialist go off at 25 – 1?)

Bob’s Sunday bets consisted mostly of trifecta boxes, one of which he hit, in the sixth race. He was close in several others, often hitting two of the top three, but as we know all too well, they don’t pay you for that. I suggested that he turn in his losing tickets as business expenses in the service of alumni relations.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been back to London, but if I’m lucky, Bob will be in town the next time I visit, to fulfill his promise of a reciprocal visit to an English track. And if I’m really lucky, maybe Cheshire Prince will be running at Chester.

3 thoughts on “Bob Carter, International Man of Racing

  1. If you only go to one British racecourse-it should be Chester. Even though it’s nearly 200 miles from London and doesn’t hold any Group 1s. You can either go into the track itself or have a spectacular view and watch the races from Britain’s only completely intact Roman City Wall

  2. San San, by the way, was also an American-bred filly, and only the second American-bred to win the Arc to that point (1972). The first American-bred winner of the Arc was Mill Reef in 1971 for American horseman Paul Mellon, and the second American-bred filly to win the Arc was Allez France in 1974. She, like San San, was trained by Angel Penna, Sr.

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