When the office calls that early, it’s usually bad news! Something overnight, typically a multiple up on NCAA basketball colleges I’ve never heard of. This time was different. A new client just popped up – with a Trixie bet. Three selections covered in doubles and trebles on the All Weather at prices.
‘Ok, so what?’
‘ehm, well it’s the system flagging the second wager on the same three selections in the last 4 minutes.’
‘er, ok, tipping line stuff?’
‘No, – Curley’s mob up to something, all ex Curley.’
That’s how it goes in the world of private client betting. I fancied the same conversation taking place in trading rooms about the land and on the Rock too. All around 10am. Everyone laying the same 4 horses- of which we caught three. The rest is, as they say history. In truth, we lost pennies as a firm on the affair. Far less than a couple of grand. For which for a Bookmaker like me wouldn’t result in the cancellation of the sweet course. Barely an irritant.
Let me dispel some myths. I know there are a lot of people in and outside the betting world who speculate on said matters and would appreciate some insight.
‘The linemakers should have spotted these 4 ex Curley runners and priced them up conservatively’
Well, apart from the obvious, these particular animals barely beat the ambulance home in 47 races prior to CurleyGate, they were also spread over three yards and two codes. If compilers spent their time watching for such activities and pricing up a 6/1 chance at 4/5, just in case, we would be laughed out of court as well as removing huge percentages from our books at a keystroke. That’s to say we would be guessing ‘today is the day’ and accepting no stakes on 15% of the book in this example. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Imagine if Waitrose were to remove 15% from their turnover how long they would survive? That’s of course if they wanted to compete. Since there are well over 50 gambling yards sprinkled about the country, we would be endlessly ‘going with’ runners and accepting an unsupportable loss in turnover and margin. It doesn’t compute. Instead as a community we react to the weight of money. Of course in doing so, we have to accept a seriously unbalanced book we’ve no hope of redressing. In other words stories of 2 million + losses on these horses would, in my view, be on the conservative side.
‘The Bookmakers simply plough the money back on Betfair and sit back and make a profit, whichever the result’
Yes, I know I’ve covered this in previous reports, but on the basis we have a few trolls out there who think the kind of liabilities proper layers build up could ever be traded on Betfair, allow me to invite you to view the average liquidity- the biggest exchange at around 11am daily.
It’s not going to cover it, is it? You see the ‘layers’ on Betfair for morning price activity have all but dried up over the years, they’ve basically done their brains laying live horses and struggling to lay the non triers. (Yes folks, there are non triers.) The trading Bots don’t start spinning until liquidity comes on board.
‘These horses all had the form to win such races, with such as Eye Of The Tiger having won a Group 2, rated 112, and now running in a class 6 maiden off 56’
This is a fairly old argument, and one as a Bookmaker is literally impossible to determine. At what point, as a layer, does one become a backer on such animals whose form is so evidently masked by continuing poor performances? Take one of the races where he would have been off 75 at Newbury for example, at the attractive odds of 50/1? Was that the day to be with? In fact he was tailed off, just as he was during 2012. Or Indus Valley, whose form under Des Donovan in 2011 and 2012 matched that of Eye Of The Tiger and barely beat anything home. One wonders at the pre race conversation from Barney Curley to TP Queally as the ‘Tiger’ was virtually pulled up at Haydock, or any of the other efforts that year, ‘jump on the ambulance if you need to lad’. So as a Bookie it’s thoroughly impossible to determine the moment when apparent no hopers suddenly encounter money and their ‘fortunes’ so dramatically turn about.
Above photo – the Racing Post’s take on Indus Valley’s forecast odds and the line of ‘form’
As I watched the whole affair unfold, I was properly incensed at the very nature of this coup, and I said as much at the time. Describing it as Racing’s shame. That’s strong words I know. Long ago my Father told me if I chose the difficult career path of Bookmaking that the inevitable consequences would be the stigma unfairly attached to the profession, that we were less than savoury. Those who really knew John Banks as their natural ‘enemy’ in gambling came to know him as a Bookmaker of the highest order, who never turned down a bet. That he would conduct his business with them in a thoroughly honourable and respectful manner. To pay with a smile, to engage, and even entertain. He was viewed as a maverick by the establishment. Openly critical of the Jockey Club, their lack of commercial nous, and the insular manner of a Club that’s never welcomed a Bookmaker as a member. They’re not Gentlemen you see.
The Club had their day with my Father, drawing up charges with no foundation or any evidence whatsoever and warned him off for three years. Of course, we always knew it wasn’t Dad they were really after – but other upstarts, particularly jockeys, in the sport who were ‘untouchable,’ simply because to charge them for their wrong-doings meant risking the very good name of the sport. Rather like today, it’s often the middle to low pegs who feel the wrath of the BHA.
The modern day Jockey Club is divided into two clear groups. The Racetrack men, led by Simon Bazelgette. He sits in an open plan office working alongside the man who organises the ticketing. Their management characterised by a shrewd bunch of individuals, evidenced by the quality of business they run. Successful and ordered. This group of reformists are currently bent in helping Bookmakers like me improve the lot of the Betting Ring. Precisely what it needed. And in spite of archaic efforts of the FRB to block both JCR and the sensible majority of Bookmakers asking for their assistance. Once I have persuaded JCR that Bookmakers and Betting Exchanges shouldn’t be inextricably linked on track, my work with them is done! I’m constantly impressed by racetrack management from Musselborough to Ascot. I watch fellahs like Charles Barnett, Johnny Weatherby, Edward Gillespie strolling around their domains, engaging with customers in their Silver Rings, affording their customers there the same respect they afford their annual members.
The second arm of the Jockey Club, is the Stewards. Drawn from leaders of industry, breeders, trainers, Bankers and owners. Largely a Public School Club, its not unfair to say. These are the people who steward the sport, police it if you will. Do they understand Betting or include it in their analysis? More often than not it’s a no. It’s always been, to my view, totally at odds to the good name of the sport, not to properly monitor what happens in the betting market when we are talking about racing. Horses that go from 5/2 to 8/1 on Betfair, and who break out of the stalls at sometime double that quote-having done nothing wrong in emerging, other than somebody is profiting from insider knowledge. Does this type of thing go on? Constantly. Is it more or less likely under the exchange system than sharing information with the likes of John Banks and asked him to lay it for you? The answer is evidently the exchange system, because to facilitate profits from ‘lay to lose’ – you don’t need a compliant Bookmaker, you can do it yourself, lay it to the world, or ask your milkman to do it for you. And of course, where the rewards for winning are often far less than for losing, you have a major problem with integrity.
Of course, the modern day BHA structure pretty much mirrors that of the Jockey Club before it. The Chairman knows nothing about the Sport, by his own admission, and has been seen less in front of the racing public than Bobs Worth. I believe he made an outing at the Gimcrack dinner and the Leaders In Racing bash. Henderson’s star has made 3 appearances so far this season. I see no purpose in a Chairman who doesn’t thoroughly understand the product, or who is, in effect, invisible. Can you name him? Bet you can’t.
These days I am faced by an often difficult choice. Keep my mouth shut at what I see around me in support of those who errantly view silence as ‘for the good of the Sport’. In conscience I cannot allow myself to become another ‘yes man’, when I witness things which very occasionally I consider abhorrent. I love the Sport Of Kings and fight for a higher quality product, with less actual racing, more competitive and appealing events, and a strong and well funded integrity department. In spite of this, I accept that I shall never sit underneath Stubbs for lunch, I am apparently not a gentleman. No worry, I know I am. Further, my particular brand of skills has yet to be called on under the current structure in the BHA. That’s their choice, but it isn’t particularly wise.
In response to those, who would prefer I tow the line more often, I say this. First off, I’m no rebel. I am determined, however, to see certain snobbishness I evidence, banished once and for all, for the good of Racing. The racing press is far too tepid. When one considers Racing against Football for example, or the Racing Post against the Daily Mail for critical reporting – Racing gets off almost scot free. That’s not healthy.
What puts me in the position to criticise the ruling ‘class’ of the Sport? Quite simply it’s the hard world of Betting, which underpins and finances Racing, which broadens your outlook every day you’re in it. It gives you a depth of understanding far greater than many who sit in the governance of Horse Racing. Am I better qualified than Paul Bittar – could do a better job? Absolutely. I grew up on racetracks, I’ve lived and breathed Racing for over 40 years now. I didn’t start off life as an accountant. In the case of Adam Brickell, the BHA’s head of integrity, we find a trainee solicitor, with three years experience in racing sitting in an office. He’s elevated, quite farcically, to responsibility for the good name of British Racing.
It astonishes me the BHA would choose to go into battle with experienced Bookmakers on levy with such as Ralph Topping without highly experienced betting advisors to get the best deal. The trouble with this attempt at engaging with the Bookmakers and Exchanges, wasn’t the concept. In that Bittar is absolutely right. The correct approach to do is to draw them into the fold; but you have to fully understand their business, if, that is, you’re going to negotiate for Racing. I would never have advised settling on any deal prior to point of consumption. Once these Bookmakers are forced onshore, you have a whole different ball game, and a more pliable deal can be struck. A betting advisor would have known precisely how they route a top punter from their London Office to Gibraltar at the flick of a switch, why Ladbrokes raised their telephone call centre minimum to £25, or why Coral seem determined to argue for Racing of such poor field size and competitiveness it defies any logic. The importance of their machines, bingo, roulette and even the virtual.
I’m not looking for a job at High Holborn. I am pointing out that betting people are often those best qualified to run the sport. As a betting man, I know the machines would fail without racing.
What irritates me with the BHA? It fails to understand or engage with its core customers, – the punters. It consistently refuses to include them in negotiations. Describing them as ‘disparate’ – not worthy of inclusion. Why? They are adding a hundred million to your sport. Worse, it refuses to tackle its regulatory duties responsibly. Preferring sound bites over results, an occasional example made of lower grade connections. Champion trainers, leading jockeys or top owners aren’t in their headlamps. To deal with such individuals, in their view clearly, risks bringing the sport to disrepute. Investigations into such as Godolphin conducted with great haste and pronounced as solved, despite many questions unanswered. In 2013, there were over 90,000 runners over 1464 fixtures. There were just 96 running and racing inquiries. Just a couple of non triers punished. How does the board of the BHA view this as effective policing of a sport underpinned by gambling? Either we don’t have the resources, or the will to keep this great sport clean. Preferring the TV licensing approach to enforcement – we will find you with our detector vans! Oh yes, I’m sure you’re outside my stable with a van..
What concerned me most about CurleyGate, round two, if indeed he was the chief perpetrator in this case, was the polarisation of views on social media such as Twitter. Whilst I was expressing outrage, not at losing clods of money, but at the fact that last to first place gambles seem completely outside the rule book, that the Racing Post failed once again to represent the views of those of us who would prefer a clean sport to bet upon, rather than what was good for a few insiders. That they chose to print such comments from Butler as ‘I know nothing about Betting’ without adding the banner headline, ‘what a bunch of bollocks’. At the same time, others were lionising the achievements of Messrs Donovan, Butler and Curley.
Let’s deal with that. Fine, I accept the old enemy approach. One in the Bookies eye. Especially given so many ‘major’ Bookmakers these days adopt a less than customer friendly approach to punters. Who cares if they suffer occasionally? But to canonise these trainers, and their organisation, because they can get a 112 rated animal to win in a race against horses rated 4 stone inferior? Oh please, spare me such nonsense. A bit like Manchester United beating up Scunthorpe. Of course, folk will talk from their pockets. I’m sure many of those praising Curley as the figurehead of this gamble, won a score backing one of these horses at odds on, as they were for most of the day..in the meantime they were actually cheering on their own demise, as no question, the Bookmakers will close ranks on the product. If you moan you can’t get on, this gamble won’t do anything to help you out.
And who represented the views of the silly sods who backed these horses in the 47 races in which its fair to say their best chance of staying in front was in the paddock? Of course it’s not my responsibility to investigate these performers and whether or not they ran on their merits. That’s surely the role of the stewards. Fine, so where were the inquiries into group two performers finishing tailed off five times in a row? Very poor performance from the authorities and no mistake.
For every journo, blogger or twitterati praising the perpetrators of this coup, there appeared an equal number of good folk expressing often serious reservations. I read Rod Street of Great British Racing and his comments that coup’s had occurred in the past and people still bet now. Surely he’s ignoring their concerns? Or perhaps as somebody put it, adopting the ‘glass half full’ approach. And Graham Cunningham of Channel 4 with the same view, this time using the Godolphin scandal as a bench mark.
Both of these views are totally wrong. Because the racing share of the betting cake has been in serious decline for some years now. That’s a matter of fact. Now, I accept there are often varying factors in play here, but to discount the importance of a clean sport to those betting upon the same, is highly dangerous. Would you wager on a roulette table if you knew it was slanted to one side? Such views, whilst I’m sure were meant to protect the image of the sport, and in respect of lawyers, in fact go a long way to convince those who share my view that the sport doesn’t take integrity matters with anything like the gravitas it should, and the press aren’t properly on their tail. To be fair to Cunningham, he was very much on the case for his network and despite the involvement of Dubai as a sponsor, in the Al Zarooni affair. Channel 4 Racing don’t shirk their responsibilities in any way, because they don’t answer to Racing.
I put Cunningham and McGrath in the same category as Hislop, Chapman, Wood, Muscat, Paley and Cook. Journalists who need letting off the hook more often for the good of Racing. One day they’ll invite me on ATR or RUK. Not for a second would it worry King Ralph or Breon Corcoran, because they know I speak for Betting. Would it be more entertaining than a fireside chat with Alan Lee? No odds there. Want more viewers? What are you waiting for?
It isn’t just the bettors who suffer and complain. We must consider the Bookmakers if we are too encourage them to promote Racing over a machine. Give me the option, as a businessman, between four gaming machines, guaranteeing a profit, or laying a bet on the nefarious activities which pervade the likes of Wolverhampton, with horses being ‘asked to be withdrawn’ and trainers requested to be strip searched – I know which one I would choose. If we are to prosper as a sport, we must look to our responsibilities to providing a level playing field as far as humanly possible. This isn’t achieved by allowing a horse to go from 20/1 to 4/6 without a very serious inquiry and draconian punishments if found guilty.
I’ve detailed a few of the issues facing Racing. What are the solutions?
First off, it’s important to install a regulator at the head of the Sport who understands fully his responsibilities to reforming the good name of the sport. Who engages publically with all the stakeholders and conducts his affairs openly, not in careful press releases. They should have powers and staff no less than are the norm in such as the Hong Kong Jockey Club. A body who employ 240 integrity officers for 6 days racing a month and who tolerate no breaking of the rules under the most severe penalties. Counter that with the ten odd individuals the BHA employ.
Connections should have no legal right with the courts to challenge the decisions of the regulators. There has to be a clear stipulation, you run under our rules and you accept them, warts and all, to the good of the sport.
Stewarding has to be centralised, and by professionals only. Reports from Kempton the other night of stewards ‘noting’ explanations, can and were only treated with total derision by those looking in on proceedings. If Eye Of The Tiger for example had problems with his legs and back, as was claimed, presumably he would have been undergoing treatment, veterinary or physiotherapy to deal with his issues. There would have been bills. Connections must be summoned to the BHA to provide exhaustive proof, and those findings shared openly with the betting public. If there’s clear evidence- all well and good. In the absence of proper evidence, and in the light of the rather obvious gamble, one can only reasonably conclude the horse’s performances in 2012 as simply down to being unfit to race, which is clearly against the rules of racing. The clues were clear in the betting, and shouldn’t be ignored. If local stewards can’t take the hard decisions, or bring the sport into disrepute because they are unwilling to police the same, or too familiar with trainers they meet every day, they should be removed from the proceedings, completely.
Paul Bittar- now in his final year as Chief Executive has to demonstrate, a willingness to fight betting organisations, racetracks and picture providers for a security budget commensurate with the 1464 fixtures they require of the sport. A view he openly endorses. They have to be prepared to meet the proper cost of policing the sport. If unwilling to meet the costs involved, the fixtures have to be cut to a level which both increases both prize monies to owners and funds a respectable integrity division.. If he is unprepared for this undertaking, and in the face of one security crisis after another in 2013, he is clearly not the man to lead the sport, and should be dismissed. The confidence and image of the sport has to supercede any other considerations.
The All Weather programme has to be capped at its current level. Prize money has to increase dramatically at all ends of the sport. The engorged fixture list, averaging now less than 8 runners a race and riddled with odds on chances has to be cut now. The programme needs proper balancing, if a meeting consistently delivers low fields, it has to be redressed. Field sizes and quality are directly related to popularity of the events.
The BHA have to move out of unnecessary premises in High Holborn and invest the savings in integrity. The cuts in the budget for the security of the sport need reversing.
Blank days have to be introduced in the calendar to increase the appetite for Racing. The jumps season to be shortened and the All Weather season restricted to 9 months a year, excepting the evening programme.
Racing has to stop now supporting products which rival for the bettors money. Betting shops clustered together don’t add to the Levy. Picture rights incomes for racetracks, which they earn per shop, are subordinate to the Levy. Racetracks have to afford more of the circa £7500 a race fees they gain back to prize money.
Football learnt years ago it had to look to itself to improve. It dealt with its hooligan issue of the eighties, built better stadia and seats and improved the experience for those attending. We have to learn from that lead. We cannot sit back and rely on the Ebor Festival as being sufficient when bettors turn to other products and newspapers dump us from their coverage. Let us not forget the BBC no longer involves itself in Racing as it did. Anyone notice they’ve gone? This has all taken place in the last five years. Thank God for Channel 4.
The sport doesn’t run the risk of a continuing decline in its market share in the Betting Shops, it’s a racing certainty. Should we continue to permit such brazen last to first gambles, without reasonable explanation, to go unpunished, because they were off the track for two years and we can’t cope with that? To allow any individual to put two fingers up to Racing? To prefer instead a ‘cloak and dagger’ approach to stewarding, and an ‘it doesn’t happen’ approach? To rely on our great festivals to prop up the eternal midweek racing without people? Then I promise you guys, other sports, bells and whistles will replace racing as the betting medium of choice with Bookmakers and their customers. How will you fund it then?
Yesterday I watched a fabulous trials day at Chentenham, with some amazing finishes and the return of one of the biggest stars in the sport, returned to entertain us by our greatest trainer. I loved watching the whole day, win or lose. I watched bookies and fans struggle in howling gales to the betterment of the sport.
What will the press and Racing fans worldwide be remembering the most from this week though? Big Bucks or Barney Curley?