“Turf Accountant,” said the words above a small shop window of a side street in the town. A blind covering the shop window blocked any view of the interior. The customers were all men. Perhaps they were farmers? Turf was a name for grass and the farmers of our area grew a lot of grass to feed their dairy cows.
When I discovered that a turf accountant was another name for a betting shop, I was baffled. Why not just call it a betting shop? I knew what a betting shop was, my father had backed Foinavon at 100-1 in the 1967 Grand National, for no reason other than that the odds had been very long. I knew a betting shop was a place where people could win money. I also knew that for some people to win, lots of other people had to lose.
Horse racing seemed full of words that confused a boy. It seemed a world with a language of its own. Flat racing had a name that was obvious, but no-one ever explained why racing that included hurdles or fences was called National Hunt.
The bookmakers’ odds seemed arbitrary. Arithmetic was a strong subject at school, so it was not hard to work out that 100-30 was three and a third to one, but why was it 100-30 and not 10-3? The longer odds seemed to climb in unexpected steps, 20-1, 25-1, 33-1, 50-1. The only logic seemed to be that these corresponded to decimal fractions: one-fifth, one-quarter, one-third, one-half, but no-one could explain it to me.
Going to race meetings in later life, the words encountered in younger years seemed simplicity itself. Racecards could have been written in hieroglyphics for all that much of the print meant to me. A plethora of abbreviations seemed to be used, without there being any key provided so that the uninitiated might have some idea what the letters meant.
At Downpatrick racecourse, where I passed many happy hours, I discovered that an upside down race was one where they rode the course anti-clockwise as opposed to clockwise (or it might have been the other way around, it is twenty-five years ago). The last race on the card was called a “bumper,” it was a flat race for amateur jockeys run under National Hunt rules. I never discovered why it was called a bumper, but twice watched the riders of horses I had backed being unseated whilst leading the race, definitely a bump, if not a bumper.
Trying to follow racing correspondents, I have decided that cricket has a simple vocabulary when compared with the turf.