Most people think of flamboyant, larger-than-life personalities when the subject of big punters is raised.
Fred Angles: While the stories of legendary gamblers certainly offer many examples to prove this belief, one semi-famous punter who took big plunges during the 1920s, 30s 40s and 50s violated the stereotype of flashy suits, expensive cars, fast women and lavish lifestyles.
I use semi-famous to describe him only because outside the betting ring, he did nothing to attract attention to his success.
The punter in question was a Mr. Fred Angles, known in bookmaker circles simply as “F.A.”
The oldest of 11 children, Fred Angles was the son of a bookmaker. His brother Cyril was a well-known, respected racing commentator. He left Catholic school at the age of 15, where he was being encouraged to pursue a career as a chemist, to work for bookmaker Barney Allen.
Fred Angles took a methodical, scientific approach to wagering at a time when the computers to crunch numbers, analyze statistics and historical results, and guide the technological punter toward high probability wagers were not available.
His demeanor at the track was so calm that some punters were known to place wagers with each other over whether or not they could discern if Angles had won or lost by the expression on his face. Unlike many of the big punters of that era, Fred persisted for 40 years.
He treated good days and bad similarly. A winning day was, “I won,” a losing one, “I lost,” an indifferent day was, “There wasn't much in it.”
He would routinely spend 40 hours or more in a week's time in preparation for one meet. It's difficult, well-nigh impossible, to imagine the likes of Fast Eddie Hayson or Hollywood George Edser putting anything near that amount of effort into their punts.
Angles would begin each week by painstakingly scrutinizing the form of over 300 horses. By Thursday of the week, when acceptances were declared, he would focus his concentration on winnowing his original 300 down to a more manageable number. If this does not seem like a sufficient workload, consider the fact that he would on occasion devote additional time and effort looking at a horse even though he was fairly certain that he would reject it.
This thoroughness and tenacity led to his having arrived at three or four solid selections by Friday. If he was unable to arrive at a clear distinction from that point, he was known to have backed all the possibilities if he could get odds he considered favourable. He even backed every runner in the field on one occasion and parlayed that into a £400 payday.
He was known to employ a small army of news gatherers that would report to him concerning training runs, even those that were supposedly off-limits to the public.
Angle's widow, Thelma, preserved his form guides, which he kept on index cards along with his comments on horses and trainers. Some of his remarks were less than complimentary. More than one thoroughbred was declared a “camel,” and hapless trainers were “mugs,” or worse. Thelma reported that so low-key was Fred about his results that she often didn't know if Fred had a winning or losing day.
He was also prone to going into the extra detail of considering track conditions along with his analysis of horses, trainers and jockeys. On any given day, there was little doubt that Angles was the best informed man at the track. Fred was also perhaps the most generous man at the track, so much so that the beneficiaries of his generosity often sought to repay him with tips and advice. Angles rejected all this well intentioned advice unless it served to confirm his already formed conclusions.
Angles was supposedly behind some of the wins of Carioca, a horse of renown foaled in 1947 that notched 20 wins and 16 places out of 44 starts. Angles also has been credited with some of the success of Dark Felt, a stallion foaled in 1937 that went on to place fourth in 1942, nearly besting another great mudder, Colonus, and first in the 1943 Cup.
Fred Angles is remembered for his betting strategy of using 50 telephones inside his home to place wagers within five minutes of the jump. This was done to make it impossible for S.P. bookies to get the money back to the track and reduce his odds.
Perhaps it was because of all the bookies Angles ruined that he abandoned his brief foray into bookmaking.
There is one Angles anecdote that is largely responsible for cementing his reputation as a punter who broke the mold. In a sport where many of the laws surrounding wagering are largely unwritten, and more than one man has succumbed to the temptation to renege on his obligations, Fred was known to take the opposite approach.
A few years before his death in 1961, he paid off £28,000 worth of bets that had been made in his name, but without his authority. The simple fact that “F.A.” had been entered in the sheets was all Angles required in order to pay the obligations.
Some of his close relatives say that the anxiety caused by this incident precipitated a series of heart attacks that resulted in his demise. He died leaving behind over £50,000, a small fortune by the standards of those days. His acquaintances suggested the opinion that he in all probability had won and lost at least that amount and more over the course of a seven-race program.
The story of Fred Angles serves as valid illustration that a calm, temperate personality can succeed amongst the hype and adrenaline that generally accompanies racing. His approach to punting and his conservative lifestyle have not often been characteristics of other big punters.
Likewise, his longevity grants him a singular distinction. He probably could have remained a force in the betting ring for many years beyond what he did if health issues had not cut short his life, leaving open to speculation the subject of what he might have been able to accomplish in the era of modern technology and big prize money.