Banks does not make money as an owner, although his sizable stable probably comes close to breaking even. Once, after one of his horses had lost, he told the sporting press that he was going to sell his string. He laughed thinking of the stir that had caused. "It was a bit of a lark to make news," he said. "The horses are in Anne-Marie's name for the most part, but I never meant to sell the lot. It was just a way to get some publicity. Like the time I bought Hill House."
The Hill House affair caused a monumental flap in British racing circles. "It was the greatest story in the history of turf," said Banks expansively. "Hill House was not a very good horse. He would win now and then between very modest performances. Then he won the Schweppes Gold Trophy race, a good jumping handicap, after three really terrible performances. He won by 15 lengths and the public started booing when he cleared the last jump, he was so far ahead. "They tested the animal and found he had been injected with cortisone, but the trainer said that the horse manufactured his own cortisone in the excitement of the race. So the stewards sent the horse to Newmarket for two weeks and ran him every day and he did, indeed, produce cortisone, so they let off everybody involved."
When Hill House was offered for sale a little later, Banks bought him for $32,000. "The racing authorities were shocked," he said laughing. "Here was a self-doping horse, owned by a bookmaker. They came to me and said, 'John Banks, this cannot be.' And I said to them, 'Well, then, I have paid $32,000 for this horse and if it cannot be, then I will sell him to you for $50,000.' And they said no." Banks kept the remarkable Hill House and ran him 10 times.
"He never won a race for me," Banks said, "nor came close to doing so. But eight times, after he had finished down the track, they brought him in and tested him for cortisone. He never produced a drop. Finally I sold him for $3,750, but if another horse like him was to come up tomorrow, I'd buy him. He was worth a great deal to me. I got packets of publicity. I was on the telly six times and I don't know how many times on the radio. Someone at the time said I should be tested, not the horse. Now, about what happened at Newmarket, when he did produce cortisone, I know nothing. I did not own the horse. But I suspect there must have been some villainy. I cannot say that, but the horse never produced any cortisone for me."
Two days later Banks was at Kempton Park, a track not far from London. This time he was in Tattersalls, standing on a stack of boxes near his own board, chaffing the punters and chalking up the odds on each race. Banks was a much different man in Tattersalls now that he was in direct contact with ordinary punters. He laughed and joked with them and attracted by far the biggest crowd around his stand, which was located at the end of the line.
In keeping with his somewhat more plebeian station, Banks was dressed flashily, wearing a light gray, checked suit, the same lace-front-type shirt with a blue tie and, again, the disreputable small black hat, which sat rather timidly atop his head.
A William Hill employee came over to the stand. He was a handsome man, prematurely gray, who looked something like Gregory Peck, impeccably tailored and enormously self-assured.
"Here, here," said Banks, peering down from his pile of boxes. "Who is this we have here? Danny LaRue? [LaRue is London's most famous female impersonator.] Back off there, lad. Back off, William Hill. We want no disreputable characters about here. Move right to the back, lad."
"Now, John," said the William Hill man. "Now, John. You had best watch your odds carefully, not chivy me. You have the favorite even, he should be odds on."
"He'll be even when the race starts," said John, loudly enough for the small crowd to hear him.