Aidan O Brien. A dose of reality.

Roll up for your Ladbrokes sponsored, 18 page Aidan O Brien pullout, in tomorrow’s Racing Post.

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Look, I get everyone likes a winner. And I understand the often unpleasant comments some folk make when you dare to criticise certain Irish horse racing personalities. I mean if you followed and backed Aidan’s group one runners you’d be in clover with 26 wins in Group ones this season. And sure we know he’s a nice guy and a hard worker. I’m not crabbing him for that.

But.. check this list out

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Oops. On the very week everyone is slapping Coolmore on the back, we hear Churchill (3yo) Caravaggio (a baby) and Highland Reel (grand old timer at 5) retired to further the personal worth of those involved.

Check out some of last  year’s entrants, rather departures. Australia, Camelot, The Gurkha. All available at attractive stud fees, and oh yes, I know everyone swallows the excuses peddled for their departure. spots on their noses, heat, a really nasty rash.

An effective and successful cash cow, not always the heroic outfit elements of the press feel bounden to peddle. Of course I know they’re about their jobs, who wouldn’t, but let’s the rest of us keep our feet planted firmly in the mud.

What I simply don’t understand is the lack of balance in reporting on an organisation like Coolmore. All that power in one organisation? They can, and frequently do have sufficient top of the line stock to field between 3 and 5 runners in every Group 1. Why is everyone so surprised at their success? Many of the Irish group races may as well be run in Ballydoyle. Rarely more than a token Godolphin participant.
O Brien plunders the Group one market in England because he can, because he has the tools, because there are frankly too many Group 1’s. He threw in 6 participants in the Derby, and his ‘outsider’ won. How many trainers can send six realistic chances into the blue riband event? Five sired by the outstanding Galileo. That’s 5. A success pattern that’s gone on for as long as Galileo’s started outputting the very cream of racing bloodstock. Galileo is Coolmore. And before Galileo was Saddlers Wells and a reputed three hundred and fifty MILLION in stud fees.

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Other than stoic politeness, keeping them quiet, I’m sure those considering investing in a horse with the potential to compete at racing’s top table are far from impressed at the stud fees, or purchase prices they’re being forced to shoulder in Coolmore world. NOT reported so freely, that.

It’s arguable the likes of Clive Cox wiped the floor in training terms this year, buying horses cheaply and producing the goods. AOB simply cannot fail with the stock. Of course that comment is bound to ruffle a few feathers who’ll declare it’s always possible to lose, but please, get a grip of yerselves, he had three in the Chester vase to escort Venice Beach home. Oh and one from his son. There were 8 runners.

Fail? He’d have to be a complete fool

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And yes, he has a stable jockey who is pound for pound ten clear of his peers. The quite outstanding Ryan Moore. We can add Moore to Galileo. How many trainers get that?
Let’s tally it up so far. Galileo, Moore and 350 million head start. Not too bad.

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It is, quite simply, a massive imbalance in power. It’s a fact. An obvious fact. We surely don’t need to state the obvious do we? Well, I feel we do, because all I’ve read for years is how amazing Coolmore are. To my mind though, they’re Real Madrid, Man Utd, Juventus and PSG rolled into one outfit. Squaring up to them are the biggest underperformers in the sport. Godolphin. And I remain a Sheikh Mohammed fan resolutely. But his staff have not turned up.

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So yes, Aidan is indeed humble, because he’s no fool and to trumpet such evident success with said material would be obscene. And I like his attitude immensely, he lacks the patronising snobbery of some in racing, but no bother, I’m not about to sit back and listen to one sided reporting.

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Does Aidan manage these stars to their best performance? I think the writing is on the wall in that regard- he’s supremely good at delivering the right winner, even increasing stud values by a form of rotation of his talent. His placement and tactics are superior. I’m not crabbing his ability.
Turning to that Derby, and the master trainer’s tactics. Check out Wings Of Eagles at Chester in this video. In my opinion Chester stewards shamefully failed to address. Six good cracks in the last 2 furlongs for Venice Beach – none for Wings of Eagles. He wasn’t averse to the whip at Epsom. I can be wrong here- but the question simply has to be asked by officials when they see this.

 

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Give thought to the the National Hunt code these days appears far less likely to benefit from flat stayers switching code as in Istabraq’s era, with policy retiring horses at three years of age. Frankly it’s a ridiculous state of affairs. And why isn’t it being declared as such? Sub servience.

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Unlike the hugely unenterprising Willie Mullins, i do appreciate very much that Coolmore races their stars against each other, not all of whom appear to be off for their life, commonly utilising pace makers, an issue authorities need to correct. However, it’s still great for the sport to see Order Of St George, Winter and Capri squaring off in the ARC. It’s refreshing. Not what Willie would give us. In this regard I want to make clear AOB and Coolmore don’t shy from competition.

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Keep also in mind the effect on ownership for those less fortunate than John Magnier. I mean not to demean his achievement in dominating flat racing globally, he’s been eating Godolphin’s lunch for some years. I doubt he’d worry about what I think as Galileo goes about his dailies 🙂 Old bookmaking friends Derek Smith and the mighty Michael Tabor are no slouches when it comes to the business of racing. This is a powerful and enterprising triumverate of business talent.

Guess what? I won’t be getting a stable tour of Ballydoyle next season..but Aidan, personally, you’re a star Sir.

Is Geoff Banks the lamest bookie in the world?

Not often you find a bookmaker prepared to answer claims from punters that they don’t lay a bet. Hopefully you’ll afford some credit

http://www.bookiedispute.com/?p=841 Check these claims out.

This is a blog from someone called ‘Rob’ – Rob is anonymous. He wants to make his claims without anyone knowing who he is. Not quite brave enough to make his argument in his own name. Right up there in the highest echelons of the Betfair forum. The place for unlicensed individuals to vent their spleen anonymously. Be as rude as you like and say what you like when no one knows your name can’t you?

Well no. You cannot. Check the headline ‘Rob’ comes up with

‘Is Geoff Banks the lamest bookie in the world’ makes overwhelming suggestion that I don’t lay a bet. That my long standing reputation for laying a fair bet is in fact a sham.

His remarks are nothing short of libellous. The fact remains you cannot sit on social networking and say just whatever pleases you. If you  make allegations against another individual, those allegations have to be substantiated, by you, in as court of law. Being unaware that’s the law of the land, doesn’t give you immunity.

The last time I tested these laws was with one particular idiot who thought it would be amusing to describe me as a cokehead on Twitter. That little escapade cost him damages and expenses approaching fifty grand. That’s fifty grand for opening your mouth and letting your tongue wobble Rob.

In the last few months alone my office has paid out 93 grand to one customer and 55 grand to another. Both those customers still wager with me without any restriction. That’s a fact. And we have many customers who bet with us who do in fact show a profit on their betting. Wagering without any appreciable restrictions. Because their business is recreational, win or lose. We work our socks off to give the finest one to one service and all the technology, apps, mobile sites and websites, my nearest rivals deny their customers.

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But, and it’s a big but. There are plenty of loud mouth individuals on Twitter or the like who sit at home utilising expensive trading software like Bet angel, price scalping tools, odds scanners or the like, masking their IP address- only offering a bookmaker a bet because their odds have become out of date, and therefore bigger than Betfair’s exchange. Engaged in such activity marks your business out as professional. You’ve no complaint expecting us to help you run business.

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I certainly don’t run a sportsbook to help these unlicensed individuals with their money trading or arbing. I’m not here to support their activities and I do not have to justify not laying them a bet, or restricting such traders to pennies because I see them as simple parasites on my firm.

I don’t owe you a living, and you need to get that into your head. You can’t describe yourself as a ‘punter’ when your machine tells you to back Stau Bucharest on the Asian handicap because it’s less on Betfair. You’re quite simply a money trader. A punter has a bet in the Grand National, or the cup final, because that’s what punting truly is. Not what you do. Scanning bookmaker sites for potential trades isn’t punting. It’s trading.

Of course there are those who say, well you put those odds up so you should lay them. Well, of course we do, we don’t put up prices our customers can’t take. We don’t need a £5000 guarantee on ITV races like Coral offer (shops only of course, they’re simply not mandated to lay the offers they make) because we lay these bets every race, every day. And we don’t mind if the recreational punter helps himself, win or lose. But not the scalper. You justify what you do by saying we only want mugs. That’s not correct at all, we simply don’t want professional arbers. You’ll unfairly describe anyone not sitting at home with their trading tool scanning websites for margin advantages as mugs. That’s disrespectful. They’re not in it for the same reasons you are.

You’re an unlicensed bookmaker- looking for another bookmaker to put bread on your table. Are you serious?

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Let’s deal with Rob. He describes ‘a horse racing enthusiast’ who deposited money with me. Are you joking? Who’s this enthusiast? Name him. If there’s any veracity in your ridiculous claims let him speak for himself.

Let’s be honest here, the enthusiast is in fact our friend Rob, one and the same. Do you think anyone believes the ridiculous claim about some fictional mate who couldn’t get on, and he’s having a rant on his friend’s behalf. Don’t make me laugh. I mean who blogs about someone else’s betting problems?

He describes two wagers. He claims they were placed and neither ‘price was out of line.’ Do you believe him? Do you think it’s in the least bit possible that if those prices were achievable on Betfair exchange at the time, that he wouldn’t have availed himself on the exchange? Traders like Rob require bookmakers to lay them the bets Betfair cannot. That’s a fact of life. That’s precisely why they complain so vociferously. When the bookmaker inevitably restricts them, that’s chipping away at their ‘income.’ There’s a giant difference between someone running a business, and someone just having a bet. One has expectations of guaranteed profit.

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Of course not. Rob is a thorough going liar. Of course the wagers were giant arbs, or perhaps job money. It’s hard to say because we take thousands of bets a month and funnily enough we can’t find any ‘horse racing enthusiast called Rob’ who had anything like these wagers.

Do you think, accepting the possibility we couldn’t find the wagers he describes, but that they exist in some differing form, that we would have restricted this fictional customer after just two wagers if our information wasn’t utterly conclusive that not only these wagers, but subsequent requests he made weren’t all identified as selections picked solely because an arbing or trading situation arose to his benefit?

One final point in dealing with Rob, and the small army of Rob’s out there trading on Betfair in your underpants, forming your own bookie hating communities. A few months ago, I had the unhappy fortune to run into several hundred individuals who were using ghost ‘friend’ accounts to help themselves to bookmaker open account offers. Bear this in mind. If you’re using friends to place wagers on your behalf, there are two inescapable facts. One, your friend becomes your agent and is required to have an agent’s license from the gambling commission. And two, you’re effectively running a business, via agents and you’re liable for taxation on your punting and profiteering from bonus offers. Deal with that.

That’s why they’re anonymous. But your IP address gives the game away.

Is Geoff Banks the lamest bookie? An attention seeking rant is the truth. You’re disrespectful, and dishonest. We work very hard to service our customers and lay their bets of all sizes. Been doing it for years. No BOT trader is going to wobble his tongue in my direction unpunished.

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Geoff Banks, bookmaker Newbury 20.4.13 Pic: Edward Whitaker

 

Champions Day – The Bookies view..

 

 

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A few years ago the Emperor of Jockey Club surveyed his tracks in response to a grand plan from British Racing for a season’s end panto. Cheltenham seemed too bumpy and that of grotesque tweed, ohh no. Newmarket can’t stand kids, hard to find, even with Google maps. Kempton is quite simply a nasty little shack, full of dead flies. He decided he’d make more cash if they went along with the plan to create a season ending bash, at which the finest Port and cheese would, of course, be served. Ascot had been busy building a structure so vast in stature, it created it’s own weather pattern. If you’re going to have a jolly event, it’s important you have a Swinley Bottom. Or Bottoms.

Let’s get the humble pie bit out of the way-I prattled on, along with a few other lesser mortals, that the timing needed revision. The fact remains the whole shebang was saved by the very participation of one horse. Frankel. Had he not bothered turning up in 2012 i believe, the BHA think tank would have been meeting to reconsider upsetting the our froggie friends by moving it back a month. I still believe that’s the best option if we are to secure participation of faster ground animals, but I was outvoted by people wearing waist coats and deerstalkers.

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Anyway, they threatened Teddy Grimthorpe with violence, and Frankel duly turned up. The party was saved along with a few jobs at Great British Racing. Ascot was the right venue. It has the infrastructure, class and grandeur to organise an end of season bash and serves drinks in a real glass. It’s been blessed with much better weather over the last few years, and with that the arrival of some of the top equine stars to entertain us. We can all be a toff for the day at Ascot..

Even the French send over the odd runner. Foreign equine stars are my absolute pension. Ridden by Thierry’s and Moet’s. All who think they can turn in to the Ascot straight, 6 lengths back, and possibly win. Mais Non, Espece de Cretin..

I quaffed a few glasses and joined the great unwashed in the betting ring. and the big bets were flying about. £3000 and £2000 on Order Of St George and a number of notably lumpy wagers set the tone. It was down and dirty and they didn’t seem to care if I lost.. David Power gave me some fun money for O’Brien’s star. He’s no shrinking violet when it comes to betting. My eyes were stinging, not the kind of bet you get with the Supermarket operators.. St George wasn’t however the only one they came for, Stradivarius was popular and a few saddos backed the French runner.. I should have discovered betting in running..St George touched 33/1 with the Bot traders.

Whilst Harry’s thingy was popular in the sprint, one other horse swamped my book. A fellah I recognised as a warm order, stuffed £3000 in my hand and said ‘put that on horse 5.’  I checked the board. Tasleet – 14/1. ‘Don’t you mean Harry’s?’. No, I’m sure, Tasleet. To win 42 grand.

I threw the money into the bag as if i stood such bets every day of the week. I gave David Power an interest with a £10,000/£700 for being such a nice fellah. He didn’t bat an eyelid. I got on with standing the favourite for a threatening lump. The race looked all over at the two marker with Harry’s sauntering along, – to suddenly be pressed by this Hamdam thing..my big chance lay in the whip, Hamdam doesn’t take to the whip for his stars, two cracks and out, the order of the day. Fortunately. I survived the race this time, back in front.

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I spot Lord Gosden in the walkway, surrounded by 20 or so press folk. ‘Tell us what you had for breakfast John, for the fans you understand..’
‘well I’m rather partial to kippers’ JG replied, in his most aristocratic tone, and they all looked excited. scribbling away. The Gosden accent bothers me. I know John’s public school, and they don’t talk like that. He’s done a study course in phwah phwah and taken the Missus along, so they can converse appropriately.

What he can do, is train. If they stuck a Galileo in his yard covering everything we’d be celebrating 25 English group ones (or you English would) He also strikes me as rather a decent sort, batting for a bit of fair play.

Chapman was also in the ring. Wearing some kind of welly boots, and blanking me for dissing the Opening Show. Even though he was caught on camera dozing off by all 32 viewers. ITV is a paradox, their Opening Show is quite dismal, their afternoon show is, I have to say it, great. I think what they do so much better than Channel 4 is deliver it with style, if not with the Channel 4 quality of production, but that’s quibbling. Everyone looks smart, and everything is great. If you bought the ‘it’s great’ on Sporting Index, you’d be worth one Oppenheinmer…

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But Champions Day is great. And so equally have so many of this season’s flat events. In said regard, ITV is totally appropriate. There are those that say I’m hopelessly in love with Francesca Cumani, but that’s a total exageration..

Nice mix on ITV with the intelligent Weaver and Brough Scott brought back from the dead (literally) Cumani’s accuracy with horse action and Chamberlin’s style. Nice, it works for me. Chapman eternally entertaining, he makes me laugh and offers balance, but don’t tell him that, his ego is insufferable. Somewhere in the mix I hope they find jobs for Luck and Cunningham. If you’re committed to the best, then have the best in some capacity.

Viewing figures suggested a half a million, far short of the BBC ideal we were supposed to be treated to. Here you have to blame racing for its failures. Simply far too many opportunities for horses like Enable, Ulyssees and Cracksman to square off. You think it doesn’t matter? Of course it does. Far too often television companies showcasing this sport are presented with half the available participants for a top race. Too many group ones, too many countries failing to co-operate and not enough stars. Cracksman hasn’t raced since York, swerved the Arc and the Breeders and its a miracle if he trains on as a 4 year old it’s a miracle as right now he’s worth as much as his Dad. The National Hunt is in terminal decline because we ignore this cancer. A sport that denies the paying public the best squaring off can’t hope for top viewing audiences when the other channel is showing Manchester United vs Liverpool.

Cracksman strolls onto the field for the main event, balls gently swaying in the wind. Let’s deal with any blithering idiots reading this. If you think Enable would have downed this machine with her far more workmanlike Arc performance, you’ve taken total leave of your senses. He destroyed a top class field, as indeed he did in the Dante. This is the best I’ve seen since his Papa. He would have danced all over the filly. FACT.

I’m sure we can look forward to Enable and Cracksman squaring off as four year olds. Not.

I stood Cracksman for an appropriate amount, – and lost an appropriate amount. Ryan Moore, who’d been brilliant all day, when not under a microphone, drove Highland Reel up Sunninghill High Street. In truth his chances on rain softened ground were limited. The French nags were, predictably, hopeless, and Barney Roy, popular in the ring was held up at the back, and stayed at the back. Two Enables wouldn’t have beaten Cracksman.

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I deposited some more money with the punters in the last as the favourite came from another planet to upset the day. I enjoyed some of the Ascot atmosphere with friends before leaving, observing thousands having a great time watching a couple of nice bands. No trouble, well stewarded, a lot of very smart folk enjoying a well rounded event. And yes, Newmarket, children actually do go free. Were I to offer one suggestion to Ascot, it’s to install some kind of sub air system to Swinley Bottom, the one area that jeopardizes meetings and diverts runners.

It’s a success. I don’t say that about the National Hunt, expect a few broadsides, but its been an excellent flat season and I believe we are heading in the right direction there. Ascot knows its job and British Racing got this one right.

Pass the sherry someone? Will they make me a steward now??

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Douvan – or not Tourun

We’ve somehow come to expect as normal the practice of avoidance in racing. Potentially the sport’s biggest star will sit out this week’s Tingle Creek. Not because of ground concerns, low sun, or an eclipse of Jupiter’s 3rd moon. Quite simply there are other opportunities for the horse and a clash with Un De Slow doesn’t appeal to Willie Mullins. Willie simply doesn’t race his best stock against each other. Period.

Now, when I scream the place down about said policy, I’m met with three responses. The sheep say nothing. There are those that have made money backing Willie’s charges who will hear no wrong because he’s lined their pockets. And there are those who fundamentally disagree with this trio of self-serving individuals.

Namely Mullins, Ricci, and Walsh.

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Of course, nobody should be surprised at Rich Ricci. The flamboyant banker who’s trousered a great deal of our money, now sees a cheap opportunity to dominate a sport. And for him it is pennies. On ATR’s excellent ‘on the line’ show – Chapman gently chided Ricci on his tactics. Douvan and the Gold Cup was briefly discussed. You could see Rich visibly wincing at the prospect of risking his star against the likes of Thistlecrack.

Let’s fairly the blame for racing’s issues with top races not fulfilling their potential squarely at the foot of these men. Fine Mullins can train, Walsh can ride, Rich can bank the odd cheque. Those of you thinking they’re heroes for delivering us such quality animals, consider this. Were the likes of Douvan, Annie Power, Faugheen, Arctic Fire or the ill fated Vautour owned by differing persons, as opposed to the hands of one man, would we be more or less likely to see at least three of these performers in the one race – the Champion Hurdle, where they clearly should be competing? Did the trio not pull out Vautour from his intended target, claiming he hadn’t worked sufficiently well, yet to place him in the far lesser Ryanair to provide yet another opportunity for the lads to stand on the podium?

I note Ricci persuaded his own betting company to refund Vautour gold cup backers, after he maintained GC was the no 1 target. Those who wagered with other companies appeared less lucky. Perhaps Rich you should refund them?

Imagine you were an owner targeting your mildly lesser animal for the Mares race and Annie Power turns up, or Vautour in the Ryanair. How are such important sponsors of the sport advantaged, encouraged? Would you expect to face the Champion Hurdler elect? It’s time for Cheltenham to impose a ceiling in ratings on the participation of certain horses in such events, for the sake of those essential smaller owners, and yes competitiveness.

Who recalls Ruby Walsh’s indignant stance on Channel 4 when I dared to criticise the policy on Quevega, and her participation in a race several grades below her potential. A grade one winning mare running in the lowest rated race. A sham and no mistake.

Cast your mind back just a few years. If Paul Nicholls were to adopt similar policy, we would never have been treated to Neptune Collonges vs Kuato Star vs Denman so many times. It simply would not have happened

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If the leading jump owner of our generation, the amiable and shy JP MacManus, adopted said policy, many races over a decade would have been trashed. To be fair a great deal of racing’s top owners, Sheikh Mohammed, Abdullah, Magnier, and O Leary have provided exactly that- competition. They race their horses in the grade appropriate to their ability.

If Lewis Hamilton dropped to Formula 3, or Andy Murray to the challenge tour, surely you’d think that odd? If you bought a ticket to see Manchester United and Alex Ferguson declared they could only play Liverpool in the cup final, refused to play anyone but Scunthorpe and kept Giggs and Cantona on the bench-  would you not have been angered by his lack of ambition?

For these reasons, the denial to the sport from this trio of racing their best in the correct race or grade has to be criticised, and often. I’m thoroughly tired of those fawning to individuals so bent on self at the expense of the sport. Douvan will head to Cork in a meaningless exercise. Once again the regulator(s) are failing the sport in allowing promotion seeking owners to work the system. No grade 1 horse should be permitted in such lesser grades. It weakens the fabric of ownership, competitiveness and betting turnover.

When I read of Ruby Walsh, a genius in the saddle, but sour as a lemon out, telling bookmakers what nonsense it is to offer Douvan at 5/1 for the Tingle Creek,  I genuinely wonder if he realises just what a giant hypocrite he is. One of the architects of avoidance in the sport. Part of the problem, telling us we’re fools because we can’t second guess his team. He’ll jump off Douvan to ride Un De Sceaux, by the way.

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The solution is to tell Ruby Walsh to do his talking in the saddle.

Incidentally, if you had £20 on Douvan at 5/1 to win the Tingle Creek – you’d lose £20. His next outing will be at 1/8 odds at Cork. If you joined the gamble, to whatever level, you’ve lost your money. And the blame for that lies squarely at the door of Mullins. He declared the horse right up to the last hour.If you backed Un De Sceaux at 4/1, I fancy you’re kissing Willie’s backside.

If you bought a ticket at Sandown expecting to see one of these great stars turn up, you’re likely disappointed. I welcome the decision of Michael O Leary to remove his team from WM, it can only serve racing. Fans mean less to this trio than a podium in March, and it’s time to call them out, not apologise for, tactics so damaging to the sport.

Cheltenham – The bee all and end all?

Cheltenham – The Bookies Eye

The National Hunt Festival is the one event in Racing’s calendar which means the same to the Bookie as it does to the Punter. It’s about the gambling, pure and simple. Of course there are a few folk running around in tweed, they can’t wear anywhere but Cheltenham. You know the type, they drift out to watch Sprintre Sacre defeat a field that doesn’t include Simonsig and think it’s splendid. To the real afficianado, fed a diet of odds on chances for months, they couldn’t care less. If it’s not a race they can bet in, it’s a procession.

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I first started working for my Dad at Cheltenham, when I was 16. Taking bets over the rail, as you do when you think you know it all. Too late to take his license off him for that little offence! In those days the main betting ring was rammed with bettors, tic-tac men and Bookies. He refused to price up until a half hour before the first, despite the fact many of his peers had been at it for two hours. He wanted them to tear it up first, before entering the fray to more serious wagers. For an fledgling Bookie, it was a serious buzz. The bets came thick and fast, averaged £50 or more. The Old Man was adjacent to the likes of Colin Webster, Stephen Little, and in his later years the Gentleman likes of David and Willy Power. Wagers to lose ten thousand or more were routine. Unremarkable.

It might surprise you to learn, that whilst he had an opinion, John Banks made little study of form. He built a legend out of being braver than most of those in the ring about him. If something represented ‘value’ to lay, he wasn’t afraid to lay it lumpy. Sometimes stepping back into the market to lay it again, if he felt its contracting price improved his overall lay odds and gut feel. He was more of a gambler than his opponents, challenging them to match his opinion of odds over their convictions and wallets! Hedge bets were never recorded, although he might wager for himself, he never reduced his risk by backing a horse back. And I do mean never.

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Of course, even with his great skill in ‘reading’ the market, he probably wouldn’t have survived the nonsense of modern exchange driven fare. Exchanges are the ultimate number cruncher. There are no false favourites, and everyone is betting to a hundred percent book, and creating tiny margins from backing horses back. A cycle in futility. The ultimate fiddle. He’d have got bored of the flashing boards with the same odds and the weakness of the modern ring a long time ago.

Rails Bookies, in those days, didn’t have LED boards. Prices were off his card. Cardboard tickets sufficed for the punters. Clerks were highly skilled, and disputes were very rare. It was an exciting place to be. So, there I stood, green as the grass, looking into ‘members’ whilst my Father looked into the main ring, where the vast majority of hefty trade action was to be found. I knew precious little, other than what he had schooled me on. Coupled odds, and such. A novice, having a ball, wearing his trilby and stealing his bins. Son of the Father 🙂

So this day, a slightly built Irish fellah appears through the throng at the rail and asks me what price the favourite was. Peering at my card, ‘9/2’ I says.

‘Twenty’ he says.

‘Ninety pounds to twenty’ I call to the clerk, readying the ticket. The man smiles, no antipathy, a pleasant and patient type. ‘No Son, twenty Grand’

‘Oh’ Panicked, I turn to the Old Man, surrounded by a throng of tic-tacs and workmen. ‘Dad, this guy wants 20 grand on !?’

He turns round, smiles, not at me – ‘Hi JP. Yeah you got that.’ JP, doffs and walks on to Webby. The Old Man casts me a baleful look.

An education or what? It got beat – I avoided a bollocking.

You’d expect as a Son, for me to say my Father was a good man, and he was. To many of his customers he was the kind of Bookie they respected. Everyone called him John. They got their bets every time. He never cussed when he lost. These are the facts, and I make no bones in telling you these truths about the man. To me though, in business, he could be brutal in advice. The game was tough. If I was to take over one day, something he was fervently against, I had to learn the hard way. So getting it in the neck was a fairly common occurrence, and he didn’t mind who heard him! It worked though, because I’m still around, and it’s no longer exactly a license to print money.

Cheltenham was more than just a series of races, a betting cauldron. The whole event was a gambling emporium. Nightly poker games supplanted racing. I remember when I was older, had started betting for myself. I found myself less of a genius than when I was sixteen.. We stayed in a hotel in Tewkesbury, and a game of 7 card stud poker was the standard order of business on the Monday before the festival. I remember the characters in the game, fearsome gamblers. Jimmy Caldwell from Scotland, a long time pal of my Father’s. Dudley Roberts, Johnny Lights. A hefty punter who went by the pseudonym of ‘Chinese Dave’. who didn’t last long in the Webster-Little-Power-Banks era.

I declared myself ‘in’. Stuck my £50 ante in and waited on the first hand. 7 of clubs, 3 of diamonds, jack of hearts. What to do? Could hope for three more jacks?

Stack.

Cut a long story short, the first ‘pot’ was six and a half grand. My eyes were like saucers. The Old Man was trying to chase a few away with a pair of 6’s. Sometimes you can bully the pot, but not this mob. Desperadoes. He turns to me and asks if I really want to be in the game. ‘ehm, no’ My bravado only extended so far, and everything I had was for gambling the horses. ‘I’ll have a dollar in the pound with you Dad.’ (25%). I took myself to bed. I was all chat in those days.

Gets up in the morning and as I close the bedroom door, Jimmy Caldwell emerges from an adjacent room, eyes on the shag pile. ‘What happened last night Jimmy, how did Dad do?’

‘I dinnae Ken’ Jimmy says. Odd, he was in the game? He’s got a mark on his shoe methinks.

I head down to the breakfast room. All the suspects are at breakfast, but nobody looks at me. I’m the best looking by miles- what’s the game? I sit down and wait for the Ayatollah to come down.

He walks in, sees me sitting there and grins. Genuine mirth.

‘Obviously you lost, cos nobody will speak to me – what was the damage?’

‘Ten’ he says, still smiling.

‘What? You can’t have lost ten grand??’

‘No,  that’s what YOU lost.’ The rest of the table bursts out laughing. An education. Nobody seemed to care I’d managed to do my tank in whilst asleep in my bed

As a postscript to this tale of pre-Cheltenham tradition, I will, in my defense, say that I learnt my lesson and only took a dime in the pound the following night. (10%)

That cost me 3 grand.

Business at the Festival has dropped off significantly from the days of John Banks. But the impact of the meeting never really diminishes. In years past, when I was sent from the Rails to the nearest Tatts firm, it was a labour of Hercules, the Ring was a crush of punters. Unlike most major racing festivals, it remains the one almost pure betting event, despite racetracks unfortunately appealing more to boozers than bettors. The atmosphere is created by the nature of the course, the size and pace of the fields and because people are there predominately to beat the Bookie. Punters still haven’t worked out things that bolt up at Kempton flop at Cheltenham. I bet in the new Centaur arena. They sell a lot of Guiness in there. People come to bet, fart and leave. I never turn down a bet, I could do without the smell though. The wagers are a lot smaller these days. Of course I’m there for the crack, as are my punters, I’m going to give them some stick if I can and stand every favourite for its nuts. Most punters I find deeply honourable. They press crumpled cash from their pockets, stinking of chip fat, into your hand in a sea of bettors. Some must be tempted to leave you a tenner short, but they don’t. There’s the odd villain in the pack, but I take a rather sympathetic view of such souls. Need to get one over on me for £10? You enjoy yourself. The majority of customers are good natured, they don’t expect to win, but they will enjoy their day out. And I will put the fun into betting along with my betting girlies!

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These days the Festival is a vehicle for high street and internet ‘casino’ operators to poach clients from each other. Outdoing themselves, and their own bottom line, with unsustainable money back offers. Unsustainable that is, if we are only talking about their Racing profits. But of course we’re not. Other products erode Racing’s share of the products to such an extent they’re fully prepared to throw to the wolves what used to be a premium betting week. For firms like my own, leading very much on service and a fair bet at all times, it pressurises the organisation. You can’t ignore their prices and keep your clients happy too. The good news – many customers still prefer service over ‘free bet’ offers. Most of which are a cheap sham. Take for instance one firm who last year offered their first 10000 customers even money Sprinter Sacre for £10. Punters are bamboozled by such deals, forgetting they’re walking round the corner to save themselves 6 quid (if it wins!) – subjected to a lifetime of invasive e- mails and texts. Other firms run FOBT promotions through the week, encouraging their staff to flow customers to their addictive product. Who can blame them with profits of £960 a machine- and 4 to a shop? Fortunately for me, most of my customers want more than a fiver on, and we discount their payments when they lose. That’s cold hard cash. It’s not a here today – gone tomorrow offer. More’s the point, we don’t make our clients feel like they’re literally ‘begging a bet’. Know what I’m talking about?

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I’ve watched, disappointed, as this National Hunt season wilted in a sea of poor fields and avoidance tactics amongst major players. This despite racing taking place pretty much throughout the winter on ground more often than not, good to soft. Three trainers carve up the sport. Ireland’s top man, for example, doing his best to present his leading charge, Hurricane Fly, with an open goal in the Champion Hurdle, likely placing his better horses in other events and feeding us, and presumably his owners, a diet of lame excuses. The likes of Un De Sceaux (who couldn’t take on any other target) the brilliant Annie Power, or Quevega, a mare never allowed to dine at the top table – taking the selling plate every year. Nicky Henderson adopts similar policies, to the detriment of owners, who seem unwilling to challenge his authority. To be fair, Paul Nicholls often opposes his charges, and I feel understands his responsibility to Racing. The Festival last year suffered from small fields in Championship events, 7 in the Arkle, 9 in the Champion, 7 in the Queen Mum, 8 in the Ryanair and only 9 in the Blue Riband event. You know, it really doesn’t matter if Bobs Worth does, or does not end up winning the Gold Cup, – if we don’t see him for months. Somebody will win, and it will always make headlines for the right reasons. Arkle ran 9 times in 1963. He survived.

If you don’t see this situation as unhealthy for the sport, you must gorge on apathy. This situation is wrong. Further, I can’t see it a positive for Racing if we are treated to a daily diet of sycophantic reports or interviews with these trainers. Where are the dogs beating down the doors of the BHA demanding results, rather than sound-bytes? An organisation with a race planning department that year-on-year subjects us to the same races, at the same meetings every year. Blinding stuff. The gravy tastes too good for some Hacks. In fairness – and probably in no small part to folk like me having a go, I’ve seen some great articles from Muscat, Mottershead, and the entire Guardian crew of late. Boyce, Chapman, Yates, Hislop, Cunningham all deserve a positive mention, and whilst Luck strikes some as ‘stiff’ – he remains one of the best anchorman in sport.

Less so for Simon Mapletoft, reporting for ATR, with a thoroughly inept interview with the trainer, John Butler, unloading Stand Guard, who that morning had pronounced Racing ‘crooked’. Did he ask for clarification of his remarks, as any self respecting journalist would? Did he hell. Two minutes later the ‘match at Southwell’ degenerated into another head banging farce.

batman

Channel 4 pull few punches, despite the carping about its format. I enjoyed an excellent interview with David Walsh discussing the Fenton case and describing Racing as condoning integrity breaches routinely. Credit to the programme for letting the segment run over. What’s wrong with facing the truth? Questioning the authorities?

Less so from the embarrassing Millington, the champion of FOBT’s. ‘what’s the point in re-examining the Zarooni affair?’.  A Racing Post editor who sees the biggest doping case in the history of the sport as something to be tidied away. Yikes.

Back to 1990, I recall Victor Chandler’s men coming down to back a horse with my Father, New Halen, 66/1, in the Midmay Of Flete, last race on day two of three in those days. The bet? £50,000/£750 each way. Total liability £62,500. Chandler was a hefty punter in those days – fighting a long running, if mutually respectful battle with my Father. I remember his expressionless face as it won. Losing the best part of sixty grand in 4 minutes. He talked normally and almost casually in the car on the way back to the hotel. We were now behind at the meeting

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By the fourth race on the Friday, and from a hefty losing position at the meeting, he’d won the fifty grand back, and more. Bolstered particularly by standing what was, in his view, a non stayer – Desert Orchid, in the Gold Cup, for nearly 40 grand, when he was losing 50. The man had balls the size of grapefruits.

My worst moment at the Festival? Whilst by no means the most expensive –fairly light at a £40,000 swing, it was the ‘victory’ of Salsify in the Foxhunters. Beat like a rabbit over the last, and with my rep in my ear telling me we were safe from his challenge, we watched in horror as Jane Mangan’s mount jinked at a tape rail and deposited the exhausted pilot on the deck. I hanged the rep  for opening his mouth too early. It seemed the right thing to do. He’ll get over it.

To a Bookie, – that’s the National Hunt Festival. Buy a ticket. Have a bet.

47 MILLION AND CHANGE!

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Ok, so that’s what the big 4 operators have guaranteed in Levy. And of course it heralds a new era of co-operation between Bookmakers and Racing. We’re all friends now eh? 8 million agreed with Betfair – money they didn’t have to offer the Levy by statute. Leaders In Racing conferences with keynote speakers led by Andy Hornby of Coral, livening up that borefest with a call for Racing to support his FOBT’s. In doing so more shops remain in business, with the potential for more turnover on UK horse racing. We’re all very encouraged by the co-operation between the new Racing – headed up by Paul Bittar, and the representatives of the largest organisations funding it. Top marks to him heralding in a new era and spirit of bonhomie between the parties.

Yes?

Now, I’m a Bookie, and by nature an independent. I pay my taxes and Levy at the going rate, and my data is an open book. So you’ll take what I say with a pinch of salt perhaps, because such independent organisations as my own are rivals in business to the majors. But hold on a minute, this ‘guarantee’ of 51.5m is significantly lower than Racing has achieved from the Horse Race Levy for many a year. The 51st Levy scheme contained a guarantee of 45m from Hills, Corals and Ladbrokes. Two years on we add Betfred and get 2.5m more? Outstanding?

Let’s forget the Levy Board’s estimates. They can’t predict results and nor can the Bookies. Nor can they in any way determine how much business is lost by attrition offshore. The Levy, to include the independent input and Betfair, over the last 6 years has fluctuated between a low of 60m and a high of 115m.

What’s the crowing about a deal which adds 2.5m more with one more major player in the cake? In fact, why bother even considering it? If you want Bookmakers to co-operate with Racing, shut them out of racetrack sponsorship, TV adverts and the like. Turn to the Government for support. Racing vs Bookmakers with legs in Gibraltar. Don’t worry, they’ll come quietly.

The multiples are popping champagne corks, and drinking to Bittar and Lee. That’s not meant as a joke. Now if I were them, I’d take all my top losers to Gibraltar because I’d know my duty bill would be topped out at £450,000, and my Levy capped at 10m. The extra 4.5m between the parties per year is in effect the same bribe to Racing that Betfair volunteered. The new way, if they won’t pay the going rate, let them pay what’s comfortable. Racing is now ‘off the back’ of the big 6, because the deal is struck. No beating down the doors of Westminster to complain. And of course for four years, they can hive off as much racing business as they like offshore and pay 11 million odd each. Lovely biscuits.

Paul Bittar -The saviour of British Racing, or a plating class salesman whose business plan involves the lowest funding level, but ‘we’ve made a deal’? I care little about the stories of meetings over months, and coffee time buddying up – if this is the end product. Bookmakers and exchanges can pay more – because their offshore duties, tax and now levy are all so low. But of course they sponsor races, and run apps for the Racing Post. Oh I see.

Why would Racing go into battle against the Bookmakers for example with two racecourse Supremos? What was their role? I don’t believe Racetracks should be negotiating on behalf of racing when their most important sponsors are across the table. Perhaps the owners would have been a better choice. After all they are the primary benficiaries of levy.

No the BHA should have been going into bat with someone like me quite frankly. Not that I’m looking for the job, I’m making a point. There’s this incredible snobbishness which I find so counter-productive to the good of the Sport. The BHA is flush with Racetrack people, Data analysts, solicitors, owners, even trainers. Yet so many decisions hinge on the betting Product which underpins the finances. Not least of all finding the right fixture levels and putting on the best balanced programme. Betting isn’t the dirty side of Racing, it is, for most folk, very much what its all about. Finance is a critical part of any business, why does the BHA ignore it? I’ve heard the call for ‘Punter’ representation for many a year at High Holborn. But still no seat at the top table of Racing for them

As a leading expert in betting pointed out to me yesterday – the Fixture list has hardly changed but for a little bit of tinkering for as long as we can remember and within each meeting are quite often the very same races. The beginners chase at Sandown yesterday – won by Hinterland, regularly has small fields! The same course in January had a meeting where four of the races worth a combined £50,000 all with fewer than 8 runners. Small fields, odds-on favourites and poor over rounds aren’t fussy, every course is blighted. If only the courses reviewed such data, improvements could be made, races changed, to make it more attractive for trainers, owners, racegoers and betting shop punters. Isn’t it the role of race planning at the BHA to look at these issues? I’m assuming we’ll end up with the same ‘Super Saturday’ next year?

Final point, is the timing – less than a year before point of consumption comes into play we sign a deal. Nowadays, you can buy a cup of coffee made in the high street, served by British staff, sit peering out of the window at a red bus. In the meantime the duty for that transaction is paid in Holland. I don’t believe for a second point of consumption, if it gets through Parliament, represents the holy grail. Everything else is circumvented, so will this. Gibraltar won’t fall into the Mediterranean any time soon. Result for Racing? More, not less, of the best customers routed offshore. By extension more dependency on a ‘guarantee’ of 51 million. Consider this, what would have occurred had the famed Ladbrokes high roller who shored up the levy to its highest level in recent years, 115m, been routed abroad?

1464 Fixtures.
Some key statistics.

January to March – 21% of all races, spread evenly between both codes, contained an odds on favourite. 24 races worth £5000 or more in January had less than 8 runners.

June, July, and August 15% of all races involved an odds on chance. A third of which were worse than 1\2, only 2.6% of Handicaps contained 16 or more runners -8% Percent of all handicaps had either 3 or 4 runners! 41% of ALL handicaps in those months – less than 8 runners! Handicaps I said..

The effect of odds-on chances? In August 35% of races returned an SP of 2% a runner or worse. In September – 30% of all races returned the same. Attractive? In June, July, August and September, there were only 4 days not containing an odds-on favourite.

Let’s look at the Chief Executive’s arguments on fixture levels. He says 1464 is the right level for Racing. This argument backed up by such as Andy Hornby of Coral, who argued, with merit, that to put on a third meeting daily midweek ‘increased his turnover by 30%’. We’re talking about shop turnover here. In the same speech, I invite you to listen, he then muddles the word ‘profit’ into the same argument, at the same level. In other words he argued a third meeting every day would represent 30% more for the Levy.

That’s a distortion of the facts. To argue that turnover equals profit directly simply isn’t true, it might be true in the case of Waitrose, because turnover is more directly linked to profit. It’s a mistake King Ralph for example would not make, but then he never ran Boots. I can assure you folks, in Racing the same is most certainly not the case. If you put on low field sizes, with odds-on chances riddling the events, they are a Levy minefield. There are bad races. Punters simply do not like wagering in races containing odds on favourites.

Levy income is directly related to quality, competitiveness and field sizes. Punters don’t groan at 7 the field – they embrace it. Hornby’s wants Racing every ten minutes, because it adds to the vibrancy of his arcades. He wants a customer to walk in at lunch (when nobody wants to go Racing by the way) and sit on his machines generating £900 a week whilst the Racing provides the background noise.

So here’s Bittar’s thesis. Get into bed with these organisations. Openly support their machines and provide fixture levels they demand. In doing so he keeps the shops actually in business and increases the pot. Even going so far as to introduce racing on good Friday in support of the LBO’s, religion and decades of history matter little when the machines are running. The argument for which will prove to be a sham in less than a year. ARC will be fortunate to pull in a million in sponsorship, it’s hard enough to find a sponsor for the Grand National. I don’t doubt they can afford the gamble though, given many of their races run for £1940.

There are 28 shops in Newmarket. Shops are literally yards apart. Do we need that many to service Racing in one little town? So what if we lose a few mini casinos? Racing isn’t the focus. Perhaps we should be about making it exactly that, with measures to improve field sizes and margins in the sport? I have argued for a substantial cut in the level of fixtures, I’m not going to get that. Racing has become boring too much of the time. I rarely pass a shop every day without sticking my head in. For large parts of the programme they’re empty. British Racing is littered with fun festivals and events and cracking racing. But let’s cut the programme by just 100 fixtures and monitor the effect on the sub cards. Hardly a slash and burn is it?

The regulator.

So let’s deal with integrity. For many of you I appreciate this is a new subject. Certainly if you buy the Racing Post every day, you’re unlikely to find exposes on this important area, except in the odd letter. And if the leading trade paper ignores the subject, it’s hardly at the forefront of most people’s minds – especially if you don’t bet.

Does integrity matter? The Sport is underpinned by bettors. What is hugely underestimated, and certainly not understood, is the damage caused to customers’ confidence when they see something drift from 6’s to 16’s or greater and run down the park. It’s treated with derision in the shops. I tell you plainly, this is not happen-chance, although just enough drifters win to cause doubt. Equally its utterly routine to watch a horse backed from 12/1 to 9/4 hose up in spite of dire recent form.

Condoned?

Trawl through the list of enquiries taking place at the BHA and you’ll find a glaring hole. Non-triers. It’s like the subject simply doesn’t exist. Oh sure, we get the odd case running through, and the sentences are generally harsh. It’s the spin. British Racing will react with vigour if you break the rules. You get the idea.

If its the regulators role to police the sport, then Bittar is clearly failing in his duty of care to the image of this same by not grasping the nettle. Heralding from a state notorious for calling out Jockeys and trainers in this department. He must wince at how weak we are by comparison. Look at Hong Kong – they are red hot on integrity and employ 240 people to look after a programme that races 6 days a month. How many do we employ for 1464? 10?

They take holidays don’t they? Can they cope with 7 day, 5 night programme servicing 1464 fixtures? Not for a second. Without Betfair tipping the hat to them from time to time, they couldn’t turn over an egg. Staffing levels are so poor with budgets cut, it’s an impossible task.

On arrival in the UK, Paul Bittar stated, ‘if you have low funded Racing, you will have a problem with the integrity.’ That’s an entirely accurate statement. So what’s he done about it? In the recent round of negotiations first with Betfair, and then with the Bookmakers, did he argue on behalf of the sport for a substantial increase in funding to support the fixture levels they demand? Is that not part and parcel of any deal?

There are several horses a month – all with similar profiles, exceptionally poor performances in lead up races, some beaten by margins approaching an incredible 80 lengths, heftily gambled upon, but with historical form that suggested they were well capable of winning races, masked by a series of poor outings. Check the reports into inquiries at the BHA how many of these horses end up being sanctioned, or their connections. What’s happened with the referrals we hear about? Or was it all just a big happy surprise? Customer confidence demands the regulator takes measured steps to ensure any unusual gambles are fully investigated. If a horse with form figures of 8,8,7,0,7 suddenly goes from 33/1 to 9/2 it demands urgent action to find out why, for the good of the sport. Sky News seem more interested than the BHA into some of the shenanigans going on routinely. Is it now condoned to prop your training fees up by planning transparent gambles and slapping each other on the back? Was the backbone knocked out of the regulators with their failures over the Top Cees case?

Jockey changes, withdrawing horses, horses drifting substantially, shoring up of morning odds on Betfair with amounts as low as £51 – all part and parcel of such gambles. Horses laid in running as the tapes go up at far greater odds than their SP. Isn’t the BHA failing in not investigating any strange movements in the market? We need far more draconian rules and most certainly no recourse to the courts to second guess decisions. If you run them under our rules, accept them warts and all. This should be a first step for the lawyers to push through.

If Mr Bittar doesn’t start to appreciate the importance to Racing of the smallest cog in the wheel – that of the humble punter, and his confidence in the betting product, – then we have a problem of leadership. Because to me, it’s of paramount importance. The customer must have faith in the product. We run the risk customers funding the whole deal through betting feel their views on integrity don’t matter to those running the sport. That’s a dangerous position to be in. How do we deal with it? Stop using the expression ‘we can’t discuss it’.

What about recent cases involving connections through the BHA hmm? Let’s brush over the Godolphin saga, it’s way too complex. However, what was with the Chapple-Hyam penalty. £3000 for misleading investigators by doctoring telephone records? Equivalent to one month’s training fees for a top horse. Cloak and dagger regulating with Frank Sheridan’s horse – Bert Trick, at Wolverhampton- being quietly asked to withdraw it after reports it had run in flapping races and following a collapse in price from 14/1 to 5/2? A top jockey called before the stewards to explain dropping his hands at Kempton, who simply denied it, which the stewards ‘noted’, or a horse at Hamilton in July which managed to improve 67lbs according to Timeform, with the trainer declaring he ‘didn’t think it would improve’. Again accepted by the stewards. What is going on with stewarding these days?

I recognise many of the problems outlined above were in place well before the arrival of the Australian. Fixture levels for example have remained a constant since 2003. The major independants whose business focus on Racing, have so far been excluded from any discussion on fixtures, planning or Levy. It’s all about the casino operators. I’m uncomfortable with getting into bed with large organisations if the result in so doing is to sell the whole product well short of its value and it’s a tool to market other products. Signing for a record low level isn’t laudable, it’s a sell out. Finally, if its the BHA’s choice instead of tackling sometimes rancid events head on, rather than pretending it doesn’t happen, then I feel it’s time for stronger leadership.

Bittar, contrary to popular folklore, didn’t sort out the whip two seconds after his arrival, more like a horrified Paul Roy rushing to clear up the mess created by a sub-committee formed to examine the whip issue. Roy had his critics, but he worked hard for racing and at least was far more visible than the incoming Chairman, and not afraid to take on Betting companies, patterns, or the establishment. Give him his due, he wasn’t a yes man.

The new chief-executive however, strikes me as rather like having a Scottish Chancellor. Everyone thinks its refreshing to have someone who doesn’t speak in polished tones. To my mind his obsession with large concerns has gone well beyond what is productive. When the Chairman of Coral starts eulogizing about the head of the BHA for striking deals and supporting fobt’s, we should, in my view, be deeply uncomfortable with what’s going on here. Unless that is, you consider Coral are more in love with racing than they are their machines

The honeymoon is definitively over.

http://www.geegeez.co.uk/bha-stewarding-review-must-look-at-non-triers/

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/feb/01/british-horseracing-authority-stewards-non-triers

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/horse-racing/15328393