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Hooray for the £688,620 hunches of Mrs Haddock 06/02/2007
Greg Wood Tuesday February 6, 2007

Human nature being as it is, Agnes Haddock's remarkable run of luck over the last two weekends, which earned her a total of £688,620 for an outlay of £2 on the Tote's Scoop6 bet, was not greeted with unbridled delight in every corner of the punters' kingdom. The majority, for sure, celebrated with her as she struggled under the weight of her monster cheque. You did not need to search too far on the internet forums, though, to find a few dissenters.

Their complaint was that Haddock's approach to the Scoop6 was far too like that of a punter doing a lucky dip on the Lotto. For her original set of Saturday selections - which assured her of the basic £410,332 - she claimed to have picked Clouding Over because it looked like rain as she went into the betting shop, and Simon because she "used to work with a really nice lad called Simon". The finer points of track, trip, going, jockey and trainer did not stand a chance against the power of Haddock's hunches.

Even the choice of Taranis as her £278,288 "bonus" horse at Sandown in last Saturday's big handicap hurdle apparently owed more to the fact that he was No13 - she was born on the 13th - than his status as the 9-4 favourite.

When a punter has spent many hours sweating over form books only to see every selection fail, a victory for luck over reason on this sort of scale will always be difficult to stomach. As one sniffy contributor to The Racing Forum put it: "Has our culture really stooped to the level where we give a large amount of airtime to someone that got lucky with their pinsticking?"

Fortunately for racing, the answer to that question is yes, and it was not just airtime either. Haddock's success made it into most of the national papers, and plenty of local ones too, while she also made an appearance on the Eamonn Holmes TV show to press home the message that betting on racing is fun, and that anyone can do it.

Whether there was any cultural stooping depends on your point of view. Barely 24 hours after Haddock struck it rich, though, BBC2 had Louis Theroux's fascinating stroll through the casinos of Las Vegas to illustrate that when it comes to the culture of gambling at least, Britain has barely ducked its head.

It was depressing enough to watch a Canadian mattress tycoon mindlessly throwing chips on to the roulette table, though there was no doubt he could afford it, but it was the shamelessness of the Vegas slot machines that really took the breath away. Every other spin of the reels seemed to be one of the deliberate near-misses - Jackpot-Jackpot-ooh, maybe next time - that feeds addiction. A woman who claimed to have fed $4m (some £2m) into the machines in the space of seven years was all too pitifully believable.

These are the sort of machines that will fill the floor space when the first supercasino opens in Manchester - not that far away, as it happens, from Agnes Haddock's home in Cheshire. From the start they will offer racing stern competition for punters' money. For every Agnes Haddock, then, who shows that the horses can be a hugely rewarding alternative to brain-death by slot machine, we should all be thoroughly grateful.