Day At The Track

World’s oldest bookie odds-on to continue

10:28 AM 13 Mar 2019 NZDT
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Doug Carroll
Doug Carroll
Shutterbug Printing and Framing and Broken Hill Harness Racing Club Photo

The world’s oldest bookmaker is not ready to call it a day anytime soon. The popular identity will again be beside his trusty board for the famous Silver City mining town’s iconic racing fixtures this weekend – the harness racing Carnival of Cups on Friday night and the St Pat’s Race Club gallops on Saturday.

93-year-old Doug Carroll, from Broken Hill, is not only as sharp as a tack, but has zest for life, energy and enthusiasm – and a sometimes-wicked sense of humor – that would do credit to someone half his age.

“I don’t really know what else I’d do – I reckon I’ve pretty much learnt the art of bookmaking, and sometimes punter, over the years,” Doug said with a chuckle.

“Unfortunately, I did like the punt as well as the bookmaking. I mixed my gait a bit in the old days and it took me 65 years to realise not to!  I’d win 1000 pound on the book and I’d have to give the bookie next to me 1500!

“A bloke told me once that I’d stop the sun from coming up!  I think he was pretty well right. I’ve had some good times and some good days and never made a fortune, but I’ve absolutely loved it.”

Doug makes no secret they’re his favorite events of the year, and he can judge, because he keeps a busy schedule for a nonagenarian bookie!

Apart from 10 Broken Hill Harness Racing meetings each season, he fields at many iconic inland NSW bush meetings, including the Cobar Cup, Wentworth on Melbourne Cup Day, Balranald Cup on Derby Day, the Pooncarie Cup and Nyngan on Anzac Day. He’s also a regular bookie at the Mildura Pacing Cup in April.

“I really believe the once or twice-a-year meetings kill all the others,” Doug said.

“But I do thoroughly enjoy the battle with the punters on St Pat’s weekend. They’ve beaten me a few times over the years, and they could easily do the same again but that’s all part of it,” he said.

“St Pat’s and the Carnival of Cups are terrific.  I love them because they attract people from all over the place who make their annual trip to Broken Hill for the weekend. But the meetings themselves are different too. There’s that friendly, relaxed bush feel about them.”

Doug has fielded at every St Pats meeting since the first in 1966 but took up the bookie’s bag about a decade prior, when he was 26.

“My dad always loved a bet and I wagged school from the time I was 13 until I was 16 to hang around outside the pub with the ‘cockatoo’ and run dad’s bets,” he said.

“There was always betting in the pubs, the authorities just turned a bit of a blind eye, I think.  Once I left school, I worked at the North Broken Hill Mine, then at the Barrier Daily Truth newspaper. But a mate of mine, Joe Fargher asked me if I wanted to get a bookie’s licence and of course I was keen.

“But the Bookmakers Association was a closed shop at the time, so Joe and I went to the President of the Barrier Industrial Council, which was strong at the time. We told him we were local boys, we’d lived here all our lives and we couldn’t get a licence.  A week later it had been ‘fixed up’, so we were on our way.”

Broken Hill was booming in the 1950s and 1960s, with a population reaching 36,000 (now approximately 15,000). When Doug started there were 45 bookmakers in the betting ring at the fortnightly greyhound races in Broken Hill.

“If it wasn’t the greyhounds, it would be the gallops then later the trots or greyhounds and we’d run books for all the city and interstate meetings as well. We’d be run off our feet. It was just go, go, go.

“Probably the biggest bet I ever had was about 5000 to 1000. It was a good bet, but I had to put a bit of it back with other bookies.

“But it goes both ways.  I had a bit of a lucky escape when the bloke who was working my board made a mistake with prices at the gallops.  A horse that should have been three to one, he put it up as 33s and a local shearer had 100 on.  The horse led and it led and it led, but thankfully it hit the last hurdle and fell over.  I don’t think I would have been in business if it’d got home!”

But he’s remained steadfastly in business, an achievement honoured in mid-January alongside five other iconic NSW bookies at Rose Hill Gardens’ inaugural Bookmaker Recognition Day.  Doug was unable to attend because of “work commitments” at the Broken Hill trots!

In more than 65 years in the game, though, Doug’s seen his share of change.

“I found it tough at first when I had to go to decimal on the boards.  There was a fair bit of having to stop and think. I’d been calling out odds of 6/4, 9/2 and stuff like that for years,” he said.

“The electronic system is a Godsend though.  If you’ve seen a bookie working the ledgers, you never really know where you are at during the meeting because you start adding it up and someone comes and has a bet and you lose your place. You mightn’t remember all the bad bets and sometimes the bag gets pretty low because it’s hard to keep track!

“But with the computers I can just look over see straight away how much we are holding and what’s going to be the worst result.

“Most of the time I do give the local trainers and owners a point over the odds because I don’t mind seeing them win.  That’s what keeps them going in the game and if I lose a bit to do that, then that’s OK.  They’ll keep coming back.”

Doug said he had more than a few close calls, most memorably on one occasion at Broken Hill.

“There was only three or four horses in the race and all the bookies had the favorite at 1/2. There was support for one of the others, so we turned the favorite out to evens.

“Well, they came at us from everywhere, even guys who wouldn’t normally bet, and I found myself a bit light in the tank – in other words, I didn’t have enough in the bag to cover the bets.

“We were looking down the barrel of some big payouts and of course, the damn thing bolted in.”

But Doug said he noticed many of the stable supporters were somewhat subdued.

“I thought there may be some worry because surely they’d be off celebrating at the bar, but instead they were all standing on their tippy-toes watching the jockeys weigh in. And we soon found out why. The winning jockey weighed in seven pounds light, so the horse was disqualified.

“I ended up winning three hundred pounds, but it could have been disastrous.”

Doug might be one of the survivors in a rapidly-changing industry where tradition is being lost to the corporate betting agencies.  But he’s still learning new tricks.

“One of my bookie mates Peter Murray and I always worked in together, but he always did the form,” Doug said.

“Unfortunately he died last year and I’d never done form in my life because he’d always taken care of it. So I had to start doing the form.  I was like a fish out of water at first, but I’m starting to enjoy doing it now.

 “I don’t think I’ll ever give it up – not until I don’t know what I’m doing, anyway. So if I give you 10/1 about an odds-on pop you better say Dougie, time to go!”

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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