THE little shop is crammed full of people clutching bits of paper.
“This is quieter,” said Ian North, who manages the Ladbrokes branch in Mold. “This morning the queue went out into the street.”
It was race day at Aintree, and people were flocking to get their bets on.
The Grand National is different from most sporting events. It brings in punters who wouldn’t chance it any other time of the year. It’s easily one of the busiest days on the betting calendar.
“It’s a bit chaotic,” said Ian. “We print special cards so people can choose their horses, because we know there’ll be a lot of people in who aren’t experienced gamblers.
“They just put a tick next to whichever of the 50 they fancy, tick how much stake they want to put down, choose whether it’s to go on an outright winner or each-way (to win, the horse has to place in the top four, but the odds are slashed) and whether they want to go with current odds or the industry standard – that’s what they are set at by the start of the race.
“It’s a bit like the stock market. The odds are constantly being adjusted right up to the last moment, and we don’t want people getting miffed if they aren’t aware of that.”
Ten of the horses dropped out before the start of the race, leaving the 40 runners to pick from.
There was the usual list of exotic names – Wayward Prince, Teaforthree, Across the Bay, and the commentator-baiting Shakalakaboomboom.
Veteran gambler Mervyn, 70, who only wished to be referred to by his first name, fancied Rainbow Hunter, Monbeg Dude and Colbert Station. He’s a regular at the shop and has been betting on the Grand National for 40 years.
“I’ve had a few bets on Rainbow Hunter in the past. Colbert Station – they’re both sound horses with a good chance. I like Monbeg because he’s been trained by Zara Phillips [grand-daughter of the Queen].”
Others weren’t quite as sure.
Stella Tanton, 46, of Northop, said: “I don’t normally put money on the races. It’s become a bit of a tradition. This is the only time we do it. Now we do it every year.
“To be honest, I just pick by whether I like the sound of the name. I’ve got lucky a few times.”
Mervyn didn’t dismiss rookie gamblers, saying: “It’s a good a reason to pick a horse as any. There’s 40 of them out there, and 30 fences. Anything can happen.”
In the background, the cashiers were still processing bets.
Other betting shops in the region would be similarly inundated.
The staff were running around frantically ID-ing customers and answering queries.
The sport is not without controversy. One customer, placed three bets – one each for himself, his wife and one of his two sons.
The other son had said he wasn’t interested in taking part in animal cruelty.
Ian, whose job means he keeps an eye on every race, said: “It is sad when the horses fall and Aintree is a challenging course. It’s a fact horses do sometimes die.
“I’ve always got my fingers crossed for them. It’s not something anyone likes to see.”
Talking of crossed fingers, some gamblers have their little quirks and rituals to avoid offending lady luck.
Ian said: “I tend to bet more on the football. I have this thing where I don’t like to go to the toilet during a match.
“You see it with punters sometimes. I knew one who refused to place a bet at all until the last 30 seconds before the deadline. Some people have their lucky cashiers.”
“None of them are lucky,” he said. “Because I don’t often win.”
The race deadline of 4.15pm was looming. A few stragglers hurried in to pick their horse, and then a small crowd settled down opposite the TV to wait.
At Aintree, the punters were vocal, whistling and cheering. A false start provoked boos from the televised audience, but a tense silence fell in the shop.The scattered riders re-assembled and then they were off.
The horses thundered down the course, kicking up divots of turf and jostling for the advantage. All of the race starters took the first fence safely, but the numbers began to whittle down.
Teaforthree led the pack, but dropped back. “We’ve lost Big Shu,” announced a commentator, to a ripple of laughter.
One by one, horses were run off the track – the infamous jump known as ‘The Chair’ claimed a number of victims – eliciting winces and groans from the crowd.
By the last furlong, it was a one horse race. Pineau De Re outstripped the pack, coming in with a comfortable lead.
No one who saw the race at the shop had won. The group trickled out, dismayed.
“I’m gutted,” said Alex Lee, 19, of Mold. “My mate told me to put some on Pineau De Re and I didn’t listen, because I was rushing.
“I’m still going to come back next year though.”
Mervyn had also been unlucky.
“It’s not everything. It’s still a day out,” he said. “Just a bit of fun.”
Then the winners came in.
Adam Doyle, of Buckley, had a handful of slips.
“I’ve won about £120,” he said, after some mental arithmetic. “Not bad at all. I don’t know what I’m going to spend it on.”
He exchanged the slips for a roll of notes and waved them at his friend with a celebratory whoop.
Ian and his staff were left to survey the emptying shop.
“It’s been a good day,” said Ian. “Obviously we won’t know until the stats come in, but last year we processed something like 4,000 slips and we’re not a big branch.
“To be honest, we just like the busy-ness. We like the banter. I don’t think I could do another job, really.”