Once Banks stood to lose $320,000 on one race, the Lincoln Handicap. The money had been bet on the favorite, Prince de Galles, ridden by Lester Piggott. Luckily, Prince de Galles hung in the stretch and lost by half a length to a horse named New Chapter.
In last June's Epsom Derby, Mill Reef's victory cost Banks a good deal of money. For this meeting, Banks wore a morning coat and striped trousers, but he was still in Tattersalls and working directly with the punters. He booked $50,000 on the Derby and had a losing day, but it did not disturb him.
"This is the day for the once-a-year punters," he said. "I lost the equivalent of $20,000 on Mill Reef at Epsom and more than that in the shops, but it made a lot of punters happy, didn't it?"
Strangely enough, the pari-mutuel windows at the race meetings where Banks is active are almost deserted. At Brighton, Kempton Park and Epsom, for example, crowds of horseplayers huddled around the bookies in Tattersalls even though the bettor in England has 6% deducted from his winnings with a bookie and only 5% in the tote.
"The pari-mutuels do not offer good enough odds," said Banks. "Most of the time the punter can get a better shade of odds from one of the books than he will in the tote." Banks went down a program from the previous day, citing the odds the pari-mutuels had paid against those offered by the bookies, and in four of the six races the punter did better wagering with the books.
A few days later an advertisement for the tote appeared in a London paper and cited precisely the opposite statistics for last season and for the first three months of this season. But it is unlikely that any amount of advertising will seduce English bettors away from the bookies.
For one thing, they will never get the kind of action a bookie like Banks offers them. He has, at one time or another, made bets on whether or not it would snow on a given Feb. 5, on general elections, on the winners of a dancing contest, on when man would reach the moon, on whether or not Perry Mason would ever lose a case and on how long it would take the London Zoo to recapture an eagle named Goldie.
"I made it evens they would recapture Goldie in three days," said Banks. "I got quite a bit of action, too. They finally got Goldie back toward the end of the second day, so I won the bets. Then he escaped again three weeks later and people said I had cut the wires, but I had not. I have, of course, been accused of all kinds of villainy, but none of it is true." He shook his head in sorrow at the mistrustfulness which seems evident in some of his fellow men.
"They ask me, 'How do you do it, John?' as if I was doing them in somehow but I'm clean, never been booked for anything, because you must be clean to get a betting-shop permit. They all keep guessing who's behind me, who is financing me, but I'm my own man entirely. No stockholders, no board, no nothing. Just John Banks. I'm my own boss."
After Banks had been saved from the $320,000 loss in the Lincoln Handicap by New Chapter's stretch-running heroics, a trainer asked the bookie how he was doing.