Cheltenham 2019 – The Bookies View

It comes around quicker every year. That faint waft of Guinness flavoured explosions draws indoor arena bookmakers inexorably towards the Cotswold Hills, or something like that. Poetry being my strong suit, you understand. Enough equipment, wires, LCD boards and bits of laptop to fill a medium sized tipper truck for each betting firm, and a bunch of whining staff. Whilst we were to be cosied up in the Centaur Arena, which maintained an ambient temperature of 70 degrees (73 deg actually with all the bottoms exploding) – our colleagues outside faced high winds and a chilly start. I guessed under 9 layers they were wearing their thermals, but one doesn’t like to ask.

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On course bookies put up with an unfair lot of flak, for the time they spent huddling in the rain trying to keep racetracks look interesting. They don’t act like their online versions, restricting wagers to thrupence and cancelling ante post wagers. In said regard too many so called racing pundits, those who so regularly big up Skybet and Sun Bets, treat them with considerable disrespect. In fact a day at the races would be very much the poorer without Bookmakers, and a world of Tote betting is plain dull. Let’s briefly chat about Sandown Park.

Sandown does have two winning posts of course. This is an excellent idea if you’re trying to confuse the living daylights of folk, and appear thoroughly mysterious. The explanation for this, based on the angle horses approach the line from the two jump tracks at odds to Aintree for example. They are luxury items for afficianados to explain away. In reality they simply serve no purpose, but to confuse patrons.

A mildly apologetic BHA type, straight out of an establishment that still learns Latin, tells us those bookie chappies ‘shouldn’t have paid out so early. It does appear a rather antique manner of thinking but it should take him to the top of the Jockey Club.  All online firms pay out before the weigh in, so we assume track bookies should live in a pre-exchange era of the sixties? They surely can’t stand about with huge queues for the 15 minutes it takes the BHA official to make up their minds as to who’s responsible  before they get about telling people what’s going on. To Bookmakers, the whole attitude reeks. They want to rule the sport, yet taking responsibility for the errors? Who does that with authority?

I do remember an apologising Nick Rust saying, when they settled the Speculative Bid case out of court with me, that such things would be addressed. Yup. I’m glad I took their settlement, I didn’t have two years of my life to share with lawyers to press home the judgement handed to them which made them look foolish, whilst they spent racing’s cash appealing. That was Rust’s decision by the way.. Add in horseshoe-gate, arm waving gate, flu- gate and winning post-gate. Still impressed with the serial apologist? I do like Nick Rust as a person. However, as a leader of Racing, his ‘watch’ has been characterised by one catastrophe after another, and he should step aside.

I do understand there’s a bunker mentality at the BHA right now. A feeling that whatever they decide – some section of racing is going to be critical. This shouldn’t deter them from recognising that in so many regards their overall performance is terribly poor.

At least they are approachable.

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I put together a team based on good looks to work Cheltenham. It’s shameless, I know. If they can take a bet between trips to the coffee bar, that’s a plus. We operate with six staffers for the one betting position. We employ two to pay out permanently. it’s vital to get people paid as fast as possible in my game. Otherwise known as ‘the churn.’ It’s a fun job for the crew and they return every year, they know I’m a benevolent Boss. I tell them so. We stole one of Barry Dennis’s staffers this season, to replace the handsome Oly – who worked last year. Ellie specialises in void bets.. We went through twelve extra till rolls in bets that didn’t exist. Naomi is the star all round performer. She declines telephone numbers at the same rate she takes bets. All with a smile

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The other pre-festival news was the Betbright farce. That’s the deal where they sell the laptops and the CD players to 888 sport and decide to cancel the wagers of their disastrous ante post book ‘as its fair to customers’ – in the words of their Chairman – Rich Ricci. Rich helped the company lose millions whilst he co-hosted ATR’s Ontheline show with Chapman.  One wonders why customers placed ante post wagers in the first place. One can only imagine how well they were going! And since 888 presumably accepted the customers of Betbright to their portfolio, surely they have to honour their bets too? Warts and all? Nethertheless, Rich Ricci was doing everyone a favour. I’m sure we can all appreciate that.

Benie Des Dieux must have wondered what she’s done so wrong to have been sent to the Mares, Cheltenham’s lowest rated race. Anyway, God – who is a great Racing fan, and doesn’t mind the whip, let Ruby get well clear before bookie deliverance at the last. Well done Mr God, and bad luck Ruby. To all the trolls who think that man can’t set a horse right at a fence – check his outstanding record. Really overdue for this race to have a maximum rating and stop Champion Hurdle prospects dipping into this event, for the sake of smaller owners. You have to leave something at the Festival for those who don’t pay half a million for a horse with no breeding prospects.

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The BHA hand wringers were out in force over the marathon 4 mile marathon National Hunt Chase. Apparently a number of horses finished tired. This is extremely odd. I’m not surprised they were so worried. I wonder if they saw that triathlete carry his brother over the line one day – did they abandon the sport right then? Or Red Marauder winning the Grand national, in times where a world of keyboard warriors didn’t stand as judge and jury over a sport they care little for. What on earth is the difference between human athletes knocking themselves senseless to win a sport and a horse looking tired? We need to stop viewing an animal designed to run at speed and jump as if it’s a kitten. I watched a rugby match at the weekend – all the players looked whacked, covered in blood and sweat. Nobody demanded it be culled. In fact the grittier something is, the wider the appeal.

I watched a superb Nick Luck grill Nick Rust on his record. Genuinely I have never seen Luck in better, or more robust form. From that interview I gleaned that Rust views racing in the same manner as dolphins, that the 4 miler, and anything like it should disappear along with the whip and all of racing’s special appeal.

Frankly, I do not mind if we lose 3 horses at a superb festival, enjoyed by so many, if we afford life and a great career to thousands more because of it. It’s a compelling animal loving message – rather than a requirement to ban anything tough. we also lose jockeys by the way. That appears somehow acceptable, one supposes because they choose to ride. Is it reasonable to assume, therefore, a racehorse would choose to race? This is the argument Racing should be peddling, not appeasement of those who would see the sport die.

The amateur who finished third was duly banned for finishing on a tired horse. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve seen a horse jump tired, but I’ve never heard of a ban for something I witness quite often. In his position of potential 3rd – if he had in fact pulled up, he would have likely felt he would be sanctioned for non trying. Vilified by furious punters and connections for failing to finish. This is the reality of amateur stewards ruling a professional sport. A centralised professional stewards panel, which Rust totally fudged in an attempt to appease racing’s ruling class, would offer a uniform approach to such decisions.  All of the horses ate their porridge the next day, totally unaware of the fuss.

What I fail to understand, is the desire of these hack stewards to ‘make their mark’ on Racing’s major race days so often. Far far too regular we are discussing their failed decisions. The supreme sporting body, the NFL, makes clear to its officials at the Superbowl, to be more sparing with penalties, and allow the game just to be played. It’s the desire of that body that the sport story should not be the officials but the game. That’s rarely true of Racing. The self worth of said officials supercedes the action.

Tuesday is usually a bookie bloodbath. More money back offers online than Tescos. I’m not sure if it’s the ground, or the excitement of races with more than 4 runners, but most favourites fluffed their lines and those diabolical bookies dipped the punters’ pockets. The afore-mentioned Mares heat usually plays the role of getting punters out of trouble. In fact it got them in deeper. Ah well. Salmon and chips for tea washed down by a nice Chablis.

 

Spot the difference ..

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Did you spot the difference??

Wednesday. I bump into a bookie who tells me he managed to park next to the Chairman’s parking space. ‘I was ready to give the parking man my excuse, but he didn’t give me the chance!’ Altior looked ready to complete another circuit. Results started OK enough, but punters definitely finished right side up with the last 4 heats going to the favoured horse. Tiger Roll didn’t fluff his lines. He went round and round – and bored the rest to submission. The Bumper is usually a good betting heat. Usually. We spent the last four races handing out considerably more than we had taken. I emptied the satchel of old rubber bands after racing. I confess it’s a mildly depressing way of doing business. You see them queue up to get on, and form the same line to get paid! Bookies do feel the same way as punters when we lose. We just cannot self exclude! Dinner was at Kentucky. We had the family bargain bucket, and it was nutricious. It said so on the packet.

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Thursday. This is usually World Hurdle day. Every year the poor thing gets renamed after online gaming companies who have survived being taken over by a bigger gaming company. First three races- first three favourites.  I was funding the soap of the great unwashed. Frodon cost me my profits from Tuesday. Backed from 7/1 into 9/2. Great racing story my ass. If my Crossbow hadn’t jammed at the last Ms Frost would likely have hit the deck and it would have been a better story. ‘Jockey finds dart in backside’ – Still for great racing stories, it took the biscuit and made the papers for all the right reasons. She is such an amiable and unspoilt ambassador. Frodon? Well he stays longer than the Mother In law. One the Bookies love to hate but love.

Dinner Thursday. We tried Greggs. But they were full.

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Friday. Not many in the Triumph Hurdle, but 20/1 is a good number for any winner. Less good the manner of winning, with the favourite’s heart breaking demise. Not the way I want to win.

Then it went 12/1 50/1 12/1 7/2 66/1 and 5/1. Fair to say we dusted off the punters. Which is fair. I want to make one salutary point. I understand the Twitterati were knocking seven bells out of my colleague Ben Keith. Look Star Sports is a rival right? They like to big up telephone number bets, I think folk are a little gullible. But you know it’s simply good promo. No-one wants to hear about £3 bets. I understand after the sad demise of Sir Eric he tweeted boom. What ensued was a cacophony of vitriolic, holier than thou comments from the keyboard warriors. Some tremendously hurtful and classless fare. I simply do not accept he was aware of what had happened and anyone who joined that cats chorus to big their own profile up online should be feeling thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

The Gold Cup lacked its usual star quality. It looks to be the last hurrah for several protagonists. Favourite was Presenting Percy, who tried the tried, tested and totally stupid tactic of trying to win a Gold Cup by stabling for a year and taking in one hurdle race – a sound plan to fatten Bookies, and no mistake. It was a shame to see native River in particular look so jaded. Al Boum Photo and a couple of 50/1 chances helped the books finish right side up.

Was it a good Festival? For the ring bookies it’s a definite winning meeting. I’d say it lacked star appeal in horse terms, Altior delivered, just, but the 2 miler is a poor division. Surely it is overdue for him to show more to the fans than beating up the same opposition? Online Cheltenham is a tool to gain more custom, so a likely loss leader again. It surprised me little how many of these larger organisations end up on the deck.

It was a Cheltenham to remember- but aren’t they all. Especially as the supporting months are so very poor. It’s a rubber ring to a drowning man.

 

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I kept this short, because I have a life and I have to go to Barclays now. Check out our new online site, my new money factory, to help pay for my time here, and remember – ‘when the FUN stops, you’re on a roulette machine stupid..’

I may have a touch of flu.. should all bookies stay in?

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Geoff Banks

http://www.geoff-banks.com

March 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Geoff Banks Racing

UK's Leading Independent Bookmaker. We pay our tax and Levy to British Racing as an Approved Betting Partner. And no begging a proper bet here, large or small stakers welcome! Text, phone, APP or website. Private Client Wagering at its best. :)

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