Bing Bong – Pay Pay – the Bookies view of Ascot..

Anyone that describes racing as dull has to be an astronaut. If the highlight for your average rocket man involves periods of sheer terror sitting on tonnes of high explosive jet fuel, punctuated by moments spent trying to work out the on board toilet then I suppose racing falls somewhere between the two. Racing provides so much more gripping entertainment. My week started with ten minutes of fame on Channel 4. The director in my ear telling me to ‘pipe down’  – this is fairly standard. Two large security guards stand off camera ready to drag me off set.

So we chat about Gosden Horn, sitting in the sun, with forecast temperatures of 18 degrees. Lucky asks if I feel the greatest horse on the planet will take his chance. Now, I’m supposed to have done my research, which includes looking at this horse’s form.. – Unless I’m mistaken, the brute beat none other than Storm The Stars at Nottingham on ground described as good to soft- soft in places. Add the paltry 700 grand on offer, the thousands who had paid to see him, the kudos in doing the Derby-George double, that the horse had travelled, that the field was inferior, and that I’m paid to speak my mind – I said I was confident he would indeed take place.

Everyone knows I’m rarely wrong.

A gaggle of press accompanied Lord John on his perambulation around the track, sporting a knitting needle to stick in the muddy bits and accompanied by Anthony Oppenheimer, -carefully dipping his cheque book into the ground. And yes, indeed, race fans – it came up ‘moist’. Of course I jest – it was his credit card. Breeding beats prize money, there’s no appetite for a tussle anymore amongst the top owners

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Feature of Ascot’s excellent support card – a big sprinty thing where they split into 9 groups and the commentator takes a pot shot at who’s actually in front. Now this gets entertaining! Unless you’re an official

History says Speculative Bid travelled the course without the jockey because Spencer was sitting on the stalls rather than the horse. Perhaps he was practicing his dismount? Starters don’t react to cries of ‘No No No’ these days- nor do they speedily inform the stewards of the status of the horse in this age of walkie talkies.

Now I know you’re dozing off here- because who gives a monkies if the bookies done more of their money than they should? Rub of the green. But there’s a strong message here – and it’s important not only to learn from it, but hold the BHA properly to account, because that is how we progress change. Of course folks make errors, but what struck me  was the abject lack of taking responsibility or a will to apologise. A thorough lack of understanding from one of the most professional group of stewards in the game, that they’re responsible to the betting community and the general public- most of whom have had a bet.

Bing Bong

Error one – ‘we’re looking into an incident at the start- but the placings are unaffected

Wrong.

If you’re enquiring into the status of the favourite as a runner, you’re most definitely affecting betting markets. Why not mention what you’re actually discussing?

Bookies paid out dutifully and swiftly without deducting one fifth of winnings as rules dictate.

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‘Weighed in’ –Now we all know someone didn’t do their job here. Who to blame? Perhaps the stewards themselves for taking so very long to find out what happened to the favourite

Bing Bong – Bing Bong Along

‘Stewards Enquiry – we’re looking into the status of the favourite and whether he was a runner or not’   – Say what??

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‘The favourite was a non runner’ customers can get their money back – oh right, sure thing.

So we pay everyone out on the favourite. Which was an illegal instruction. In the meantime the Betting ring managers are besieged with confused customers. Although most bookies had paid out. Not to have done so under the instructions given by the stewards would have been unprecedented – would have potentially resulted in loss of licenses – and would have most certainly caused a riot.

90 minutes pass, during which time the betting ring manager high tails it to the stewards secretary to remind him that what they had done was an illegal instruction under the rules of racing and explain what a bet is. Oh and what ‘weighed in actually represents..

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‘Stewards now instruct that Speculative Bid was in fact a runner for betting purposes ‘ tra la la la la – go back to the bookies for more

Those few who had had rule 4’s deducted took the opportunity to return for another refund. Tee hee. (not all I would add- most realised the bookies were as much victims here- and behaved impeccably)

Jamie Stiers took to Racing UK to explain what went on, roughly. He refused to apologise. Not in his remit.

Here is the ‘decline to apologise video’ – this from the BHA’s head of regulation – so we should expect a polished performance. Instead it adds to the shambles by giving the impression even he didn’t understand the rules- or know what was occurring. ‘I am advised a rule 4 should have come with the withdrawal of the favourite’ – this is a staggering remark. I believe my 12 year old knows this one! As head of regulation he clearly had to have the rules of betting explained to him.

http://www.racinguk.com/news/article/36742/bha-to-launch-bid-inquiry

The stewards made enquiries and in their report they mentioned those findings would be shared with the Authority. Oh, I’ve heard this one before. The brush.

the official report from Ascot:-

The Stewards held an enquiry into the start to ascertain why SPECULATIVE BID (IRE), ridden by Jamie Spencer, failed to start and eventually left the stalls rider-less. They heard evidence from the rider and the starters. Spencer stated that the gelding was loaded late as he was known to be difficult in the stalls and just prior to the stalls being released SPECULATIVE BID (IRE) got his head over the adjacent stall 23. He added that when the stalls were released he was off the horse. Having heard their evidence and viewed video recordings of the start, they found that SPECULATIVE BID (IRE) was deemed not to have started and, under Rule (B)10.5, ordered the gelding to be withdrawn.

The Stewards further enquired into why the Weighed In signal was given before the enquiry into the start of the race had been concluded. They heard evidence from the Stipendiary Steward, the Clerk of the Scales and the Racecourse Announcer. Having heard their evidence they forwarded the matter to the British Horseracing Authority for further consideration.

Look, I can take a joke as much as the next man. I can easily accept errors are made. My problem with the Authority here is the abject lack of transparency, a failure to immediately apologise and take ownership of the problem. All businesses pay for their errors- except the BHA it seems. They want the bookmaking community not only to foot the bill, but take the flak, the assaults that took place on my colleagues, the inconvenience and the loss of face. In the meantime they will conduct internal inquiries and ‘move forward’. If moving forward is to set a precedent whereby we pay for their shambolic and ill informed stewarding – then I have one answer.

No

I’m sorry, but I’m tired of the simple lack of accountability for errors and the high minded attitude that comes with. Appalling race planning, 8 flat meetings on a Saturday in July, 3 jumps meets on a Sunday. Embarrassing integrity enquiries taking years to prosecute in which video of races are lost.The head of integrity is still in his post – headlines ‘we’re consulting ourselves into how we’re doing’. Yup. Race planning is for five year olds, yet its head sits in her chair. A general lack of consultation with the general public. The mundane press releases in the place of open press conferences like other sports in which journalists have an opportunity to test their performance.

I should say it makes me deeply uncomfortable to have to challenge the organisation. But I feel a clear need to defend my colleagues  even if the actual cost to myself is minimal. Let’s hope they behave in a manner befitting new management and the promises made by Nick Rust to come together. Here’s your chance Nick

Of course the BHA have registered successes – more so from it’s rather under funded commercial arm – REL. The Champions series, Qatar involvement, marketing on a shoe string budget. This leaves the authority actually responsible for planning, integrity and regulation. It lacks any clear authority over racecourses to the detriment of the sport – and everyone has a job for life.

Why?

I’m convinced amongst appreciable talent in the BHA are a few individuals without the necessary qualities to represent the sport. In every walk of life it’s critical for performance to be achievably measured. Failing employees and managers to be moved out and replaced with stronger people. And what’s with employing a board lacking in any appreciable experience in racing? So they can be bullied?

A line from excellent columnist Rich Lee – worth quoting –

“ ~~’Has there ever been a racing authority that was not incompetent, lacking in imagination and dynamism, or out of touch with the industry’s needs?’  Guardian racing writer Chris Hawkins…asked this rhetorical question in 1996.”  Plus ca change…!

In between times ‘Britain at the Bookies’ – little to say about this, rather dull if you’re not in betting- and feels like an advert for gamblers anonymous. Can’t help feeling this wasn’t a good idea

Goodwood. ‘Appointment with fear’ my Old Man used to say. A graveyard for bookies, some of whom are buried under Trundle Hill. Good news for the betting men with Hughesie retiring. He’s cost us a pretty sum over the years.. good luck to the legend in his new venture – a gentleman jockey.

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And so we trundle on to York. Another track with a sense of style. A possible meeting for Golden Horn and Gleneagles? On a strip of council land. If you want to get in free, climb under the gate at the ten furlong marker and look like you belong..

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Royal Ascot – 2015 – The Bookies View

www.geoff-banks.com/register.asp

Driving around Ascot is a pretty harrowing experience- streets full of burnt out Bentleys. Every once in a while you’ll pass a Waitrose, and really know you’re in a bad area.. they don’t do Tesco here – no matter what they make (? insert amount ??)

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The trick to Ascot is finding somewhere convenient to park- there’s an exit one way system which sends you back to Sunninghill (a mile away) via Biddlecombe (286 miles away)-  You have to know the system or you’re stuck in the High Street for several days

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Flick knives and knuckledusters  dutifully handed over, you’re greeted by throngs of gatemen. First thing you notice is how polite they are, they check what socks you’re wearing and smile. You see, at Royal Ascot- everyone feels like a Lord for the day – even if you’re entirely potless. Bookies enter with money, – they’re x-rayed on the way out to ensure they’ve left it all with the punters..

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One enters the truly vast terminal- had it’s detractors when it was built, but these days thanks to ‘green fingers Barnett’ – the place resembles an advert for house and garden. Full of comfy armchairs- nooks and crannies to enjoy your glass of champagne. Uber civilised.Quality extends to every enclosure, a track run by toffs- but to everyone’s benefit – no enclosure escapes the personal touch – and you can escape the beer swilling hordes if that’s your bag

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They don’t do Pomagne here!

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And yes,  they actually serve a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket, not a bag, and with a glass should you so desire. You see, if you’re not at Ascot, York or Goodwood, where they do things with panache- most tracks think you deserve a bowl or tumbler to drink your champagne from.  Odd sort of business plan for your best spending customers wouldn’t you agree? Ascot hasn’t dipped standards to the banal trick of hiding customer service values behind health and safety.  .

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Ascot also don’t do themed evenings for people dressed in football shirts..possibly because they take the view their long standing real racing fans might object to spending their days with Yah Yahs..

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But I digress

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When they rebuilt the old Ascot – some of the members said they’d never return. Well I suppose if you’re pushing up daisy’s and by extension possibly not reading this – that could indeed be true. For the rest of the ‘I’m never going again’ mob – it appears to my inexpert eye, that Ascot have built one of the world’s best sporting arenas –  outstanding restaurants, bars and service. In a racing environment obsessed with sand , it’s refreshing to walk into an Ascot or York where the focus still remains what goes on around the track – not (perhaps) in a betting shop.

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I spot Nick Rust, the new BHA chief exec in the throng – clearly his suit was made for someone bigger – he’s chatting to someone about ‘coming together’. I wonder idly if he’s explaining why they dug up Newcastle to create a terribly interesting series of races in a straight line. For this week though, exceptionally and perenially, we have the best racetrack in the world.

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The first race rolls around – there’s a lump from Hong Kong – ‘Able Friend.’ Our Gallic friends have sent over a Goldikova clone. Most bets are in euros, as the far east specialist proves more suited to racing at the back. Solow wins well and Maxine Guyon flicks a V sign at the toffs as he passes the post. I don’t blame him. The bookmakers rename the winner ‘Sorrow’

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The rest of the day degenerates into the stuff of nightmares for the bookie types as the Festival lurches from Prince this and Queen that . If it’s not the favourite, it’s the galactically talented Ryan Moore sweeping the board. That won’t go down well on the High Street.

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People that know me understand I’m one for speaking plainly. I have listened to several respected scribes eulogising on about the rather evident talents of Mr Moore. Little question he’s probably the most talented jockey we’ve witnessed on the flat. It goes along the lines of ‘isn’t he magnificent? What a rider! And to those that know him – apparently quite a wit’

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Well, to the rest of us, who’d rather a jockey smile when he nails a Derby – he’s a thoroughly morose character – he doesn’t endear himself – nor promote the sport that makes him several millions in any way, shape or form. So no, I don’t find him admirable as a human being. Two weeks ago, we saw a brilliant horse take a Derby with a pilot who will do more for headlining the sport than Golden Horn himself. Leaping out of the saddle and engaging the crowd. That cost me a rake, but I smiled when I saw it. That’s what the fans want – not the taciturn one. He’s for betting – not for Racing. Shape up Ryan! Dettori, McCoy, Hughes, Walsh amongst many happily give of their time –  you can’t manage a smile??

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When you look at the results, you could easily conclude they didn’t look that bad for the bookies, but I suppose it was the combination of several favourites going in – and if they got beat, it was either Moore or Dettori on top. Thursday I think was the most entertaining betting day – with Moore bashing the firms with a 14/1 opener followed by a 5/1 winner. Payouts could potentially dwarf the Mullins quad at Cheltenham.. (Thanks Annie)

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One major off course layer went into hyper drive sending nearly a quarter of a million back for Kingfisher in the Gold Cup- all those 10p accumulators, at guaranteed odds, I expect suddenly come to haunt. This time it was Maxine Guyon to the bookies’ rescue as he held Moore on his inside – causing him to switch paths at the critical stage. For me the week’s unlucky loser. For the major bookie involved- several pence retained on their share price. I expect they were not alone in hiding under their sofas as Kingfisher turned for home..

Racing festivals haven’t been that great for the firms over the last few years. Most lead with fabulous offers and price boosts created by their marketing departments. Combine that with a dip in on course margins – polarisation of expensive horses shared by a select few jockeys and trainers, and you have a problem for those betting on the product. Expect you’re reaching for a Kleenex right about now

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Racing starts every day with a race for the Royals from the mile start in their fancy carriages. Now I’ve watched this for more years than I can remember- never once has anyone tried to pass the one in front. Surely I can’t be the only one who’s spotted the biggest bunch of non triers in racing?? Fair enough, they put on a good show, the whole event surely organised to give the bookies another betting heat to do their brains in – namely the colour of the Boss’s hat. But I’d like to see more effort from those in behind..I know I speak for all concerned who back the second carriage every year

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God save our Queen..you won’t see a pageant like that at Goodison Park..a uniquely British summer scene.

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I took one wander down from the Royal enclosure towards the Silver Ring. Ascot is so vast, the silver ring is nearer to Egham. As enclosures go, it’s really quite well turned out. I walk as far as is possible before the waft of chips overtake that of Chanel.. There are bookies all the way down the racetrack, making noise, taking bets. I wonder what will happen to the very flavour of racing when the tracks inevitably take over the betting. Don’t think we don’t know what you’re about, with your expansive plans for data charges etc etc – we’re on to your tricks!

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Racetrack bet however, could do well at the festivals, I don’t think the punters are in any way price savvy, we know that from Chester – they just want service. But the diet of midweek racing we’re fed by tracks-horsemen-BHA, has leant itself to poor attendances from both customers and bookmakers. What’s the future without the ring? My dream we wake up before it’s all too late – the major betting firms have deserted racing for football and roulette. I suppose then the sand will go back to the bunkers. No Big Jim, Barry Dennis, Victor Chandler

royal ascot betting
Imagine a world where an exec at Channel 4 suddenly decides the network should quit racing, in the face of the often ridiculous criticism of a show affording the sport 44 cameras and the best coverage it has ever experienced. By comparison the BBC with its almost ‘cottage’ coverage. Racing feeds the network a diet of 5 runner group races almost weekly and wonder why the numbers are down- then makes it awkward for them to show alternate meetings in its coverage and ignores Channel 4 in any decision making processes at the highest level. Remember,  they can make more money for less hassle from ‘Everyone loves Raymond.’. Don’t think the BBC will come back to save Racing from itself – they barely mention the National

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Racing has an awful lot invested in very few options. Royal Ascot is amazing, but if Aston Villa play Scunthorpe it’s likely to pull in more sponsors, viewers and press coverage. The next few weeks Racing will go into its shell from Sunday to Friday, bang on 7 meetings on the Saturday, and bolster attendances with pop concerts and a grotesque obsession with selling as much beer as possible. Hmm, get back to the Racing. Ascot leads for me with the right balance and never loses sight of its focus on the Sport

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It’s not supportable, but with a regulator fascinated by commerce, rather than how is the sport best served and gels together, – a board of novices to do as they’re told? As Nick Rust so accurately describes- the underlying trends are declining. He’s just not going to do anything about it. Sorry Nick, I don’t do sound bites. I did enjoy your BHA seminar though, with Rod Fabricious harking on about artificial insemination.. not sure who he wanted impregnated though..

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Fortunately there’s enough quality in York, Goodwood, Cheltenham, Chester and Ascot to name a few to keep British Racing at the very top of the world order, British racing has a unique calendar of major Festivals. I wonder if there’s an RCA man reading this, sympathetic to the view most racetracks are struggling with an identity crisis? A racetrack, a greyhound track or just a vast pub. Here’s one to mull over – try proper segregation of long standing racing fans, who don’t feel to have beer spilt over their girlfriends, or even the often threatening environment, from the oiks that do, – rather than selling all in sundry a pass to the members enclosure, keep some areas with civilised folk in mind. Possible? I think also a lot of racetracks need to integrate their thinking with the words ‘social responsibility’ rather than ‘sales’

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Early evenings at Ascot are spent gate crashing car park parties and pretending you’re one of the owners. Everyone standing quaffing champagne, leaning on their Astons, in an age old and endearing slice of the great meeting. It’s my time to get asked by people stuffed with my cash, how much I’d won that day.. (where’s that sharp knife?) Everyone turns up without being invited – ‘Who ARE you – and why are you stealing my champagne?’

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How good was the meeting? Well to my mind pretty outstanding. How does it compare to Cheltenham? Well they’re rather chalk and cheese. Ascot is very much more about the social scene. But there’s no loss in focus on the racing. Quipco have stepped in. There’s a new Group one sprint attracting foreign raiders that really works. It has management focussed on quality at every turn. Entrance charges to the meeting aren’t steep – considering what is delivered. Cheltenham has a different feel. Far more the betting event, with months focussed on it’s feature races. The two great events provide balance. Is it a bit toffee nosed? I don’t think so, sure the babies are on Smoked Salmon, and they tow away Ford Escorts, but one has to keep the Riff-Raff out 🙂

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See you at York – could it possibly get any better?
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The 2015 cheltenham festival – the grubbie bookie’s view

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I suppose all racing fans grew up with great memories of Cheltenham in March. I recall as a boy, betting in the underaged class, on the Cheltenham rail into the members enclosure, nobody was surprised in those days to be served by a 13 year old – that you just couldn’t move for the absolute crush of humanity. Most of whom appeared to be called Mick. Although a few were Paddy’s. These days we’d invent a quango to count them by age, sex, social class and type of BMW

I prepare for Cheltenham months in advance by calling up the babestation offices to see if any of their talent is free. I got one. Brandy Brewer was her stage name. I think we should all have stage names, don’t you agree? So we downloaded an app (and you said I was a dinosaur?) put in our names and received new ‘porn star’ equivalents. I was Dan Cucumber. I was quite pleased with that.

I added two more lusty girls, bearing in mind sex sells. That I have absolutely no morals whatsoever. That it would upset the gambling commission. That some fellahs would hang around even after I’d emptied all their pocket change, asking daft questions like – how big are they when they’re out? You get the picture

Just in case any mary Whitehouse types were lurking, I threw in a couple of old grizzlies who have worked for me forever and never break a nail. We jumped into our Bentleys for the Cotswolds. And Mulllins.

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It’s all about Mullins you see. Henderson has voted himself a non runner these days, as he declares the entire season to date as ‘soft’. The galactacos of racing who’ve won very little of late. One day they’ll whisper in his ear that cotton wooling of stars is a miserable failure, horses need to race, and the giant that is Seven Barrows will wake up to find Paul Nicholls has been eating his lunch for months. I’d like to see that, Henderson is a decent chap and we desperately need competition

The run up to the great party gives our beloved journalists to call up their three favourite trainers. Pre requisite to any convo is to get in early and often the phrase ‘it’s a privilege’ – or you’re struck off ze list of approved hacks. Lesser trainers don’t have phones and who’s interested in Hobbs or Bradstock anyway?

ATR extend ‘Bookie hour’ to a 3 hour slot daily. Tarts..

It was all about Faugheen, Vautour, Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Annie Power and Don Poli. Throw in Peace and Co for good measure. The average SP of the first 4 mentioned this year in all races? 3/10. Gripping stuff we’ve been treated to. Thanks Willie- you deserve a few quid extra in your wages at Cheltenham

Of course we know now – only one got beat, courtesy of the biggest howler in racing for many a years as she grinned at the crowd and paddled the last. Been a long time since I heard such a moan. Genuine shock – the biggest fail at the Festival since I tried chatting up Emma Spencer. Multiple bets up and down the land were waiting on her due diligence. Walsh set it up and she fluffed her lines

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There will be those of you, reading this, who take the view betting is the dirty end of the sport. That it’s all about breeding and the majesty of the horse. You’re the type who adores a 5 runner race. You don’t care if Faugheen is 1/6 as he powers away from horses two stone inferior. You don’t care if The New One or Annie Power are doing the same in Haydock or Leopardstown. It’s all magnificent.

Actually, you’re already dead and on the Eastbourne hall of fame. Check yourself

Well for those of you who don’t care about betting or the bookies, give yourself a pinch. Because I assume you care about the finances underpinning the sport? You want owners properly rewarded, yes? Well to educate you, the Levy Board was about to have a crisis meeting had Annie duly obliged, such would the whole have been in the finances of the sport.

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(so good – I put it in twice..)

You see, racing is about the punters – they fund it. You think Steve Harman’s ‘racing right’ is coming to save you? Ha! The commercial acumen in racing has always lain with the bookies. They did their stones at Royal Ascot, King George and sundry other ‘biggies’. But you’re looking at their bottom lines – aren’t you?

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Modern racing festivals these days in betting terms are characterised by ‘offers’. Credit to some firms ie Betfair (did I just plug Betfair? I need a shower! Who described their offers as what they were- free bets. Companies who did not distinguish themselves led by Paddy Power and Boylesports, who fronted with money back offers – that were nothing of the kind. I think this odious practice should be stopped. Cats being kicked into trees has to stay 🙂

On the plus side, firms like Paddy Power are giving their customers some amazing offers – I’ve never seen the likes of some of the deals they do, even if you’re only getting an extra bet, it’s still a lot more than in days of yore. What concerns me, is they’re mainly targeted at racing. It simply cannot be good for the sport for the number one festival the vehicle for ‘new business,’ rather than profiting from the racing itself. Take Peace and Co for example. A rock solid 2/1 chance for months- 4/1 in the morning. Not good, not good at all.

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Thursday morning, Brandy broke a nail. It was so sudden I don’t think any of us expected it. The wailing and sobbing was akin to Annie Power’s departure from the festival. One moment – ten perfect porcelein fakes – the next- nine., Brandy wasn’t in the best of spirit. Punters were clambering over each other – not for her – but to press guinness sodden fivers in her hand for horses, fart and leave. What’s this about? This never happened at Babestation. She only had to flash her tatas and the phones would buzz. Anyway, to her eternal credit, this girl has guts for sure, she knuckled down and gave Vicky (AKA – Ritzy Jiggler) and Stephanie (Tara Cream) a hand in fending off the drunken. Some of which were bookies, a lot appeared to be jilted ex’s of Stephanie. Brandy will be back next year to entertain the masses we hope

In keeping with gambling commission edict 198.259 sub section 5 ‘dealing with total morons’ – we checked with everyone if they were over the age of 13 and not in fact in the paid employ of the commission itself trying to catch us out.

By Friday morning – I was in a shell shocked state, given depressing results, and the prospect of shaming myself on the Morning Line Saturday- my office had taken the phones off the hook and the website down. Come back Ffos Las, all is forgiven. Results outside the championship races were pretty fair – especially the ridiculous plunge on China Doll in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Surely more likely to pull up than compete seriously?

It was a festival for the new. The performance of the meeting wasn’t the unchallenged Vautour for me – nor Faugheen, but the Denman-esque performance of Conygree. By the start of the 2nd circuit, he had many class performers firmly off the bridle. He quite simply ran them all into the ground. And who WAS that jockey??

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Surely the BHA should lamp Bradstock with a 60 day ban for ‘upstaging Mullins’? Well done to the authority, however, for having the last ‘laugh’ as usual and a whip ban in the gold cup to a lesser jockey – they never disappoint

Was it the best Festival in modern times? – that’s hard to say, Loads of talking points.  it certainly was out with the old and in with the new. Everyone knows I worry about the all enveloping nature of it. Months of discussing five runner graded events and odds on chances is something a caring authority wants to take very seriously, with the prospect of a repeat next year.
I have one suggestion, which will have some people nodding in approval, the purists in horror,  and the BHA copping a deaf un. That Mares race. 6 years in a row a grade one animal reducing the worst rated event at the meeting to somewhat of a procession. Not really the point is it? Not good for the finances non plus. Perhaps an upper rating level of some description? We all know Annie Power will line up again next year – but in reality she should be in the World Hurdle, and not hiding away in selling class.      NAP

I always mention the whiners. Taking a break from the Betfair Forum. Those who moan about Channel 4’s coverage could only be uber impressed at some of the amazing images treated to our screens, the features, the slo mo’s. Fine, I’m an occasional guest, but I’m entitled to an opinion and in comparison to the beeb? No comparison. Enjoy the float race Clare. Dreadful choice over the Grand National, really it is. But we’ll have Luck and Gok- fair trade.

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And finally, yes, you made it. To one jockey. Given the amounts of cash I’ve heaved out over the years over this man, the times I’ve cursed the man, you might be surprised I’m as teary as the rest of you at the departure of a legend. I think to put it into some kind of perspective,  the British public admire most the total and unadulterred energy he put into every ride. His iron will over sometimes doubtful horses. It’s a shame Jonjos stable has been in such miserable form this season or he would have signed off with more winners. AP has carried himself wih humility and class and gave every punter 100% commitment. That’s why they love him. And I will very much miss the very engine of National Hunt Racing.

How Good was Friday?

I don’t agree with the whole Good Friday thing. Forcing folk to work on what has traditionally been accepted as a major holiday, one of only 4 days in the calendar free of Racing. Is it fair they get paid their normal rate for giving up crucial times with their families. And for those of you who’ve seen fit to blow off to me such arguments as ‘lieu time’ or ‘religion isn’t such an issue any more’ – I doubt any of you were mandated to work. If you did, I expect it was by choice. Just because your moral standards run to the commercial and nothing else but, hardly argues it right.

And that’s what the decision was. Commercial. Two of Racing’s major stakeholders railroaded the decision via a typically pliant BHA. The same organisation could hardly refuse such a call, having placed itself firmly in support of FOBTs. Nor was it ever likely to refuse Arena Racing and its promises, despite 8 of that organisation’s tracks resting at the foot of the table for prize money in the sport. Often paying as low as £1940, from media rights and Levy, that typically pay more than £7000 per race. We were promised guarantees by Paul Bittar before the decision was made, on prize monies, and on future funding for Good Friday. Have the BHA delivered on that undertaking? I think everyone’s forgotten that promise.

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Arena did promise to put on a million pound event. And that’s exactly what they delivered upon. The Bookies were supposed to foot the lions share of the bill. It didn’t happen, with William Hill, Betfred and Bet365, declining sponsorship. Arena therefore took up the prize fund slack. From where did they derivate such a pot? From what they didn’t pay elsewhere perhaps? Check out this table from last year – and the 8 tracks at the bottom.

http://www.racehorseowners.net/en/owners-resources/prize-money-statistics/racecourse-league-table-flat.cfm

I tire of proliferation of all weather racing which for the most part draws crowds so low – typically a few hundred paying customers, and plays to empty betting shops. Precisely what the shop staff are saying, in contradiction to the PR spin. As you and I know, they’re referring to the racing. Machines run themselves, plug and play. Race planning for five year olds, which has Southwell for example, appearing on a gorgeous spring day in opposition to 4 turf meetings, including majors Newmarket and Cheltenham. Who dreams up such fixture clashes and keeps their job? The holy grail of media rights has our tracks falling over themselves to produce rubbish. Neither penalises nor incentivises them for producing proper fields or competitive fare. In short – they’ve become lazy.Racetracks derive income between 30% of a large track to 70% in the smaller venues from Betting. Speaking as a Bookmaker, I’m not comfortable with handing over my fees if tracks continue in so many fixtures to fail to deliver on quality. That’s not accountability. We shouldn’t be handing over our money to racetracks to put on 4 runner races, No Sir – No Way.

In the meantime we’re boring the living daylights out of our fans. Have we forgotten we’re a sport? That we’re supposed to entertain and not drive custom to Football? Is anyone out there listening to the punters? It appears not.

Southwell Racecurse

Of course to have an initiative for a series of races leading up to a championship day should be applauded. Would I consider the day a success? Yes, I would, but then I always knew I’d do well and people would come. And I think if well intentioned by Arena, it’s a very positive step towards a better class of programme. Too much of which is poor beyond belief, and riddled with highly questionable behaviour. A subject I’ve covered. Let’s not put our customers off by tacit acceptance of breaking of the rules of the sport.

What would like to see? An insistence on clear undertakings from ARC on prize money for the race series, and a guaranteed underpin for the finale, even if it wasn’t a million.An agreement to fund the rest of their programme more equably than at present. The group are found at the bottom end of returns. I would have a cap on the number of meetings ongoing for Good Friday at two. What came out of Friday most evidently, was that the lesser funded fixture drew a significantly ordinary crowd, despite the holiday period involved. We don’t need a bank holiday style Friday with 9 meetings.

Good Friday at Lingfield

 

Between Cheltenham’s outstanding festival and Aintree, Racing typically consisted of 75% all weather fare, and low field rubbish to boot. Fans don’t want this, the press won’t publish our cards, and we do not need to spend fortunes with Deloitte to establish the obvious. Newcastle, Catterick and Great Leighs want to turn to the lucrative surface, and that should be rigourously opposed. We hear Betfred keen to race Great Leighs once fixtures are assigned, on Christmas Eve. If the same arguments hold sway with the BHA as per Good Friday, are we now to see Christmas to be sacrificed to the altar of media rights?

Has Good Friday become ordinary Friday? Is this yet another weekend of Racing, Friday through Monday? Why in fact with most of the country on a four day break, do we need the fourth to provide yet anther day’s racing. Has it really grabbed the wider attention of the general racing public? I seriously doubt that.

A major positive from ATR, whose coverage was both lively and enthusiastic. Clearly it was a big day not both for the network, but its stakeholders Arena also. I felt sorry for Chapman trying to interview a sour faced Ryan Moore after Grandeur’s victory. Evidently Popeye dared to criticise Moore for a ride in the past, a huge no-no for reporters. The same attitude evidenced in a similar interview at the Breeders Cup. Get over yourself Ryan, you’ve become an insufferable bore, talent notwithstanding. Your business is to entertain, or have you learnt nothing from Dettori?

In bookmaking terms? More interest and turnover. It was profitable, despite three bankers obliging. Broadly the more competitive it is, the wider spread of bets I take.  It wasn’t a burster, more like a quiet Saturday in volume terms. Money for the Levy? Yes. But would we have taken the same money had the meeting taken place on the Saturday, or even the Sunday? Yes. But the machine take would have suffered. For Arena – a breakthrough event with a major bank holiday now opened up. Clever boys. I’ve never said racetracks weren’t smart. They do, however lack a cohesive plan to deliver on a sport of the highest quality possible, it’s all too disparate. I want – I get.

Yes there were 9000 there, and that’s a success, even if driven by two for one deals – entrance to the Premiere at £11. Somewhat less than Musselborough’s £20. Racing was competitive, prize money was excellent, exactly what we’ve been asking for.  Surely though we cannot strip the programme elsewhere to produce such events, to base a whole industry on festivals and Saturdays. The all weather typically delivers but a few hundred paying customers for most of its fixtures. There simply isn’t the appetite for the product, and I struggle to understand why it requires more fixtures. Of course we cannot have super competitive racing every day, but we certainly can deliver on a better product and field sizes if we do not spend our time bending the knee to Coral Racing – and their calls for racing every ten minutes from midday to 9.30pm, to feed their little empire. And we do not need the all weather in opposition to major meetings. Truly pointless – and never the intention at the outset of sand.

BlcYya1CMAArtbN

 

 

One final point reserved for one of our finest tracks on Good Friday. Musselborough is a smart little venue, but managed just 2800 on Good Friday, despite location next to the major city of Edinburgh. That’s a very poor return. Before we all run around slapping ourselves on the back and adding another two tracks to the melting pot next year, bear this in mind – if the racing isn’t competitive, full field and decent prize money, then the people won’t come in any force. I’ve seen plenty of enthusiasm for the event from reporters, and I can respect that, however I wait to evidence the general public outside Surrey’s green belt embracing the day,and if the same public has an appetite for four days of it in a row over Easter

Without the million pound event, it becomes just another Sunday. For how long will Arena support what the Bookies won’t put in?  Is this a sea change in our thinking- a commitment to quality over quantity. Because if that’s the case- sign me up, although I struggle to see the need to race on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and so forth.

For the healthy future of the sport, we have to commit to quality and lose some tracks, horses, Bookies and reduce the programme. Not substantially, but at least to redress the current drive away from quality. I’m not asking for a draconian cut. 150 fixtures – 2 meetings a week. We can deliver that, and harvest a better return. I do not accept we have to fund bad horses in poor field events, to keep a small band of owners standing in an empty paddock holding a fruit bowl and a betting ticket. I’m part of a syndicate – and I enjoy my ownbership. I do not have to invest hundreds of thousands to enjoy the sport. My syndicate uses top trainers, Hannon, Haggis, Charlton, Hobbs and the like. The horses run at Newmarket, Ascot and York. The argument small time owners cannot enjoy the sport if Wolverhampton fell into a giant hole in the ground has no merit. Let the ground subside.

We do not all have to live our lives from the gospel as according to Coral Racing. Nor do we have to hope their machines do well. If a few shops and a few tracks close down, that’s simply natural selection, and we don’t need to wail at their loss. Corals influence over this great game has become unhealthy and not in the best interests of Racing. To my mind, their influence is driving the sport very much to the dogs.

shawfield

 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/jan/22/lingfield-all-weather-meetings