Decamot inspired by the following items: Zither, Racehorse, Santa Barbara, Trade unionist, Fiddler, Airbus, Chalet, Pocket watch, Monument, Chip
Steven Jones steered his 2017 Bentley Continental GT V8 Coupe through the entrance gates of Sandown Park racecourse and parked in the owners and trainer’s enclosure. To many observers, Jones was the archetypal jack the lad, someone his mother used to describe as a chip off the old block. This was usually a reference to her paternal grandfather who had successfully built a variety of diverse businesses in the interwar years; everything from chicken farms to pubs and wholesale coal distribution; but that was then, this was very much now.
Steven sometimes wondered how his great grandfather might have set about exploiting business opportunities in the internet era, post the dot com revolution and the digital age. He had just spent the last two years working on a new horseracing video game called PunterChoice, which he thought would be a runaway success if he could just find enough investors to complete his vision. All entrepreneurs take risks, but what level of risk would his illustrious forebear have been happy with?
He made his way to the Solario Suite which he had hired for the day to entertain 50 potential investors in his latest venture. The suite was perfectly placed with views over both the Parade Ring and the final furlong. Might this be the moment, he wondered, when he could afford to move out of his modest chalet bungalow into something more in keeping with the image he liked to promote?
¬On arrival, he was greeted by Toby Best whose AV company (“Best by name, Best by Reputation”) was building the set and installing the high-tech equipment which was critical to his pitch.
“Hi Toby” he said breezily “Does it all work?”
“It will” Toby replied with his usual trademark confidence, “The in-house technical team here are intrigued and the ITV crew admit that this will be a first for them but an interesting challenge. It must be costing you a fortune, Steven!”
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” Steven replied, fingers crossed behind his back as he recalled the tortuous negotiations that he had had with The Jockey Club, The British Horseracing Authority, The Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Channel 4 Racing to bring about his highly unusual sponsorship of the main race of the day, the renamed PunterChoice Redemption Selling Stakes, which was scheduled for 3.00 pm.
Add to that the lengthy sessions held with the Remote Gambling Association (the RGA) the largest online gambling trade association in the world, representing most of the world’s largest licensed and stock market-listed remote gambling operators and software providers; it was no wonder he was feeling a touch stressed, even by his standards. At least he felt confident the right software was in place to demonstrate proof of concept. Whether his great grandfather would have approved this level of investment remained an academic moot point.
It was now 11.30 as he inspected the room and the technical facilities.
He was expecting his guests to arrive around 12.00 noon. They would be greeted with champagne and canapes by the Jockey Club’s reception staff before being asked to take their seats for a light luncheon at one of the five tables of ten laid out around the room.
Steven had decided against a formal seating plan, reasoning that some attendees might prefer to remain incognito given the nature of the proposition he was presenting to them. Acceptances had been received from, amongst others, First City Monument Bank of Nigeria, whose subsidiary FCMB operated in Malta; the Malta Gambling Authority, Google Ventures, HSBC Malta, Bank of Valetta, Facebook Inc. and, most important of all, several well-known computer games developers plus a clutch of universities engaged in applied computer sciences, including two from Wales; UWTSD Swansea and Coleg Llandrillo near Llandudno.
Toby explained to Steven how the buttons on the special remotes (two per guest) were linked in to the screens around the room and how the Virtual Reality Helmets would be fed with video images at the end of the sponsored race. For the moment, the VRHs were stacked neatly in a store room immediately outside the entrance to the Solario Suite ready to be brought in with celebratory Champagne after the race.
Mrs Bukola Edun, business development director of FCMB, resplendent in Nigerian national dress, was one of the first to arrive and showered Steven with her typically effusive compliments. She was eventually followed by a motley collection of other guests who seemed happy enough to exchange anecdotes with business cards as they munched their way through luncheon, accompanied by a selection of fine red and white house wines.
At 1.30, the buzz around the room was palpable as Steven Jones took to the stage to greet everybody and give them an outline of what they could expect later.
“A very warm welcome to you all and many thanks for coming. In years to come, when PunterChoice tops the annual sales charts of video games for a record 10th time, you will all be able to say, “I was there!” when the prototype was tested.”
A murmur of merriment rippled round the room as most guests were used to Steven Jones’ hyperbole having invested in one or more of his earlier ventures without yet scooping a fortune. They all admired his chutzpah.
“Later I will hand you over to Clare Balding whose race commentary will be exclusive to you, but you will also be able to participate in a unique three-part PunterChoice process using Clare’s inside knowledge of the runners and riders.
You will be able to:
1 Pick a horse
2 Select a jockey to ride your horse
3 Watch the race live having placed a bet using odds based on your collective risk assessment.
This time, the murmur was suffused with genuine curiosity as guests wondered out loud how it could possibly work.
“There are two gizmos like TV remotes on your chair.” continued Jones, “The red one is for you to indicate your preferences when Clare has finished assessing the runners and riders for you. The results will appear on the screens, around the room before the race starts, together with the odds. The blue one is for you to place a bet should you wish to do so.”
‘So far so good’, thought Steven, as he listened to the animated conversations going on around him. The murmur had definitely increased in volume.
At 2.30 he handed over to Clare Balding whose dulcet tones came over loud and clear via the screens around the room.
“Welcome to honoured guests of PunterChoice in the Solario Suite at Sandown Park for the main race of the day; the 25th annual running of the PunterChoice Redemption Selling Stakes featuring racehorses who never quite had the pedigree to establish a track record in the classics but are not considered by the racing fraternity as ready for the knacker’s yard … yet.
All the runners are all well-bred with officially documented lineage provided by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the Thoroughbred Breeders Association (TBA). None has fulfilled its individual potential thus far, but they all retain considerable stud value, especially if they triumph today.
This is why every runner today will be up for auction at the end of the race when you will have a unique opportunity to acquire a piece of racing history with 20% of proceeds going to the Lester Piggott Jockeys Benevolent Fund, a foundation dedicated to the resurrection of reputations.
As Clare Balding continued her commentary, Channel 4 Racing began beaming pictures from the Parade Ring as stable lads proudly led their particular animals around the ring.
Clare’s assessment of each horse was succinct …
1 TRADE UNIONIST is a four-year-old stallion by POLITICAL FOLLY out of GREAT WHIG. She is owned by the Co-operative Wholesale Society and trained in Liverpool by the Karl Marx stable but tends to go slow when the going gets hard. Racing experts believe that a change of ownership coupled with a change of philosophy by a modern trainer might just unlock the undoubted potential of its pedigree.
2 SANTA BARBARA is a three-year-old filly with highly attractive features being the only palomino in the field. You will find this fabulous animal hard to resist with her distinctive golden coat, flowing cream mane and colour coordinated tail. She was very unlucky last time out when well placed at Tattenham Corner, before being interfered with on the home straight. The offender and ultimate winner on the day survived a steward’s enquiry. SANTA BARBARA is by CATHLOLIC MARTYR out of TOURIST ATTRACTION and is currently owned by a member of the Spanish royal family.
3 AIRBUS is an interesting seven-year-old stallion who was marked out as a certainty to fly as a yearling but somehow never fulfilled his potential; by ARTFUL NEGOTIATION out of WINGLESS, its Anglo-French owners have finally decided this promising colt should be put down, unless of course he wins today.
4 ZITHER FIDDLER is by GYPSY VIOLINIST out of JEWS HARP and by common consent a difficult mount to master even by experienced jockeys. Since adopting blinkers to cut out ambient sounds this rather ugly colt has just begun to fulfil its owners hopes. Operating in a five-string race could be its best and last chance to impress.
5 POCKET WATCH by TIMELESS out of PICK POCKET made a real impression in its first outing but went missing in the final furlong. Trained by Sir Henry Cecil at Newmarket, this four-year-old American bred filly flatters to deceive but its handlers feel it is worth one final outing.
“Now, in a departure from tradition and with the approval of the Jockey Club, this is your chance to choose which of five riders should ride which horse. All are graduates of the BRITISH RACING SCHOOL and are parading on the catwalk in front of you. In order of the numbers on their backs they are
1 J. Corbyn - Even at his advanced age, he is considered a novice.
2 T. Blair - Goes well in Europe but has a dodgy track record further afield.
3 V. Cable - Switched colours mid race last time out.
4 T. May - Looking for salvation with this ride.
5 N. Sturgeon - A fish out of water but some think her a Salmon in disguise.
Using your red remote, please indicate your preferences by pushing the appropriate buttons. For example, if you want Santa Barbara to be ridden by T. May, push button 2 followed by button 4.
You have 3 minutes to decide … starting NOW!
Within two minutes all 50 guests had exercised their choices and 20 seconds later the algorithm came up with the following couplings which were displayed on the screens around the room
J. Corbyn to ride Trade Unionist
T. May to ride Santa Barbara
V. Cable to ride Airbus
N. Sturgeon to ride Pocket Watch
T. Blair to ride Zither Fiddler
The comprehensive data base used by PunterChoice’s unique algorithm includes the full track record and ancestry of the horses and their riders, as well as the weather conditions and the going, for every race in which the horse and its sires ever experienced in a competitive race. This process has produced the following Odds …
Joint favourites at
6-4 Santa Barbara & Pocket Watch
3-1 Zither Fiddler
10-1 Trade Unionist
“As the runners and riders make their way down to the start, you have 5 minutes to place your bets.”
There followed a flurry of frenzied activity as the vast majority of Steven Jones guests placed their bets using their blue remotes. Five minutes later, the official TV race commentator took centre stage with the immortal words
“They’re under starts orders …. And away at the first time of calling … with Zither Fiddler an early leader followed by Airbus, Trade Unionist and Pocket Watch with Santa Barbara tucked in at the rear of the field.
Fifty guests pressed their noses to the window of the Solario suite to witness the final furlong as all five runners remained in contention...
“Coming into the home strait, it’s Airbus from Zither Fiddler, Pocket Watch and Trade Unionist on the stand side but making a move on the far side is Santa Barbara who seems to have found an extra level as the winning post comes into view… its neck and neck with 100 yards to go …. but on the line …. its Santa Barbara by a short head from Trade Unionist, Pocket Watch and Airbus; with Zither Fiddler half a length back, a creditable fifth!”
In the Solario suite there was much whooping and cheering mixed in with some good-natured booing as the guests celebrated or commiserated according to their individual result. Ten minutes later, Steven Jones took centre stage again as Jockey club staff wheeled in the Virtual Reality Helmets with extra champagne.
“Ladies … & Gentle … men!” he announced in elongated exaggerated tones as though introducing the contenders for a world Heavyweight Boxing title fight … “Ladies … & Gentle … men! It’s time to place these PunterChoice VRH’s over your head and relive your race experience here and now! A unique experience that will be available to all buyers of this product later this year. All other interactive computer video games will be toast!”
A stranger coming into the Solario Suite by mistake at this point might have thought he was gate crashing a Fans of Formula 1 rally or even a Doctor Who convention as all 50 guests sat round with identical helmets apparently in some sort of induced trance. With visas pulled over their eyes they were astonished to witness the whole experience all over again from the Parade Ring to the race itself. 20 minutes later the hysteria that had greeted the real thing was repeated all over again
“Unbelievable experience, Steve! Congratulations!” said the New Project chief of Google Ventures who was clearly thinking of investing.
“Betting on the race itself was a masterstroke” said the sales director of Paddy Power who had been invited along by the CEO of his trade association, the RGA.
“I’m not sure how or if it needs regulating” said the Compliance Director from the Malta Gambling Authority “As it wasn’t a real race – or was it?”
“The computer-generated graphics were extremely lifelike and clearly based on real live footage from Channel 4 Racing. Most impressive - my research analysts at Coleg Llandrillo would welcome an opportunity of participating in the development of PunterChoice”
The speaker’s lyrical Welsh accent was that of the university’s vice chancellor.
“HSBC Malta would be interested in developing the credit facilities” remarked a small smart suited man with ginger hair “I have just checked my personal on-line account - it has already been credited with my winnings less the 20% contribution to the Lester Piggott Jockeys Benevolent Fund. Very impressive – I wish I had invested more! But if and when you go global you will need to embrace crypto currency technology. We are the world leaders!”
Steven Jones was well satisfied with his presentation as he brought the session to a close. Several of his guests went off to register for participation in the official auction for the horses themselves but all seemed genuinely interested in PunterChoice and its obvious potential.
As he drove his 2017 Bentley Continental GT V8 Coupe back to Hertz in Guildford from whom he had hired it for the day, he wondered what his great grandfather would have made of it all. Surely he would have approved?
His reverie was interrupted by the ringtone of his Motorola through the car’s hands-free system, followed by the unmistakable voice of Mrs Bukola Edun …
FCMB Malta had provided the credit facility that facilitated the betting element of PunterChoice.
“Hi Steven … Its Bukola here … Great event …. Thoroughly enjoyed it … You had some serious gamblers in the room … We are sitting on £50,000 net profit for the day …. What would you like me to do with it?”
Steven Jones almost drove off the road in surprise and quickly pulled over into the Burpham BP service station on the A3, where he had intended to top up the petrol anyway before returning the vehicle to Hertz.
“£50,000!” he repeated in astonishment “How the hell did we ... you … manage that?”
Jones knew that the betting feature was the one high risk element in his demonstration as, by definition, there were only 20 people participating. Having been trained initially as an actuary he knew that calculating risk required a larger population than a closed group of 20 individuals otherwise there could be ‘selection against the underwriter’ to use the jargon. He also knew that when the game went into mass production the numbers participating would automatically increase to the point where selection against the underwriter was impossible. As ginger head from HSBC Malta had spotted, that was when PunterChoice might need to embrace crypto currency technology.
“Steven …. Are you still there sweetie? … you’ve gone all silent on me!” complained his unexpected caller.
“Sorry Bukola … I’m just surprised … I wasn’t expecting any profit from the betting exercise …. in fact, … as I explained when I put the proposition to you, there was an equal chance that we … you … could have lost £50,000 as this was a one-off demonstration.”
“Look Steven, I will tell you how I did it if you want to, but I didn’t want you to put your brilliant idea at risk without hedging so lets just say I hedged the bets OK? When we were doing our actuarial exams together all those years ago I knew we would make a great team one day! FCMB Malta took the risk”
“Ok Bukola, I will take your word for it this time but please let me know in advance what you have in mind next time. By the way, FCMB might be facing competition from HSBC Malta before we launch!”
Bukola laughed out loud dismissively. “Huh! They are rank amateurs Steven!!!”
Steven Jones proceeded to fill his hired car with petrol before re-joining the A3 He had only gone 150 yards when his mobile phone interrupted his thoughts again
“Steven Jones?” said the voice with an Irish lilt
“Barry Hogan of Paddy Power here - I was a guest of RGA at your PunterChoice launch today – great event by the way, most enjoyable it clearly has potential, but I wanted to alert you to some betting activity which we are investigating at head office”
“Oh” replied Steven nervously “What kind of activity?”
“A Nigerian gambling syndicate placed £1 million pounds worth of bets on the PunterChoice Redemption Selling Stakes today at a net profit of around £250,000. They are regular clients, but I expect head office to investigate the timing since it was placed only 2 minutes before the off which is unusual for this client.”
“What odds did you give them?” asked Steven
“Normal racecourse starting prices” replied Barry Hogan
“As it happens, they were more generous than those on offer at your event, but this syndicate usually bets ahead at fixed odds – hence the investigation. Just wanted to let you know. I wouldn’t want any impropriety to spoil a brilliant concept”
As Steven Jones handed back the keys to the Bentley, he wondered what his great grandfather would have done next.