[Ed Note: This interview took place in 2017. Mel’s service, First Favourite, obviously isn’t running at the moment due to Covid-19 but I’ve kept those questions in as they still offer valuable insight.]
JA: In terms of your strategy particularly, do you have a preference for flat over jumps or maybe even all weather?
MG: I’ve got to say I absolutely love it all. Now, I’ve got this tingle again, I can’t help it, you know, my shoulders are just shivering. I absolutely love it. When I started out getting an interest, it was 1970 so that is Lester Piggott and it’s Nijinsky and I fell in love with the sport, and Lester became my first hero, after John Wayne, and he remained so. And I’m very, very lucky to have met him several times. He is my hero. That was 1970.
The next year was the mighty Mill Reef in 71 and he absolutely rubber stamped, for me, what horse racing is all about. And there’s class, Lester Piggott, Nijinsky, Mill Reef. And then the following year, 1972-73, Henry Cecil was beginning to become something special.
So 20 years before the public cottoned onto him, Henry, later Sir Henry, he became my third hero within the sport and, so because those three are all flat, flat would be my number one…
But I love the festivals, Cheltenham, Aintree, Epsom, Goodwood, York, wherever. I love the festivals and I love seeing class horses running, and it doesn’t happen too often but when it does happen and you see a proper class horse coming into the last furlong, all the jockeys are rowing away except one which is on that one horse that is just a different class. And for me that’s the buzz of horse racing, seeing, I don’t know, seeing a Usain Bolt, a Seb Coe, a Cram, an Ovett, they are just half a notch above everything else. That’s why I love it.
JA: So I guess then you’d say you have a preference for open races over handicaps?
MG: Yes, most certainly. Yes. Handicaps are there… well the basis is that they all finish across the line together. I think it’s an open secret that, perhaps less so in these years but skulduggery can happen.
There are some great handicappers and they make for some great races, you know, 20, 30 runners in an Ayr Gold Cup, something like that. They’re fantastic races. They are races I would have always betted but today I wouldn’t. I watch them because I love them but I wouldn’t put your pound on. I’d keep it in my pocket and tell you I’m not betting because I know I’m going to lose. But yes, they’re not betting… they’re a bookmakers betting medium. If people can make a profit from them, well done, good luck. I can’t.
JA: In more general terms, what do you make of the world of horse racing at the moment? Do you feel like it’s going in the right direction?
MG: No, I don’t actually. I think there’s far too much racing. I think all the big races, where they’re held, is right but then I think they should structure it to three meetings a day, North, South and the Midlands.
Fewer races I think would make bigger fields and with respect to owners, trainers and the horses there’d be less dross. Class six handicaps, class seven banded races, when they come on, they are there for one reason and that’s the bookmaker to take your money and they will gladly. And then they will put a sign at the bottom, gamble aware. It’s shameful and something ought to be done about that.
So I think racing has got it wrong at the minute. I think the calendar could be better, keep all the top events but let’s have fewer races, bigger fields. That’s how I see it.
JA: So I’m guessing part of what you’re saying there is bookmakers seem to have too much power and certainly in terms of restrictions that’s something that affects me. Is it something you’ve had issues with?
MG: Yes, it’s issues from all of the major bookmakers with the exception in my case, and I think they should be named, of William Hill and Ladbrokes, but every other bookmaker has either restricted me or closed me, or restricted me that much it might just as well be closed. And the numbers are dozens not one or two.
I can remember when I first started out in racing and I noticed it, I could see that they were spending the money from racing going into hotels, into casinos. And I’m thinking wait a minute, the money is going out the wrong way; you know, the money should be coming back into racing, not going out into other avenues. And it went into other avenues because they could make more money.
I think that would have been the early 70s which is when I got involved, I saw it then and 50 years later there is now something happening that more of the bookmakers’ money, particularly the offshore interests, is going to stay within racing. It should have been happening back in the 70s but nobody could stand up to the bookmaker or nobody wanted to.
JA: I think in one or two countries now they’re starting to incorporate a rule where bookmakers have to take a certain level of bet. I’m guessing you think that would be a good idea in this country too?
MG: It would be but I think they’re already taking a bet. It happened about ten years ago when they would offer a price on a horse and then they would take it to £20 or £25, which is great for the casual punter or the fun punter but for a professional bettor like myself, £25 or £50 is no good unless there were four or five bookmakers doing it and would take my bet, then that would be different but I think that’s highly unlikely, which is a shame.
JA: We’ll end with a couple more general points… have you got any betting highlights or lowlights in particular from your long period of doing this?
MG: Yes, I have, and I thought about this answer because I think most people like to say oh the day that I won this or the day that I lost that, so I’m going to take you way back to 1974, my first visit to Epsom, the derby won by Snow Knight, 50/1. I’m still waiting for that to come up in a quiz question because I know the answer!
What happened, I had been to the races and I was, in those days, very naive, wet behind the ears, unworldly, but I loved my horse racing and that’s why I’d gone to Epsom.
Leaving the course on the way back to the coach, I met a huddle of people and I thought oh, I’ll have a look at what’s going on. And the huddle was a card game called Find the Lady which I thought oh, what’s that about? So I was sort of three deep then I was two deep and then I was next to the board. What I didn’t know was that most of the people in the huddle all worked together with the man with the cards. I didn’t know that. And the fellow that I stood next to, he reached forward, lifted up one of the three cards and nudged me and said, that one. So I did, I put a fiver on it and lost it.
And he said oh, sorry, he must have switched it. And I said, yes, I wasn’t looking. And he said wait, I’ll do it again, and he did, and so did I, and now I’d lost £10. And I thought, mmm, I need to get out of here and I struggled to get out, away from these people, but they’d done what they set out to do; they got £10 from me.
Now, I don’t know whether you believe in the Almighty but I do. That was a Wednesday. So next day, Thursday, I’ve gone to my Coral bookmaker and I’ve had my normal 10p win, Yankee, four horses. The first three have won and I’m going on a six furlong sprint at Epsom, a horse called Moor Lane and it’s 13/2. I’ve already got three winners in my Yankee and it won. So having been, what I thought, fleeced by £10 on Wednesday, I drew £24 on the Thursday and felt very lucky and said thank you Lord.
I don’t do card games now, I don’t do machines, I don’t do poker, I don’t do casino for one reason, I’m going to lose. So I don’t do any… I’ll go and watch them and stand by a table and watch but I won’t, the only time I’ll put a chip on is if you give it to me and it’s your money. So I got a valuable lesson those two days which is trust no-one. So that was an up and a down in those years.
JA: You mentioned there cards etc. Is there anything else in a sporting sense which you will bet on? Do you have any strategies on football, for example, anything like that?
MG: Yes. Once upon a time, and I’m talking year 2000 to 2008, I got a big interest in golf, mainly through Jeremy Chapman in the Racing Post. And then latterly there was a golf form book called Elliot’s Form Book, and between 2000 and 2008 I never lost at golf. I won every single year and got it to a perfection that I was picking up every third week on average and it was fantastic.
In 2009 Elliot’s golf book ended. So I don’t place golf bets now, only because it was not my choice. It would be someone else’s. But that was golf then.
What I have is a very small tight portfolio. First Favourite is number one and then I have two or three opportunities where you can win money, all on horse racing. The risk is minimal and in some instances nil, but the returns can be quite great.
Where First Favourite is portable, the other three are not. They would be a classroom situation, you would have to learn them, but then the one thing that most people couldn’t do is give time. I would spend an afternoon with one or two or three of these other approaches, which is a word I was introduced to some years ago, whereby if I’m not with First Favourite I can make an income there. But the risk is so small that if it doesn’t come off, the loss is minimal.
JA: To finish, where do you see yourself going in the next five, ten years with First Favourite and also generally?
MG: Well, my immediately plan is to continue to make First Favourite a respected winning service. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got a fantastic clientele today but I would like to grow that because I’d like to continue to share my knowledge and win people some money, get them a return on investment.
I am a great believer in fate. What will be will be. Who knows what will happen? For example, I didn’t know today was going to happen. It came out of the blue. And I think that’s what might happen in the future; someone will read this interview, someone will read my website, someone will talk to someone, mention my name and something could develop from there on in.
What I would love, maybe there would be a collaboration down the road, I don’t know. I think beyond just the betting part, what I would like to do is to create syndicates, small, six, eight, ten syndicates for people who would like to be more involved in owning a horse but find the costs are prohibitive, and I would like to make that affordable to as many people as I could do. But that would take a lot of work, a lot of time and today it’s not going to happen but tomorrow it could be. So that’s something else I would like to look at.
Race days are also something that I thoroughly enjoy because it gives me the opportunity to talk about my passion for horse racing to 50, 60, 70 people, some of whom are like-minded. Some have little interest but may find what I’m saying of interest. So that’s what I’m looking forward to in the future.