Lack of star horses is hurting racing (The Times 10/8/18)

Lack of star horses is hurting racing

The viewing figures for ITV’s coverage of Glorious Goodwood showed a slight increase on last year which is a positive sign. The most watched race was the Sussex Stakes last Wednesday won by Lightning Spear under a masterful ride by Oisin Murphy with a peak figure of 871,000.

But a sober analysis of the number of viewers for the big meetings across the year suggest that while the trend is lightly upward, the figures are probably not what either ITV racing or the sport itself might have been hoping for when they won the rights and a four-year contract at the start of last season. Audiences of 1.5 million were being talked about over time.

The averages for Royal Ascot this year, which was shown on ITV1 for four of the five days, were down from 867,000 in 2017 to 721,000. The reason cited was the impact of the World Cup. The Grand National last year was disappointing and that was put down to the unseasonably warm weather. Comparisons are still being made with the figures Channel 4 attracted in the final year of its contract in 2016. But how much longer that can be sustained is a moot point. At some stage ITV has to move on from that.

Lightning Spear’s victory in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood attracted a TV audience of 871,000
Lightning Spear’s victory in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood attracted a TV audience of 871,000Adam Davy/PA Wire

Let me stress that the fact viewing expectations have not been realised is nothing to do with ITV’s coverage. It is universally agreed that it is outstanding, with Royal Ascot a brilliant yardstick. The BAFTA for the Grand National output was no more than the channel deserved. The broadcaster has managed to successfully tread the fine line between satisfying the traditional audience but making racing far more accessible. The presentation teams and pundits work extremely well together, editorially it hits the mark every week.

So what might be the reason that audiences have not increased as markedly as one might have anticipated via the powerful terrestrial platform that ITV offers? Well I am grateful for Geoff Banks, the bookmaker and a controversial character who is not afraid to speak the truth to crystalise some thoughts I had had on this subject.

In essence sport is about competition, about duels, about personalities, about identities which an audience and the public at large can latch on to, relate to and become entwined in the narrative. Football, Wimbledon and the Six Nations for example draw in viewers in the many millions. Flat racing does not, nor has it had, a superstar that gripped the imagination since Frankel who admittedly was a freak of nature.

Part of the reason identified by Banks and with which I concur is the lack of star turns, or at least star turns who do not have a shelf life beyond two seasons before unceremoniously being retired and sent off to stud. Flat racing is now more a business than a sport. It is increasingly a means to an end whereby fabulously wealthy individuals who invest massive sums into the sport seek to make a return on their investment in breeding. Not only are their horses retired too young but to preserve their values during their all too short careers, often trainers at the behest of owners do their best to avoid head-to-head confrontations.

This is what Banks wrote in his most recent blog, which to my mind went to the heart of the problem. “Racing’s number one star [Frankel] retired too young, and well before he needed to,” Banks said. “Buy a ticket for Barcelona, and you’ll see Messi. Buy a ticket for racing each season, it’s unlikely the new audience we are so desperate to attract has heard of any of the performers.

“Frankel, an iconic racehorse, literally put bums on seats. He retired, let’s not forget as a four-year old! Did he have any nuts by the time he was four? Quite literally his stud value to Juddmonte far exceeded what he could earn on the track. Simple commerce you say?

“Except that Khalid Abdullah [his owner] is one of racing’s billionaires. Along with Godolphin, Coolmore, and [Anthony] Oppenheimer. They simply don’t need the money. It’s therefore a paradox they choose to send their ponies to service mares at three and four years of age.

“And whilst they race, as fans we are treated to the monthly pantomime of will they, won’t they show up. It’s nothing new to see horses openly avoid competition. Because it makes more commercial sense to the afore-mentioned billionaires apparently to send them to stud all with the grand title of “the best I’ve ever owned”.

“Athletes, notably human ones, constantly perform with injuries, knocks and niggles. Our best horses appear so wrapped in cotton wool, the slightest inflammation, or let’s admit it, the presence of another star suddenly turning up in the field, is enough to see them defect. If you think they don’t avoid meaningful opposition, you don’t understand breeding.”

His overarching conclusion is difficult to disagree with too. “Unless the authorities in charge of racing on both sides of the Irish Sea do something about arresting the flow of top horses to stud, the only thing that will keep racing going is the beer tent. The viewing figures are telling us to pull our socks up as a sport, because we cannot [even] best [repeat showings] of Columbo.”

The Defection Of Talent

Let’s play telly stats, everyone loves a stat.. Viewing figures for England playing Columbia topped 24 million. Wimbledon matches, available on free to air BBC regularly figure in the millions of viewers for matches leading up to the finals. Six nations Rugby regularly tops 8m. Premier League viewing matches on pay per view on Sky average 1m viewers a game.

Of course I am discussing free to air. I think it’s fair to say if a sport decides to head towards pay per view, it chooses to marginalise itself. The BBC clearly pays a lot less to cover sport, but its power in raising the profile of the same to new levels is without parallel. 13 million viewers tuned into see the Murray Wimbledon final on BBC. Wimbledon, for all its commercial power resolutely remains with the BBC.

Which makes he decision of Racing Chiefs to head down the commercial broadcaster route, and dumping a public service broadcaster in CH4 all the more inexplicable. In fact the BEEB does tender for Racing, but its bids are regarded by racetrack groups in charge of telly rights, and desperate for cash, as too low. They’re clearly less interested in growing the sport, over their trouser pockets.
Royal Ascot is the very pinnacle of the flat racing season. A five-day festival with some of the finest racing paired with considerable pomp, ceremony and fashion. Despite all this on offer, we managed on free to air a paltry daily average of just over 1/2 a million viewers, that’s one fortieth of those who tuned into England. Said figures amusingly buried in the Racing Post under an article headed ‘sectional times at Ascot.’

I don’t think, though, its down to the coverage. I recall watching last year several recordings of the show and I found the ITV manner struck an entirely good note with this meeting.
As a Bookmaker I often judge the success of the meeting in pure turnover terms, and that was significantly down this year. The simple fact was, what was on the ‘pitch’ was a dearth of top stars. Cracksman was off his game and dethroned, Lady Aurelia invisible. The St James’s Palace was an awful renewal, I’m sorry to say. Whilst there were some excellent performances, there’s simply far too many weak Group Class events, and too many excuses for absentees.
Fine, some people disagreed with me that comparisons with a World Cup qualifier were hardly fair, and of course I would agree, such comments are designed to engage the reader. The viewing figures at Cheltenham, Aintree and Ascot haven’t been impressive, given the free to air advantage, we ought to be batting in the 1.5m viewers mark, as was muted when ITV came on board. I do not, however, feel this is the fault of the network here.
What’s the issue?
The Sport, yes it’s us. Yesterday’s Eclipse featured just 7 participants. The follow-up to the same in subsequent races, comprising two handicaps and a listed marathon contained 6, 6 and 7 runners. The most popular event on the Racing calendar, in viewing and betting terms, is a 40 runner handicap in Liverpool. Most casual viewers to the sport have never heard of either Saxon Warrior or Roaring Lion. Up until this season neither had hit any major headlines with anyone other than Racing anoraks. We’ve become insular in Racing, we imagine the casual viewer knows who these ‘babies’ are. Losing a Derby winner to the field, is therefore, immensely damaging to the race.

The finest horse of our generation is now pumping out replacements at stud, to the tune of 300 grand a pop. The best of a rather moderate siblings would be Cracksman. In no way would I want to impune his successes, but in comparison to Frankel himself, his progeny have been a poor substitute to the great horse doing his thing on the track. Racing’s number one star retired to young, and well before he needed to. Buy a ticket for Barcelona, and you’ll see Messi. Buy a ticket for Racing each season, it’s unlikely the new audience we are so desperate to attract has heard of any of the performers.


Frankel, an iconic racehorse, literally put bums on seats. He retired, let’s not forget as a four-year old! Did he have any nuts by the time he was 4?? Would those same essentials be available to mares at 6? Well of course they would. Quite literally his stud value to Juddmonte far exceeded what he could earn on the track. Simple commerce you say?

Except that Khalid Abdullah is one of Racing’s billionaires. Along with Godolphin, Coolmore, Oppenheimer. They simply don’t need the money. It’s therefore a paradox they choose to send their ponies to service mares at 3 and 4 years of age. Golden Horn was exceptional, a potential perennial superstar. Retired as a three year old to bolster Oppenheimer earnings.

And whilst they race, as fans we are treated to the monthly pantomime of will they-won’t they show up. It’s nothing new to see horses openly avoid competition. Because it makes more commercial sense to the afore-mentioned billionaires apparently to send them to stud all with the grand title of ‘the best I’ve ever owned.’


Only a few luxuriant trainers are afforded such stars. Our press hangs on their every word. When connections dodge events because of the opposition, it’s always tied to one excuse or another. You really don’t expect them to say ‘I’m not going to the Sussex because Enable is down to run.’ Of course not. It’s a niggle or a knock, and they roll out to perform a few weeks later. Because Racing affords these few stars that many opportunities.

So whilst I take on the amiable Lee Mottershead, explaining to us how nice Charlie Appleby is, whom he telephoned about the Derby winner’s defection from the Eclipse, it’s because I’m eternally disappointed we allow connections such an easy ride, when we absolutely know most defections are a cynical exercise in maintaining breeding valuations. Masar ‘got a knock’ was the report, the extent of which was unspecified, but he didn’t need a scan. And he was withdrawn on the day before the Eclipse. On the day of the Eclipse, the same Racing Post is reporting he is ‘responding well to treatment and likely out very soon.’ The damage wasn’t that earth shattering after all. Could he have, in fact, turned out to entertain us after all? Was Appleby too cautious, or could the late entrant to the field in the notably talented Saxon Warrior in fact influenced the decision. In any other sport, such questions would be routine.

You know it really makes little odds to me if Masar was, or wasn’t fit to race. Some keyboard warriors accused me of slandering Appleby, which means they didn’t care to read what I wrote. It was the the meek acceptance that yet another star didn’t turn out to work on a feature day I objected to. People paid to see Masar in the Eclipse, others wagered on him and lost considerable monies. We all deserve a reasonable explanation for his absence. Journalists seem far too ready to accept the stable tours. Nobody called Appleby a liar. I am though, entirely frustrated with the top echelons of training, and their constant histrionics. As we all should be. It really wasn’t about Masar, or this incident. Perhaps I am an essential evil to some, saying what others dare not. I really don’t seek to be controversial, but I do want the sport to challenge itself to do better.

Athletes, notably human ones, constantly perform with injuries, knocks and niggles. Our best horses appear so wrapped in cotton wool, the slightest inflammation, or let’s admit it, the presence of another star suddenly turning up in the field, enough to see them defect. If you think they don’t avoid meaningful opposition, you don’t understand breeding.

In my view, I’m perfectly entitled to question top trainers as to defections, it doesn’t mean I have to be an expert in training, as Jim Boyle so farcically alleged. It does mean I have to understand the commercial realities he so tacitly ignores, which I believe I do. And to continue to pressurise trainers into participation. Some may argue ‘the welfare of the horse’ as paramount. That’ however shows a fundamental ignorance of what’s important to connections. A series of 1’s and an early bath.

So no, it isn’t about Masar, persay. I welcome him back in a week or two’s time, crutches or not. I am frustrated with the eternal merry-go-round of top middle distance performers and their early departure to stud.

As to the future? Unless the Authorities in charge of Racing on both sides of the Irish Sea do something about arresting the flow of top horses to stud, the only thing that will keep Racing going is the beer tent. The viewing figures are telling us to pull our socks up as a sport, because we cannot best Columbo.


A notable giant of training died this week. If my memory serves me correctly Dunlop had to depart his life’s career, because the books wouldn’t balance, with a short fall in product to train. Those at the highest echelons of training, with positive bank balances, because they are rich in Racing’s best product, owe it to the others, to send Masar, and his peers, out to race as often – and for as long as they can. So what if they don’t always win? The sport cannot grow without its stars.Cartoon 1

Royal Ascot, the Bookies view

Please note. You are only reading this garbage because you’ve given me permission to write it, and by reading this you agree and understand you may not always smile, laugh or hate me any less if you’ve ever given me money. That I signed up with the information commissioners office because I had to, not because I understand it

Let’s talk Ascot.
For the Yah Yah’s and Carolines, Ascot represents the pinnacle of their (racing) social calendar. Said types wouldn’t be seen dead at Kempton. No surprise there, you have to like your food from vans there. Of the fifty thousand who make the daily pilgrimage to the great track, I’d hazard only 38 are actually aware there are horses on the premises.

For dirty stinking low life Bookmakers who never lay a bet and have turned the whole planet into problem Gamblers, because that’s what we do of course, Ascot is another fun week on our cosial come working calendar. Not the Cheltenham type of money. That’s proper Irish cash. A chance simply to get some of our bail out cash back, and watch Ruby fall at the last.  Ascot by comparison far more the social event. With the Sovereign riding down the long mile in her plush carriage, reminding us gently who is, in fact in charge of the place. Bookies desperately bet on the colour of her hat, to disgraceful margins. Everyone gets on, and no restrictions.  I hear the great Paddy Power was once called to explain how they ‘knew’ she was going to wear a black hat. These days we have the Gambling Commission to get involved in such serious breaches of protocol. Like they did over the goalkeeper who ate the pie.. big deal.

I do enjoy the pomp and circumstance of Ascot, but increasingly it’s straight in, straight out, i can’t share my space anymore with people who’ve so evidently been on the lash all day, whilst I’m forced to work. Perhaps I’ve discovered religion? HRbannerwp
A dog sniffs me on the way in. To check I’ve got money?  Everyone is terribly polite. I do know many of the gatemen at Ascot, they seem a nice bunch. A long way from their snooty predecessors. Thr Ring is full of Bookies waiting to pitch up. They try to fool those ahead of them in the pick as to where the best places to bet are. Moanng hour has started. They gather to complain about their lot. Favourite topic are usually racecourse expenses, exchanges, how few bets they take. That sort of thing. Doesn’t matter how much they moan though in the given hour, they’ll never actually contemplate change. Bless

I’ve decided since Epsom to offer Best Odds Guarantee to my customers on track. It should be a real tonic to all bettors. Particularly if one of those daft buggers betting with firms betting to 1/5th the odds on handicaps, when it should be a 1/4. I mean how stupid can you get? I don’t understand such tactics. It’s as if my colleagues aren’t aware they’re in competition with cyber bookies.

Best Odds is a tonic for all customers. Unfortunately the majority of those who wager haven’t the first clue what it means. Basically if you take 7/1, and it drifts to 10/1 at the starting price (SP) – you get the 10/1. Off track, all punters expect this deal, on track most don’t know what it means.. I believe the On Course market needs to compete with the off course, if it is to survive, and prosper. That will require racetrack management to work with its Bookmakers a lot more, not just turn them upside down and shake for change. Ascot for its part is soon to be the beneficiary of a new Tote system, aligned with Hong Kong players. Wouldn’t it be sweet if the executive to pass on some of those benefits to its hard pressed ring?

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So if you see a Bookmaker offering 1/4 the odds in all handicaps, AND best odds guarantees,  support the Bookmakers making a fair stand. Punters like to gripe about such things, but universally fail to support them when they’re offered. I hear people bellyaching about Bet365 all the time, yet they still sign up every time they give away a tenner. This is why business doesn’t care what you think.



I enjoyed my spat with Star Sports, led by the amiable Ben Keith. Those so so regularly ”bigged up” by  their personal communications director, Matt Chapman, who bizzarely eats up whatever they tell him with a giant spoon. Whilst I admire their stance on greyhound funding,  a leading Bookmaker gloating over monies it has won off of its customers is all in poor taste. As for the bets they claim to have laid? Well who’s checking the truth of those wagers when the cameras are about?  We won’t know and they can’t tell us. Anyone heard of ‘top of the book?’ How big was the fish you caught??


Despite these ‘whoppers’ the firm bets to 1/5th the odds, in handicaps where the Tattersalls standard is 1/4. Ben well knows how little the 1/5th the odds trick is understood by inexperienced gamblers. No leading Bookmaker, Stephen Little, David Power, John Banks or Tony Morris in my career has ever ‘bent’ on standard terms and I thoroughly object to this penny-pinching measure. Paradoxic to the ‘we’ve laid another whopper’ when you’re short-changing someone £5 on the place book. David Power crowing about how much he made – never happened. It;s vulgar and cheap.

For me, such small-minded tactics aren’t in any way praiseworthy, and by no token ‘representing on course bookmakers.’  Particularly not me. I’m proud to say in my career, I’ve never bent on each way terms. If Star Sports want to set themselves up as Kings Of The Ring – bet with honour.

When it comes to big field events- the casual first time punter rules OK.

‘Please give us the horse numbers!’
‘£5 each way Red Rum please’
‘Which horse number please?’
‘err, ehm, 13/8?’
That bet costs £10, do you mean £5 as that’s what you’ve given me?’
‘Yes, £5, but I’ve given you the wrong horse, I want L’escargot – is that ridden by Frankie Destori??’

Repeat 1500 times daily.

Ascot for me has to be one of the pinnacle of the Racing season. It’s by a long stretch the smartest and best run racetrack, probably the world, and a showpiece week for the sport. Whilst Royal Ascot remains the showpiece event of the year, it’s not all praiseworthy. I am concerned at spiraling costs for the casual racegoer, – which results in less families. £75 to get into the Grandstand enclosure is excessively steep. £95 for a bottle of champagne, retailing at Waitrose for £32 is grand larceny, unless you get a Sheila with every glass? York manages to charge £50 for the same and offers a daily champagne for under £40.  £20 to park your car in a field 1/2 a mile from the front gate is simply beyond the pale.

If paying off the debt it ran up building such an impressive Grandstand, earlier than it needs to, puts the right people off attending such a great event, then let the Bank wait on its cash.

If a track is not fit for families, its not fit at all. 17 arrests over Ascot from various offences, perversion (no it wasn’t me..) to brawling, is not a success. The fact remains drugs are getting into these venues, sniffer dogs at entrances are spectacularly easy to circumvent. And alcohol is sold to utter excess, check the condition of people leaving race tracks these days. Thrown out on local communities. It really is entirely unacceptable.Football learned how to deal with its problems. We surely do no need to reinvent the wheel here. The front of every race track should be alcohol free.

Lumpy cash bets were few in the Ring. I laid 2 grand to one guy a winner at 2/1. Another had £3500 on a 4/1 winner. Another £1000 each way on a 33/1 winner. There’s a pattern here.. overall I showed a profit through the five days, but I won’t be buying another Sikorsky.

ITV spent three days after Ascot telling each other on Twitter how great they were, everyone nicely on message. Despite registering over a million less viewers, a story their chums at the Racing Post buried in a story headed ‘Ascot goes for sectional timings.’ and described as healthy viewing numbers..Nice bit of editing. Chamblerlin gives Millington extra shots on the golf course- NAP. Fact is the viewing figures were shocking poor. Dumbing down the sport and outlawing betting in favour of fashion isn’t winning the ratings war, along with that wooden delivery

As I pen this – I’m on business to Munich, squeezed into a British Airways ‘Club Class seat’, which looks a lot like the economy seat next door. He also seems to be eating the same crushed Panini they’ve served me. Which is odd. The crew is explaining how a life jacket will save my life, which is great news, if the airplane heads into the ground like a dart, I shall put my life jacket on of course. I’ll survive the rest are fucked. My Club Class seat also has a silver whistle to attract sharks, in case we land in the pool. Nice touch.

The ‘come on everyone- let’s self exclude’ Gambling Commission were in the Ring at Ascot sending in 16 year olds, done up to the ninepins, who look like 25 to see who cracks. I don’t mind such things, they seem marvellous punters 🙂 These days nobody asked me for my ID when I placed the odd speculative punt, which is odd.


I didn’t think the card was particularly good this year unusually. The Gold Cup seemed a poor heat. No Derby winner on parade. No Enable or even that powder puff Winx. Who impressed me the most? Well I think Blue Point running down Battaash was fairly impressive. Lady Aurelia moved smoothly to post, but didn’t head back. Cracksman and Saxon Warrior look done with Racing. You read it here first.

As for Harry’s Angel getting stuck in the stalls? check the close-ups carefully and you’ll see I had a firm grip of his tail.. No Sir, no ‘justice refunds’ – which wide-eyed boffins came up with that trick?

See you in 2019. remember lose responsibly.


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I guess now they’ll start laying bets?

They limited the stakes. I didn’t think it would happen. Government is basically corrupt where taxation (or cheap votes) is concerned. And votes won the debate, as indeed it should have done. I long argued it was never the intention of the Gambling Act to create mini Casinos in our High Streets. The ruling in spite of Gambling Commission recommendations of spins ‘up to £30.’ Who could possibly take that organisation’s protection of vulnerable consumers stance seriously?

I supported the cut, because it was the right thing to do. Moving forward, that same Government perversely expects the gambling firms to make up for the shortfall in taxation on machines they’ve decided effectively to eradicate. The first is right, the second is wrong. I hope the firms fight that naïve argument robustly, for the sake of we independent bookmakers. It’s accepted we will suffer the most from a 33% hike in duty payments. Firms like my own asked to pay for the failures of poor Governance.

Fixed odds betting terminals

It’s the age of the guesser.

‘They’ll start behaving like Bookies again and lay me bets.’

No, I’m afraid they won’t.

They’ll be forced to lay to lose a certain amount to all.’

Again they won’t, because the Regulator, the only body with the power to force change, has no appetite to see that happen. None.

Only the Gambling Commission has the power to make such decisions, and right now they show no inclination to force firms to lay what is advertised. A meaningful Racing Press could help force change, but with the most powerful medium, the Racing Post, almost entirely in the pockets of big betting, that’s a voice that will remain resolutely silent. It’s an important voice.

There’s a simple parallel between LBO’s and the On Course market. Faced with the pressure of exchanges and online companies, books at racetracks have slashed margins, even whilst tracks have demanded higher fees. It’s clear they haven’t become more interesting to bet with in doing so. The average Joe punter doesn’t care if its 4/1 or 5/2. They simply want to cheer a horse home. Chester learned that.


They have created a Tote style environment, bland and uniform. Many of these hard-working individuals I count on as friends, stand out in all weathers. I take no pleasure from criticising them in this way.

On Course bookies exist in transmit mode. They won’t participate in, or discuss with colleagues, meaningful discussions in how to rival big betting for interest. They see no threat from Bet365 or Chesterbet. As a result their businesses are resolutely losing the war with online companies! Firms such as my own online division offer a better customer service standard and more competitive odds, aligned with specials, and best odds guarantees. And we never dip on the place book, we actually enhance it.

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It’s racetrack bet now. Not one of those tracks has been engaged to include their track bookies as a sales point. Isn’t that odd?

What of the shops? That’s a basic economic calculation. Shops that cannot gross sufficient profits will simply close, that’s self evident.  Key in the door stuff.

The Online market is a differing business model. Driven by bums on seats and Casino profits. Take away the shops own mini casino version, and what are you left with? Some argue ‘they will turn to bookmaking again’ That’s offering a low margin Racing product where 60% of the races are won by the front two in the market and every Festival is awash with giveaways. These are the areas marketing divisions of said companies routinely exploit to gain accounts, not profits If you think that’s going to change, lock yourself in a dark room with a damp flannel on your head.

The 4000 number bandied about is a matter of fact. In said regard the executives were correct, it’s inevitable. They answer to shareholders, not public opinion.

Can the bricks and mortars product be forced to lay bets to minimum levels? Unless the lucrative online market is regulated to lay bets to odds it advertises, something the Gambling Commission refuses to countenance. That horse won’t enter the stalls. One thing the FOBT action proved conclusively. Bookmaker board rooms won’t countenance any move, even when threatened by Government, if the opposition doesn’t match their cut. As for example they should have done with fixed odds betting terminals, by reducing the maximum gamble per spin when threatened with regulation.

People vote with their mice. They won’t accept 5/4 in a shop if its 6/4 online. Any other argument is fanciful. There’s little evidence punters would support their ‘local store’ were its odds any less than the online version.  The LBO’s simply cannot compete head on with online and ‘lay bets’ if that alternate market place is not mandated to either. Any argument in that vein is naive.

LBO’s have very substantial costs to shoulder. Media rights alone are over £30,000 a shop to Racing! Expect closures, not change.

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Where is the Regulator?



There will be more than one track manager peering in on this post. With the woe is me attitude. ‘Lads will fight – not much we can do about that is there?’

Well, they can’t fight on the terraces at football anymore, for fear of being kicked out. Football knows who they are, whilst we make no attempt to ID our customers. They can’t battle at the cricket, or the rugby. This leaves Racing, as the new battleground for thugs. So whilst you’re selling them as much beer as they can stand without care for anyone else’s view of said policy, – consider this.

You’re creating a favourable environment for hooliganism to flourish in Racing.

Bookmakers who work in betting rings will tell you stories of fights they have witnessed at almost every racetrack they attend. Personally I’ve witnessed in the enclosures fights at Newbury, Epsom, Ascot, Goodwood, Sandown, Cheltenham and Newmarket. Odd that I’ve never seen a fight at York. Perhaps the people of the North have more class. Fights north of the border simply don’t happen. Want to look at someone’s girlfriend in Scotland? By all means, isn’t she lovely? Scots folk don’t suffer from the colonial daft mentality of the South.


It’s hard to pick one of those fights I have seen as the worst. I suppose for me the ten minute fight beside the winning post (in the ‘members enclosure’ ) on a warm day at Sandown as possibly the worst example, although it’s a bunch finish. Whilst folk that Racing should want to attend stood watching in horror as this melee continued unchecked. Little wonder so many don’t come back. That’s when I took the time to find out what arrangements Racetracks have in place to protect the Racing public from these thugs.

Most tracks employ ‘rapid reaction’ teams to deal with brawls. These are specialist trained individuals. It isn’t generally known that regular raceday staff, to include stewards, will not involve themselves in breaking up fights, and at such low rates of pay, why should they?

The ‘Rapid’ force took ten minutes to arrive at Sandown. In the guise of one impressive individual called Nigel, who saved Sandown’s blushes. He was of such girth he was able to break up the fight single handedly. The rapid reaction force, which had been observing the group involved for some time on monitors, were at the other end of the track.

There aren’t enough of these intervenors. Tracks want to plunder drink profits, without ensuring the safety and comfort of attendees, by employing sufficient trained security personnel.


Some facts about fights we are aware . Most tend to occur on hot days, and involve drunken groups of men, or these days on drugs, quite often egged on by inebriated women! Today’s female can be as aggressive as the male. Racetracks base their finances on food and beverage sales, which is why they favour Saturday meetings. Nobody appears to be in control of what racetracks get up to. Not the BHA, local authorities, nor the Gambling Commission.

Children see these fights, that’s our future. Old people (and the not so old) witness them regularly and have to share enclosures with these unpleasant groups. It must be a sobering and even frightening thing to be so close to. These are race fans too, very often members, but track executives pay them little mind. Their money is already in the pot.This isn’t me being cynical here, there’s absolutely no evidence management give two hoots about people there to view the horse and just the horse.

Newmarket has earned the deserved reputation for the worst excesses of brawls, on Jockey Club land. It’s doubtful any of the executives, who head straight for corporate boxes, witness any of these events occurring, far less care.

Two subjects rarely discussed, but should be on the table at British Racing:

One, the impact on the environment of tens of millions of plastic cups. What happens to all this once used material? Hard not to assume it ends up clogging our seas and killing wildlife. As such topics gain more exposure, it’s not something being discussed in Racing.

Second, why are we not discussing the throwing out into the local community of thousands of drunken individuals? I wonder what it must be like for those living proximate to UK Racetracks at closing time. People being sick in doorways, disheveled, shouting and aggressive. We are supposed to be part of the community.

Jockey Club are simply irresponsible when it comes to sales of drink. I’ve witnessed first hand over many years totally uncontrolled sales of alcohol, to often clearly drunken individuals, by temporary staff literally pumping out the beer. Jockey Club’s reaction to the fight culture? Let’s serve everyone their drink in a plastic cup, perhaps so no-one gets ‘glassed’ on our racetrack. Let’s not sell tickets to children in case they see drunken people carrying on alarmingly. Yes, that’s another scheme they came up with. It’s a perverse management that thinks this way.


I read recently comments by Simon Bazelgette, the Chief Executive of Jockey Club, telling us we need to do more to encourage people to the sport. So his business plan is to overcharge them at the turnstiles, to park. Sell as much beer as people demand. Preside over many brawls on your properties,  and see more people Racing is it? I guess that’s why 75% of those who come Racing, only go once according to statistics. A poor success rate. Whilst I do not attend Arena Leisure tracks, I’ve heard of major incidents at Lingfield and Chepstow. The problem is pandemic.

The most recent brawl took place at Goodwood. If you have the stomach – view the video links below. This isn’t the first major fight at that track. No sanction has ever brought on Goodwood.

I have included this shocking video because it’s vital that Racing understands and accepts its need to control the excesses of racetracks- alcohol has a social cost. The scenes are graphic. I think you should try to watch it, because we all need to act together to force social responsibility onto our tracks.×1280/qtoV6ularmQR6vQb.mp4?tag=3

Is this a ‘society problem?’ And therefore not the fault of the tracks? Surely we do not need to re-invent the wheel here. Rugby isn’t afflicted by Racing’s malaise. Wimbledon focuses on delivering a quality service and a great show to their clientele. They’re not interested in beer sales over quality. That’s the ideal we should seek.

But what of the Regulator? The British Horseracing Authority? In any other sport,  tracks or venues would be fined, sanctioned, even had their licenses suspended or removed for such failures. Why is the BHA in absentia? They’re supposed to control matters for the benefit of all of the racegoers, and the good image of the sport. To date absolutely nothing has been said from that body on the subject. I am disgusted at their failure to take firm remedial action on Racetracks, but not totally surprised, given the make up of the BHA board and the influence racetracks have on British Racing Chiefs.


Many years ago, Football was forced to the negotiating table to deal with its hooligan element. Chairmen of clubs accepting that blaming matters on society was no longer acceptable. Those who attend games are identified. Transgressors are punished by the forfeiture of their seats. Grounds are stewarded by the clubs, at their own cost, with the involvement of police minimal. As a result, football has re-invented itself. I’m quite comfortable to take my children to any football match. I wouldn’t take them to Epsom. Ever. It’s a vile, aggressive place. Fights are routine.

Racetracks might well base their finances on alcohol, but that doesn’t make it right. No more than its dependency on FOBT’s. We needn’t be sympathetic to Goodwood, Epsom or Newmarket or put up with mass brawls because they need to make more money.


And most certainly – the Regulator of Racing, the BHA, has to engage forcefully, and yes Goodwood should be punished immediately for its security failures here. Only racegoers can be seen trying to break up the brawl. We don’t all want to share our Racing experience with folk too inebriated to stand up and I certainly think it’s a disgrace our children should find themselves outlawed from the sport in favour of alcohol.


The evaporation of choice



Despite the many complaints I see on mediums such as Twitter about the manner in which large companies behaves towards their customers, it’s depressingly true that if they offered a 3 quid bet, many line up like soldiers to sign up. Precisely why I look upon complaints from those who have signed up with something approaching disdain. Why are you surprised that they care so little about your business?

Corporate Bookmakers ‘increase’ their worth, by making a series of unsustainable offers whilst growing your customer numbers. The few million you lose offering ten places on the Grand National, dwarfed by the deals done to acquire the businesses.


The modern punter has a grab a penny attitude. I read one punter saying that ‘he was never going to support on course Bookmakers.’ Reason? Some of them were offering a fifth of the win odds in a handicap race, where off course supermarkets were a quarter for a place. The fact that ring wide there are, in fact, plenty of bookies prepared to offer a quarter the odds, entirely escaped this argument. The On Course market is endlessly pressurized by the availability of betting APP’s – and greedy short-sighted Racetracks ramping up their prices in the face of declining margins and turnover.

Then we have the ‘vested interested party’ in debates about who to bet with. The burgeoning crew of professional ‘matched bettors’ who wait on opportunities to match wagers to their advantage, bookmaker odds against betting exchanges. A group  characterized by two notable traits. They think their excessively clever to finally find a way of beating the bookie, even if the system is so simple. It astonishes me any of these individuals, and their Sisters, moan about being shut down. I suppose it’s because they imagine Bookmakers to be as simple as they are. They consist of some of the most arrogant group of bettors out there, with no respect for not only Bookmakers, but for regular punters, who for the most part continue to lose to Bookies. They sneer at such individuals.


In all these debates, based on differing views of both Bookmaking, and punters, I’m stuck by the effect of such attitudes on the ever declining Racetrack and independent Bookmaker sector. This is the section of betting that, in my opinion, represents the traditional relationship between a Bookmaker, and his customer. A corporate Bookie treats you as a number. There’s no ‘personal’ in the relationship.

Ask yourself one question. Imagine you walked into Sandown Racetrack and saw no Bookmakers in the ring. How would you feel about your eternal sniping for 8/5 when something was quoted at 6/4? What a boring and depressing betting environment that would be. I wonder if those who favour betting hypermarkets over small enterprise appreciates fully what a racetrack would look without Bookmakers? How sterile it would become. Even those who do not bet still enjoy the ring’s colour.


You see in all these monotonous calls I hear for better odds, more offers, money back guarantees, people are gradually voting for a world without service, or more importantly – fun. My Father used to say to me that people would come into his shops because winning off John Banks was far more fun that a faceless entity like Coral. Of course, it was.

So, whilst you all sit there, in your underpants with your mouse, fiddling about the websites looking for 2.62 instead of 2.60 – remember that with each offer you sign up for – you’re giving one more resounding vote for said corporate Bookmakers to treat you in any way they see fit. Why should they respect you when you behave so predictably?

You are worthwhile only insofar as wet behind the ears ‘traders,’ who’ve never laid an egg in their young lives determine you’re ‘too sharp’ to lay a bet to. Reward companies, who lead on restrictions, with your business, because their websites let you ‘cash out’ a winning bet, when an independent might not, remember that’s a vote for a decline in service. In the meantime with cashout, you’re casually accepting the worst deal in Betting. Congratulations.

And whilst they busy themselves amalgamating into one or two global Betting supergiant, and you’ve voted the independent Bookmakers out of business, you used to enjoy wagering with, that’s another tick in the box for a decline in choice and value. They’re not buying each other up to offer better value or choice..

A few months ago, one of the legendary family Bookmaker outfits, Richard Power, went out of business in the face of declining turnover. It didn’t offer an online presence and I supposed it weighed against them. It didn’t merit much copy in the Racing Post, less on the Racing channels. The respected presence of David Power left all spheres of the game. A bit like your local green grocer going out of business. You know why? Because you’re all too lazy, or greedy, to make the effort to support the small firms.


You have a choice. We all respect that. But remember this, for nothing is more true. The bigger a company gets, the worse its service standards and ideals. Remember the little firms when you’re betting. It will pay in the long run. It’s a fallacy to imagine they’re not competitive. The difference is they will appreciate your custom. I certainly value my client’s loyalty.

And when you go Racing? Better favour the course market there before you end up with a faceless Tote, or ‘racetrack bet.’ Remember the famous Grand National 3 percent per runner hoopla? Now try 4 percent per runner (25% worse) in every race every day.









ITV Racing- avoid stepping in the hyperbole



I worked for Channel 4. In said regard not only can it be said I’m biased, but also in fairness I experienced first hand what it takes to produce the quality Racing show. Working for Channel 4 doesn’t exclude me from the debate.

I have never subscribed to the view, expostulated by the likes of Fitzgerald of RMG, Bazelgette of JCR or Harman of the BHA that Racing’s ‘reach’ would improve under ITV. This was their ‘spin’ on achieving four million pounds more in fees than Channel 4 was prepared to offer. ITV convinced Racing that it’s impressive share of viewers would benefit the sport, indeed that argument was taken forward. Racing chiefs however should never have permitted Racing on a Channel with 1 percent audience share. ITV4.


Quite what the Racing Post’s angle was with their weekly shrieking at what they described as that network’s failures, I struggle to understand. But it’s all quiet there now.


What’s often not understood is the fundamental difference between the two Channels. Whilst both are easy to find for less technically minded folk, such as pensioners, Channel 4 is a public service broadcaster, whilst ITV is a commercial network. A public  service network will assume responsibilities a commercial one will not.

Channel 4, whilst in the hot seat remained fully committed to the sport. Their Morning Line outputted every week and month in broadly the same slot for years. It was known and understood. Racing was kept, again with few exceptions, on their main channel. People knew where to find it.

From the outset ITV only guaranteed a certain amount of shows on their main Channel, the residue to appear on ITV4 and even ITV3.

A few months ago, Mark Demuth, controller of sport at ITV said in an RCA seminar, that The Opening Show, which has notably struggled, needed to improve. That was a considerable understatement for a Racing show only hitting 30,000 viewers for it’s output at Aintree last year, the figures for many of the shows haven’t been made public, The brush. In the meantime, what has Demuth done about improving that show? He’s kept it on ITV4, and only after various 1970’s Cop shows have had the prime 8am slot, even on Grand National day. You see, that’s when most Racing folk and even non-Racing, would be watching.

ITV1 achieves around 15% of audience share. Channel 4 just 5%. With such a considerable advantage, should we not expect a considerable uplift in audiences? Racing chiefs though, signed up to a deal which consigned many of the meetings to ITV4, with just 1% audience share. Odd decision.

Behind the scenes at Channel 4 racing

(Channel 4 production)

In fact, the total numbers of people watching racing through the year has declined in the millions under ITV. In its second year at Cheltenham declined by 4% on their previous year’s performance and was some 14% down for the Gold Cup.

So ITV has failed to improve on Channel 4 at both of the last two Nationals, the Cheltenham Festival meetings, Champions Day (0.5m) and Royal Ascot.

In 2017 the total viewers for Racing had declined by 3.4 million viewers from Channel 4. A figure not easily explained away by ‘uplifts in people watching racing on streaming devices.’ Or ‘the weather.’ Guess what, we always have weather.

ITV’s first effort at the Blue Riband Racing event the Grand National, experienced a decline of 18% during the race on Channel 4. That’s nearly 2 million less people watching our feature race. Why? Lack of promotion? Format?

You can ‘paint’ the numbers in many ways to suit your argument, and some will argue that. Such as percentage of audience share. But for me if the show is watchable, people will tune in, especially at 5.15pm. This change in time slot was an intelligent move by the Regulator. Whichever way you look at it, the ITV performance has been deeply disappointing, given the Channel’s evident dominance in share over Channel 4

The difference was people associated Racing with 4. With ITV, they simply do not. They often struggle to find their Racing. Channel hopping is a big deal.

So what’s gone wrong? For me the ITV afternoon format works exceptionally well for Royal Ascot, York and Glorious Goodwood, and I really enjoyed the coverage, indeed for me despite the budget spend, the style was more in evidence. The network has obviously attempted to widen the appeal of Racing to a different audience. These meetings work exceptionally well. A+

However, many of the other meetings, especially Aintree and Cheltenham are not based on fashion, social networking or garden parties at all. They’re about betting. In said regard, ITV has totally alienated the core audience for Racing, with a focus on Facebook and girls in nightclub dresses with orange legs.

People ask me why I’m so upset on this subject. Because I feel Racing should never have dropped a committed broadcaster, which guaranteed viewers 90 days Racing a year, a regular morning show and let’s also remember several evening highlight shows. Something ITV have quietly dropped I question their enthusiasm, and I don’t mean Chamberlin. I mean the controllers. Racing is not a good fit for ITV. They’re uncomfortable with the Betting and searching an audience that simply doesn’t exist, whilst alienating their existing fan base.

ITV show little appetite to improve the dismal morning show with consideration to moving ‘Ironside’ from the more favoured slot. What on earth are they playing at? Since when does a broadcaster be awarded a contract to show such an iconic sport, yet favour Colombo, I mean, haven’t we all seen every mystery solved already?

There’s far too much time spent on middle-aged men standing or sitting round a table telling us all what to think of Racing. Surely ITV realise it’s boring? Where are the Racing features, interviews with trainers, stable tours? And why don’t we hear from the eternally engaging Paddy Power on what Bookmakers have been laying. Quite why ITV has decided to outlaw Betting is simply beyond me. Racing is not a hybrid of ‘Good Morning Britain.’ It distances the product from its core audience. Bettors.


ITV’s ‘gameplan’ in selecting Chamberlin and Cumani, with Fitzgerald, Harvey, Plunkett over Luck, Cunningham, McGrath, had to be about ‘widening the appeal of the sport.’ All very well if you achieve that, which they have not, and if you’re careful not to outlaw the core viewer for Racing – the Punters. Chapman was taken on because he’s popular and could do his man of the people act. For me, Chamberlin and Cumani work. He’s a consummate performer. She struck me as a female version of Lord Snooty. I quickly changed my view when I heard her discuss horse actions and profiles. This is what I feel Channel 4 lacked. How does a horse move on the ground? Does his action favour Chester. Relevant.

Betting was the first consignee to the bin. That’s why Cheltenham and Aintree fail. People don’t tune in to Aintree for the joke fashion parade of the year, they tune in because they like a bet. Quite why ITV ignore the millions of people who watch the Grand National because quite a lot of them are in fact having their one bet of the year. Instead of the eternally dull focus on single white middle-aged males who used to ride in the National, why not rise to the ideal that Betting represents the appeal to many people in this country of the Grand National. Because they want a bet, or they’ve had a bet.


As for the weekly diatribe of poor quality pundits telling me, I have to think ‘its marvellous.’ I tip my hat to you for keeping a job. Not one of these types adds a single viewer. We’re not dribbling fools with remotes. We’re genuinely not interested in questions to aged jockeys about what it feels like to ride a winner. I think we’d all like to hear good jockeys like Fitzgerald start to tell us when a ride was good, and equally when it was bad in his opinion, or perhaps dare to criticise trainers who use horse welfare as a casual excuse to avoid a difficult race.

The future? There simply isn’t one with ITV. They won’t like the numbers.

Whilst ITV has made every attempt to widen the audience, it hasn’t been successful, in the meantime, they risk losing the interest of their primary audience – the punters.

Chamberlin will end up back at Sky because only they can afford him, and I feel that’s Racing’s loss. Cumani will end up on the sofa of Good Morning Britain, and eventually some wily controller will discover that the ‘marvellous’ lot, telling everyone how they need to react to Racing, don’t add a single bum on seat and get back to servicing the existing Racing public aat a time when they can view, and on one Racing Channel.