I went back to July 1990 for this month's "back to beyond" source material. The Optimist was still writing the same patter then as he is now.

Fifteen years ago, give or take a few months, he was on about the advantages of being there - that is, at the track - as against staying home.

I wonder how he'd feel now. Has he to any large extent changed his views on that issue? The differences that have come into play mean that unless you are a member, the betting ring and/or auditorium do not hold some of the major attractions that the local clubs and pubs, or even your friendly armchair, offer.

I said, back then, that you could enjoy the advantage of comparing the prices between bookmaker and TAB. True. But there are silly ironies that can be overcome from the armchair more easily than by being at the track. For example, if you want to bet with several of the leading bookmakers at the track you get the odds you bet.

However, if you call them during betting (on your mobile. or from home) you get a guarantee that you will get SP if the horse drifts from your bet price. That can be worth a lot over a year. Imagine doing that 50 times and having the horses start at a total of (say) 20 points longer than when you backed them. You could be missing out on several points of profit by "being there".

The home base has been affected for NSW and Qld by the ridiculous deletion of Austext odds, but at least for NSW that will be taken care of by amalgamation. Victoria still provides a full and comprehensive coverage on the television for its home viewers. NSW has been hamstrung by the selfish TAB's restrictions on price publication in more ways than one, and to not even be able to get the odds for their own service is amazing.

You can get odds online, of course, and many punters these days are using their computers to do that. It is awkward, however, and while the pay TV does have limited access to the TAB odds, SKY is often behind TAB moves, especially towards post time, and more especially with races where the pool is relatively small.

So I think The Optimist would be inclined to argue, more strongly than he might have in 1990, for club or home-based activities. And he would also ask, if it were not a more profitable way of betting, why the vast bulk of big betting is now conducted by telephone to most bookmakers. The question now has changed. It used to be "'What are you missing by not being there?" and the answer was "A chance to compare and grab the best odds".

The question now (as I see it) is "Can you afford to be there and have your attention diverted, and not be sure of the final odds?" I think the answer is "'No, you cannot". If you want those final odds with the bookie (should the horse blow out) then you must walk down to the end of the betting ring and call him on your mobile. I kid you not. He won't give you the guarantee to your face but he will do it for a phone customer.

You do have the chance to compare the TAB with the bookies, that's true. But if you are serious you can have your computer with you at home, or go to a club and use your mobile to get the bookies' price. He will tell you. If you are a regular he will expect that sometimes you will not want what he is offering. And as to comforts,, clubs have come so far in the past 15 years that there is no comparison.

You often read about the pies. I am not a pie fan, but I believe that you can eat like a king at a club for half the price or even less, and sit in a comfortable chair to watch the races (without paying for a pretty ordinary lunch with unbelievable alcohol prices).

I was actually shouted lunch by a close friend recently at. a Sydney track. There is no way I could recommend the food as memorable, and I bought myself one very ordinary, small bottle of light beer to wash away the taste. I was charged $5.70 for that, and the waiter hung around obviously expecting that the other 30 cents, or more, would be left on the tray for him. The $5.70 was hot enough without it becoming six bucks.

I try not to drink when I am involved with racing, but if I wanted to I could get a schooner of James Squire Golden (my current favourite) at a local pub that has the entire racing on show. That schooner of this exquisite beer costs about $4 (more popular brews are cheaper), you get a comfy chair with no smoking, and about 30 TV screens, with every bit of TAB info that you could ever imagine. I could sit there with that beer for hours, nobody pestering me for more sales, with my own table to spread everything out on, betting slips all around me, a clear view, excellent sound, results screens, etc all in view. And TAB windows a few metres away.

I agree that the TAB windows at pubs and clubs can be ghastly and operated by inexperienced staff. But the next time I get a thankyou from anyone at the track will be a first, whereas at my local TAB and pub I will always get one. Doesn't matter? Maybe not, but it's just nice.

It looks as if I have changed my ground somewhat since 1990, doesn't it?

Click here to read Part 4.
Click here to read Part 5.
Click here to read Part 6.
Click here to read Part 1.
Click here to read Part 2.

By The Optimist