The BHA – Acting in the best interests of Racing or Stakeholders?

It’s become routine these days to hear and read informed commentators, pundits, industry experts discussing the issue of small fields in racing, indeed last year the BHA undertook an expensive consultation into fixture levels in an attempt to combat the issue of small fields and lack of competitiveness in racing.

The result? More fixtures in 2015

BHA announces races attracting small fields will be deleted from the programme

The result? No races removed, a three month trial period suddenly introduced, and one deleted race restored in the face of opposition from horsemen

9 new board members with little, or no experience running racing, at the BHA. Two of these new directors have been appointed to ‘bed in’ six of the others. Tell me you’re joking, or have the stakeholders grabbed two important ‘blockers’ on the board?

The BHA announces the scrapping of small field events to address the appeal of the sport.

The result? The BHA backs down in the face of opposition from the trainers involved in the race and the NTF. It goes further in placing an NTF official to the BHA Board. I’m sure he’ll be supportive of an initiative which followed an expensive consultation.

What’s the value in an authority that doesn’t govern the sport with its best face in mind? Someone tell me.

After the removal of the best politician we’ve ever had in charge, Paul Bittar, from the equation we’re left with an entiely new board, in every sense of the word. Opposing these new directors – the stakeholders. Betting, Owners, trainers and racetracks and their interests. And they’re clearly out for what’s best for them, even if the sport cannot progress

Do you care? Or would you classify yourself as one of the silent apathetic ones- to criticise the sport is wrong, it’s just not done. To my mind, constructive criticism is a requirement and you should get involved and stop taking the guided tour

BITTAR

Quite what the Australian did wrong or whether he had just had enough is unclear. Nobody is asking the question. I didn’t always see eye to eye with Bittar during his tenure, I’m always going to take issue with the pace of change, but it’s clear he shared many of the same concerns. Particularly in regards to ‘stakeholders’ and their negative impact on the sport, and integrity issues relating to low funded racing we seem determined to produce more thereof.  He was capable of pulling the disparate parties together given time. Continue reading “The BHA – Acting in the best interests of Racing or Stakeholders?”

Cheltenham Open Festival- The Bookies Eye

I know the National Hunt season doesn’t really end with Aintree, it burbles on without it’s stars through the summer. I’d like to see it curtailed for a month – perhaps in June when Racing is so resplendent with riches such as Ascot and Epsom. For me, though, the season really starts with Cheltenham’s excellent ‘Open’ Meeting.

It needs a new title, because Open doesn’t do it justice, and we need Festivals in the winter, perhaps they should call it ‘The Tweed’ – it’s the only venue which accepts folk in that ridiculous garb. Children point and stare  – you can’t blame them..

For me, it’s suits. I pack several to go with the alternating seasons Prestbury affords us. I pick up the delightful Miss King and head off into the rainstorm. I talk, she texts her boyfriends and updates her facebook. It’s an odd relationship. I’ve become dull

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There will be a few of you who accuse me of using sex to sell betting tickets. All true. Don’t write to your MP or call the cops. I admit it.

We stop at what used to be the Hotel De La Bere, to pad JP’s income.  I read the paper, Stephanie has a text argument with one of her spotty friends. The office bombard me with calls, on bets we shouldn’t be laying. Disappointingly for a Bookie who works indoors at 72 degrees ambient, the sun has come out, and will wreck my takings

The bastard.

Friday isn’t as busy as Saturday for the Bookies. We work hard at offering a service not only at Cheltenham, but at the ‘away’ meetings. I’m glad I had Mick and Vicky dedicated to paying out, because Wolverhampton was on.  Hitler should have bombed Dunstall, I wouldn’t have minded speaking German then.What I made at Cheltenham, i gifted back to those betting at Wolverhampton. The decent people of Jockey Club stop by for a chat, they’re comfortable in the product and with good reason. People vote with their feet, the attendances are good, and racing needn’t always be seen as a vehicle for the Ladbrokes Life. JCR are experts at Festival meetings and I admire their sense of decency.

I’d like one day to persuade this influential body to see exchanges outlawed from bookie software on course , it’s a thorough cancer on service, and emptying the sport of money it deserves. Make sure you support me here if you value the flavour of the betting ring or I will ignore you at parties.

As a sidebar, people who bet at the All Weather don’t wear tweed, they’re known as bonus junkies. They scout around for ‘free bets’, – never go racing, – just sit at home in their underpants ‘greening up’. Sand racing is for camels, but we’re stuck with it, it seems. Don’t blame me, I can’t stop the fascination with grunge. Saville is a sick man, he’s hoping Jesus makes a comeback and performs a loaves and fishes trick on field sizes, with rocking horses to bolster poor fields. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear 68 fixtures being awarded to Comet 506b  (taken from York.) I mean it does have the perfect racing surface..

It’s not busy on friday, so Mick finds time for a hug. He’s a charmer and ‘The Rinser’ doesn’t work that hard. Here’s one of her, not on her phone, with my main man

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Friday night is a predictably boozy night in a gorgeous country pub. Everyone tells stories, – mostly lies. My favourite is telling everyone I was in the SAS, which I think everyone believes. Mick orders the fishcakes and is crestfallen when they offer us free fishcakes, by way of canapes, at the bar. He doubles up anyway.

Saturday dawns, The Morning Line tips all the favourites, Paddy Power makes me chuckle and the show hums along in entertaining style. They have someone on from Timeform, I’m glad he didn’t launch into an explanation of ‘Sectionals’ – probably gagged I expect. I wish people would stop whining about Ch4, we’re all so damned fussy about what we want to see, and my good friend Barry Orr and his x ray specs represent good value as a stand up comic 🙂

We arrive early at the track, the crowd looks substantial. Entrance fees are very fair, the track looks the business. Cheltenham is the class of National Hunt. Except for those odd plastic beakers they dosh out to customers in their lovely Golden Miller bar. The only mild blemish for me. I give the catering boss a hard time for flogging me an £85 bottle of Veuve in a kiddie cup. He tells me glasses are a health and safety issue. I ask him what the champagne comes in. He says he will feedback my comments..

The Centaur has a brash new screen, 6 hard working Bookies, the Magic Sign and Tote. They serve clods of Guiness, so everyone has their bet, farts and leaves us with the smell. I suppose given the results that’s about fair. We massage a victory. It’s very busy. Do we bet a bit better than outside? Yes we do, a half a point here and there, but we’re in business and our focus is service, not begging a bet. Besides, most traders outside don’t understand the concept of ‘sustainable margin.’ Punters are a fair lot. They just want to be treated with respect and I find most would rather they found Bookmakers who lay a fair bet and pay up with a smile. We don’t do ten pound offers, we leave that to the really BIG bookies. I’d see that outlawed when I’m in charge

We take just over 2000 bets, we don’t have any hedges, they’re for gardens. Results go in favour of the punters but I catch a break with one favourite actually winning me money and I walk away heavier than when i arrived as the punters clap me out. We peel off the bets as fast as we can and try to pay out with the same alacrity where possible. A customer with his money in my pocket isn’t wagering in the next. Punters climb over the weak and infirm to get on, experienced pensioners trample young fit men to get on. As far as we know we didn’t lay any 17 year old Gambling Commission stoodges any bets. But you can’t be too sure..they’ll write to me I expect. I don’t fancy my chances with Mrs Williams

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There’s no other way to describe the Racing on offer than exhilarating. Horses that looked done in, walked all over, came back to win or held on. We were lucky with one of Geraghty’s- Druid’s Nephew, who ran too free and got under his fences, but jumping is the game. Cheltenham tends to offer some of the most unpredictable finishes in the Sport. Some horses turn in going easy and flop, and others, like Caid Du Berlais, whose jockey supplanted whip for cattle prod. It’s the very soul of National Hunt racing. I understand why the track dominates the code.

I recall one slightly inebriated looking fellah who walked up to me, gambling commission plant methinks. I lay him a bet.

‘tenner each way on Budweiser’ he slurred, displaying his opt out of gambling forever card

‘Don’t you mean Buywise Sir?’

‘Err, yeah, sorry, er, repetition, you know, – been drinking for four days, – where am I?’

He loses his money. Well, to be fair, 13 year olds shouldn’t be betting- and no mistake..

A couple of suggestions to friends in charge to improve the quality of winter racing. Do away with both Jumpers bumpers on the all weather, as well as ‘racecourse gallops’. It’s time to force the stars back to work in races which struggle for quality entrants. I know you’re all looking at each other round the board table at that one.

Saturday night is predictably good, another beautiful Cotswold pub and a few bottles of the firm’s champagne to reward the team for looking after my clients. They guzzle as if its their last, particularly ‘The Rinser’

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Sunday is predictably quiet, although the racing remains competitive. The day starts with the shock news of Dessie Hughes’ passing. A minutes silence is strictly observed as we watch replays of the mighty Hard Eustace, as if we needed reminding! Many Bookies turned their boards off and I didn’t hear anyone talking in the ring. A great tribute to a legend.

One odds on chance at the meeting is all,  a load of great finishes, punters and bookmakers alike celebrated a great trainer, the gate staff are the same people the track has employed for years, the views remain beautiful, – the Open became a showcase for two decent fellahs, Phillip Hobbs and Richard Johnson. Little wonder the season tends to revolve around this jewel in the Cotswolds

Put fifty pounds in the box on your way out. Thanks

Six more fixtures

I don’t want to bore you with statistics, sometimes they can prove meaningless, but there’s one stat that cannot be ignored in the sport we hold so dear. From 2008-2014, the horse population has declined by 1600, around 10%, that’s to say horses in training. In the same period – the number of races has grown by 15%. I hesitate to coin the phrase ‘the net result thereof’ – but you have to admit there appears a strong correlation in these two figures. More races – less horses..

Next year- six more fixtures. I want to make clear from the outset, I was given more than fair opportunity by the British Racing Authority to state the case on behalf of those of us who believe there’s simply too much racing. I was simply out-voted, or failed to press my arguments, indeed I think it’s fair to say my view stood pretty much alone in the face of data and reports compiled by important racing entities, to include the Racecourse Association, Arena leisure and Jockey Club. Racecourse Media Group, and Attheraces. The Levy Board also support the current level, based on data provided by big betting.

The consultation group doesn’t include any elements of Betting..

The aforementioned ‘pick five’ of racing (excluding Bet365, who oddly declined any participation, perhaps they don’t see us as serious?) Ladbrokes, Betfred, Coral, William Hill, Betfair broadly agreed with the current levels. This, despite their complaints on field sizes, elements of planning with competing fixtures devaluing certain races they sponsor, quite understandable, – that .

As to the influential Horseman’s Group? I honestly don’t know where they stand.

The BHA? As usual they get the blame, despite only controlling 200 odd fixtures themselves. One has to bear in mind, the OFT stripped the body of its powers in effect, and this is the result. I believe they definitely favour a reasonable cut. After all, the consultation was their plan. They weren’t prepared for the various stake holders to play rough, with spurious claims as to what any kind of cull would cost, without mind to the potential benefits in a raising of the bar on quality.

The sport is losing TV viewers and racegoers midweek. Bookmakers are the dominant sponsors, even if some view that as distasteful. Cheltenham lost six sponsors for their major festival races alone.  The margin in betting has seriously declined, so has racing’s market share of the betting cake and lay to lose is a cancer on the sport. I’m sure racing’s most important group of tracks would prefer to move to a more balanced sponsors book given the pervasive influence of betting, but can’t find sufficient alternate companies at the current time. After all our tv networks and newspapers are literally stuffed with adverts from gaming empires. I’m aware some of you don’t care, nor understand the long term impact of this. But a full moon is coming.

Ladbrokes, one of the largest operators in betting worldwide, have already told you of their concern as to the viability of racing as a betting product. Were you listening, or did you put it down to their failures as a company to deliver a competitive digital platform?

In order for the BHA to ‘monetise’ the sport abroad, to betting, and to new sponsors, they must deliver on field sizes, and control the level of ‘grunge’ – low quality racing put on exclusively for betting, and stop the tendency for our best meetings to compete with England vs Moldova. An instant fail.

The critical Asian market, we base some of our Levy upon, bases itself on numbers betting, – often backing several in a race. The odds permit this kind of play. How does that fit with a five runner race at Southwell? Indeed, of what interest are such events to our betting public – other than the professional players? None. Of course, I’m painfully aware to some track bosses this is of no importance right now, but change is coming with the new media rights negotiations.

In the face of the spirit of change from the Authority, Arena leisure have threatened legal action.  Yes folks, the same group who benefitted from the whole Good Friday concession is now holding the sport to ransom over their demands for a gothically dull floodlit mile for predominately low class horses at Gosforth Park. In much the same way as Pat Cosgrave was delivered back to racing – by lawyers, and their assertions. Tracks aren’t about to permit any reduction in their share of a media rights cake that has seen Bookmakers pay more than a hundred million more in recent times in fees to racing, with racetracks the primary beneficiary, and they’re not going to let a good thing go lightly..

We’ve reacted to the threat to field sizes by actually increasing the number of fixtures. Hard to believe it’s true. One is bound to question the purpose behind expensive consultation processes, other than to witness a circling of the wagons from ‘stakeholders.’ They simply refuse to countenance change, even if its utterly clear this is exactly what the sport requires to prosper.

The consultation discussed the removal of races that attracted low turnouts midweek. What’s wrong with that? It also discussed reducing the grade in certain races, to grow field sizes because we have more horses of very poor quality. This is to embark on a programme of lowering the overall quality of the programme still further. That wouldn’t be my choice, but I believe there are those who would use rocking horses if it made up a race.

All weather is on the increase, despite poor attendances, which adequately demonstrate the public have no appetite for it. The fare is largely unappealing. Racetracks focus our jewels in a one hour slot on Saturdays, often opposing more popular sports such as soccer. The midweek continues to be run down to the extreme. Sunday night racing, distressingly, has now appeared on the calendar. Nobody trumpeted that. Hardly surprising.

Few of these measures are customer focussed or about increasing quality. They evidence of an Authority boxed in the corner. Placed there by the office of fair trading. What a mess they made, ignorants with clipboards.

I’m fully aware though, there’s a strong body of fans and insiders who believe the current volume of the sport is farce.  That to prune the programme by less than 1% and move a few races about won’t change things much. It’s a view I’ve heard many times from my customers, read constantly on social networking. Most of these views are the punters of course. The vital stakeholders group in racing who don’t have a seat at the top table, as things stand currently. They are joined though by a few brave souls from the training ranks, and some well intentioned journalists.

As we keep lowering the bar on quality, we make the whole thing just that bit less interesting to bet on. The USA has seen a dramatic decline in interest and betting in the sport. Excessively dull as a product. That’s precisely where we’re heading. Believe it’s true. The global data is fully at odds from that argued by the Levy Board and Betting.

Of course, I know we can offer some superb product, and accept we can’t always have group ones. Anyone at Ascot last weekend on British Champions Day can only be thoroughly impressed by the event. Cheltenham, Aintree, York and Goodwood showcase the best of Racing. Horseracing in Britain can be utterly superb at times. I want no mistake made that I have the utmost faith in the sport. Yet we seem to be choosing the route as driven by big betting, and backed up by their highly questionable data. I don’t want to dwell on the tracks themselves. If they’re paid to race in front of empty stands, they will do just that. It’s a business. They will inevitably favour the current level. Many have impressive debt levels to service.

People are persuaded by betting by two very simple phrases. ‘Every race contributes to the Levy’ and ‘if we don’t provide racing when the punters are in the shops, we will simply sell rival products.’ Data is brought out to back up this argument. As a colleague correctly pointed out, it’s hard to take the argument for a cut in the volume of racing forward when the data appears to show we could lose substantially from any cut in the programme. I argue in a different vein. No data has been produced, nor analysed, to show what would happen to the sport’s finances were we to embark on a programme which raised the overall bar on quality. No figures have been produced to show that in fact were we to raise the average field sizes by just one – from the current average of 7 to 8 horses a race, that the extra business we would ‘field’ would more than balance any loss in the total volume. Horses would seek other opportunities.

I hope I have made that simple point well.

Let me explain big betting for those who do not understand it. No, I’m not here to discuss those who ‘get on.’ Broadly speaking, what the multiples desire is ‘product’ – lots of it. The successful supergiant will deliver as many betting opportunities as they can in an hour. Racing is marginalised as a product in comparison to gaming, which is the engine of their businesses, and other sports such as soccer. The actual number of races put on every week, make the sport relatively inexpensive to bookmakers in real terms, and they generate noise and footfall in the LBO’s. They get so many spins of the wheel. Anyone who’s remotely threatening in the modern betting environment is closed down with alacrity.

What’s our future? I believe the data rights deals racetracks have enjoyed likely heftily squeezed by the bookmakers, and we will see racetracks close.  The bookmakers simply carry far more commercial nous. Midweek racing most weeks has simply collapsed. Even our finest races ‘carve up’ between a select few, whilst lesser owners struggle at the cost of keeping their horse as the balance between prize money at the highest level and most of the programme is thoroughly disproportionate We can make more of the product.

We can grow, by embarking on a programme to cull more fixtures and move the overall quality and competitiveness right of centre. How many of you are prepared and supportive of the battle the BHA faces in forcing change, or to contribute financially towards a more interesting programme? The simple fact of life – we need a robust BHA, thoroughly in charge of what’s best for Racing. How vocal will you be in support of the surgery we actually require? I don’t see many leaders. We need a few more prepared to serve the sport and not eat its lunch.

Racetracks are feeding off rich machine based pickings from Betting, whilst many fixtures deliver a very poor product much of the time. Their focus has to be in deliverance of a better product for bettors. Not holding their hand out because 8 races makes more money than 7. Poor thinking

If I’m ever asked to stand to post and serve the sport I love in a capacity other than pricing up races, by people who seek and desire constructive change, I shall of course, but will evidently have to climb over a few stakeholders on the way! Geoff Banks October 2014

A BLUEPRINT FOR RACING

    A BLUEPRINT FOR RACING

 

Several months ago I listened to the CEO of Coral, Andy Hornby, give a keynote speech to executives at the Leaders In Racing conference.

‘Racing and Bookmakers should work together to make profit for both’ It brought tears to my eyes. ‘Our data suggests a third meeting every day increases turnover by 30% and those meetings should start around midday, this is when people break for lunch and can pop into a betting shop to wager’ He went on to muddy the words ‘turnover’ with ‘profit’. Most businessmen accept that the two don’t always go hand in hand- especially when we’re discussing gambling – but let’s not spoil a good wheez shall we?

Andy-Hornby

 

‘The ideal format has Racing approximately ten minutes apart throughout the day. Our analysis suggests more races equals more profit’

Now, for brevity I’ve paraphrased the main thrust of his argument as to re-hash any speeches at that conference puts you to sleep. But you get the idea. Of course this view is peddled by a small army of PR men from the Barking outfit every five minutes on Attheraces. Rather cleverly Coral have become the biggest sponsor in Bookmaking for racing. They do have considerable influence, one they pay for.

Of course, I also readily accept that the same argument will be peddled by William Hill, Ladbrokes and Betfred. I enjoyed a chat last week at Ascot with the Chairman of the Levy Board. A most personable chap who told me I was the first Bookmaker to advocate a cut in fixtures. This suggests some of those in authority in Racing, whenever we are talking about betting, only consult the same five firms! (if we include Betfair of course.) There are opposing – and sensible views. We are responsible for just under 20% of the market  – that merits consideration

Turnover and market share is down in racing, so let’s deal with the problem by putting on more racing, in the worst slots, and work with reduced field sizes.  I think most people readily agree it lowers the quality. That’s demonstrably wrong. Let me explain

You see, the empirical evidence paints a completely different picture. At the foot of this report, I invite you to view the presentation by Jennifer Owens, a research consultant for Aspire Wealth, tasked with investigating the state of the Racing and Betting market globally. Again I spare you the full details, but let’s deal with comments affecting Andy Hornby’s argument.

‘Since 2006 Great Britain is scheduling more races. Whilst amounts wagered between 2006 and 2013 have dropped dramatically. In the period between 2001 and 2012, the number of runners per race fell from 11.6 per race to 9.3. Sports betting in the meantime grew from 58% to 72% between 2003 and 2013. Hong Kong, with its competitive fields and less racing was the standout performer worldwide for betting on racing. Indeed that state’s turnover on horse racing remained constant despite a 30% increase in sports betting in the territory’

She goes on ‘The most striking example which was quite damaging to British Racing was the introduction of gaming machines into UK betting shops. FOBT’s account for 38% of gross win in the UK – just as well they are limited to four machines per shop.’ The lady took no prisoners.

Fixed odds betting terminals

Jennifer continues ‘There is evidence that field sizes and turnover are correlated – at least in the negative. The greatest declines in turnover have been witnessed in the US and Great Britain since 2006, and in these markets the field sizes have dropped dramatically.’ ‘In many markets Racing has become disconnected from Betting.’ In broad terms racing governance doesn’t engage the right type of people to maximise it’s output and we need to turn around the field size problem urgently in her expert opinion.

Anyway I digress. What conclusion can we draw from this intelligent appraisal? Well if her numbers are correct, and I think it’s reasonable to suggest they are, Andy Hornby is talking out of his corporate backside. The global view on betting doesn’t in any way support his stance that more racing engenders more levy. Quite the opposite. In fact the most successful state for betting in the world only races six times a month. Hong Kong.

Let’s put it simply, and honestly. Racing needs to tell the Bookmakers where to get off. You see our great sport is a vital cog in their wheel. If racing doesn’t fill the ten minute gap Andy requires, he will simply turn to another product to make the place look busy. Greyhounds, virtual, Australian and French racing are all fit for purpose here. British Racing doesn’t have to prostitute it’s product in order to keep shops open. Gross win across the counter has been dropping between 5%-6% since 1998 and there’s little doubt the major operators focus their advertising on machine take- not racing. So why are we bending over for organisations who don’t promote the sport? Or perhaps you draw a different inference from the picture which typifies these companies.

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I don’t know about everyone else, but I do know my turnover on the far better funded Irish Racing runs at around 9% of my racing turnover – yet it’s ill-considered as a product against the British one,  timing of the races are not synchronised with their UK equivalent, nor do we earn levy from wagering upon it. That seems fairly odd to me.

Will some shops close? Inevitably. But let’s not kid ourselves, these are the worst performing money factories, often competing with other LBO’s in the same street or district and whose machine gross win (typically industry wide figure of £3600 per week per shop) is unable to support the unit in some areas, where the FOBT take is insufficient. This is natural forces and we shouldn’t be wailing if a few of them go to the wall. Proliferation of betting shops isn’t about racing. We’re not going to improve our levy yield because we have another shop 200 yards away, most people can struggle that far for a bet. Hell, I bet Newham would be thrilled to see a few less squeezing into their High Street.

The period between 2002 and 2008 with fixtures growing from 1270 to 1548 and a levy yield which also grew modestly fooled some folk.  Those years actually witnessed a decline in the numbers of people actually going racing, not only per fixture, but overall . The new meetings were in unattractive slots. They diluted competition in racing by spreading the available horse population more thinly. Some tracks found they were in fact weakening their own other fixtures. If people aren’t going racing- they sure as hell aren’t betting. We’ve lost the impetus and this is no more illustrated in racing than the depressed state of the On Course market. Racing to empty stadia has become rather par for the course with ticket prices people simply do not want to pay by cynical management. Selling ’empty space’ with a notable lack of effort. Put another way – racing is heading to the dogs and become reliant on festivals. Pass the port will you?

Tracks are guilty of putting on events without thought or involvement for the production of competitive fields and the size thereof. 38% of all races are won by the favourites, 2 in every 5 races! That’s a fantastic statistic and evidence of the transparent nature of the sport.Not only are the favourites the legitimate ones, but lets face it, the drifters run appropriately as unscrupulous connections take advantage of a no lose opportunity! Little geo-location of fixtures is evident, in order that the available local horse population, and attendances, could service the same. We do not properly consider the cost of staging fixtures like Ffos Las- which even if it’s a self funded two mile hurdle race with two fences hundreds of miles from civilisation, still has a significant attaching integrity cost to operate.

Finally, and perhaps most damaging, racetracks have shifted fixtures from their traditional midweek slots to weekends. To include many premier races. The Stewards Cup. The Ebor, The Derby, and more. All moved from midweek slots where they were the focus of most newspapers and TV networks as well as general sporting fans, to ones where racing found itself competing with England vs Costa Rica. Simple for Racetracks- a disaster for the profile and numbers of the sport. Expect RMG to argue over loss in income, although it both ignores the cost involved in racing to empty stands and the the sheer lack of data backing their stance. Footfall and beer sales are all furthered by Saturday racing. We glibly criticise Channel 4 for poor viewing figures when we feed them a diet of 5 runner races. Although I agree – the burger van HAS to go 🙂

Such moves put top racetracks in direct competition with each other. Ascot, Britain’s premier course regularly competes with York for coverage and exposure. Our Champions Day sees Cheltenham competing with Ascot for coverage. It’s not unusual to witness these three top courses rivalling Chester and Newmarket along with sundry smaller tracks for attention.

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In what other industry would you create a programme so devoid of interest midweek? A bit like Waitrose emptying its shelves of fresh vegetables and offering us tinned plums instead.

As a business plan, Saturday focus demonstrably fails the quality test. Our best racing in direct competition to top sport, particularly football and rugby. We have a Derby opposed by 8 other meetings on the same day! Let me stress this, Lingfield just down the road opposes the Derby.

Punters, those who shall not be heard, have been telling me for several years now they tire of the glut of racing.  Newspapers and TV networks to include the BBC have dropped the sport in part or whole. Racing Journalists are getting laid off. Put very simply we’re boring the pants off people and running the sport into the ground to keep Coral in machine take and racetracks putting the sport on in front of nobody. An industry servicing machines

This isn’t our game face surely? Positively it’s one the BHA Chairman, who’s emerged from hiding and appears now to want to address with his new consultation into the fixture list. If required I will be part of any quorum and/or meeting or analysis to press this case.

This consultation will inevitably bring the sport into conflict with the likes of Tony Kelly and Simon Bazelgette et al. They’re not likely to give up the easy dollars they earn annually from media rights with jewels like Kempton and Southwell, with arguments like what will we lose rather than what does it cost.  The media rights cake envisaged in 2018 won’t be a patch on what they’re earning right now if we continue on the path of 6 runner races and odds on chances. Bookies won’t peddle an unprofitable product riddled with favourites hosing up through lack of competition. There’s evidence right now the betting share for racing is well down. So what are we selling the bookmakers, or rather more pertinent – asking them to sell for us?

It does require the turkeys to vote for Christmas as things currently stand and forego an element of beer sales. There appears to be a view if we put up 38 grand we’ll end up with a quality Brigadier Gerard. In fact we ended up with a short field, odds on chance event. In betting terms it’s useless.. It’s not JCR’s fault and I’m not suggesting that. There are, quite simply, far too many opportunities for our wealthiest owners and a racetrack focus on such owners. They’re not turning down the 38 grand- they know they’ll get it somewhere else..  We’re looking after the top horsemen. All very well, but what happens to betting in such races?

Racegoers celebrate after the William Hi

The juggernaut that is British Racing is finally starting to recognise that any way you cut it, 1548 fixtures is simply far too many. We can tinker with the planning but we’re not going to make the product that much more competitive which is what both bookies and punters want. We also have to properly consider the effect of small fields on interest abroad. I would settle for a modest cut for now to examine the impact on field sizes. I think most would.

I have absolutely no clue why we accept a jumps programme so geared upon four days in March. The power of best trainers, has to be curbed and measures put in place to insist our top animals race in front of paying customers and telly and not afforded racecourse gallops by pliant courses. I’m constantly amused by stories from Seven Barrows of athletic and evidently agrophobic pets only fit to work 3 times a year. Send the buggars out to work.  NH suffers from some of the lowest fields in the sport and we need seriously to look at the abandonment of summer jumping completely in favour of the winter. It never used to take place in August and I fail to evidence the compelling reason for it now. Betting turnover on summer jumping in racing is extremely poor (typically lower than AWT). It’s an area of the programme that needs to be sacrificed

I chatted to several of my on course peers after Ascot. It’s readily accepted the meeting was a complete disaster for Bookies generally – expect a few profit warnings! What was remarkable was that most of my colleagues betting at Ascot actually turned a profit, when they should have done their brains! These days to turn up as a Bookie, post general market odds and stand back waiting to see who backs what, is a recipe for failure on course. Most of the larger concerns find betting on course impossible because they don’t ‘trade’ the wagers on exchanges. It’s a total necessity if you are to make racecourse bookmaking pay as a business. However the much wider industry still continues to accept prices that more often than not mirror exchange odds, and can be based on some individuals betting win only, or a fifth of the odds on a 16-21 runner handicap.

gb5.jpg

At the midweek and sundry ‘weaker’ meetings the on course market has become excessively weak and totally ruled by exchanges for their prices. I watched a major operator’s rep at York run around recently telling folk he wasn’t going to invest with certain organisations because they weren’t in the 20 firm ‘sample’ that’s used to return odds to the LBO’s. Therefore for such organisations to control a particular horse’s SP, they only have to wager with the ‘sample’ organisations, and ignore the other 90 bookies. It costs but a fraction of what it used to, to move the SP of a runner at a major track like York. At the weaker meetings like Kempton, frequented by the smallest weakest bookmakers, it’s pathetically easy with but a few grand to influence prices. What self-respecting bookmaker is going to turn down £300 from the majors when they’re only holding that much per race? Manipulation on the cheap. And a market and exchange so easy to control these days doesn’t encourage laying.

I do think we are long past the time where the potential profits from a healthy industry are governed by a deeply unhealthy one. That is the on course market. They simply need to be excised from current arrangements. I’ll use a dirty phrase. Industry prices. At the end of the day, they are more representative of the weight of money. The days of John Banks and Colin Webster in trilbies and shades standing horses for £30,000 are long gone and so are the arrangements put in place in those days for producing a fair SP. It no longer represents the industry. I believe the major Bookmakers – tote and exchanges all need to be part of a new mechanism, not Martyn of Leicester – he of the plastic shoes. Next time I go racing- I fancy I’ll be stoned alive. Fair enough, it’s better than the results

To the racecourse Bookies I say this. As the off track prices inevitably dip – so the on course market’s odds become more attractive to punters. A path to new business. We neither need, nor deserve to be part of a mechanism when there’s only a handful of us, betting to pennies and following cyber betting bots.

 

Kick these suggestions around

 

A maximum of two (Levy and Media Rights) funded premier events on any day.

 

Premier events to be incentivised to move from Saturday slots with appropriate increases in rights and levy

 

Racetracks to be penalised with total loss of funding for production of races under 5 runners.

 

Racetracks to be rewarded with increased payments for producing field sizes exceeding 10 runners

 

Racetracks funding to decrease for each race containing an odds on favourite and increased for any race where the favourite goes off at 5/1 or better.

 

No All Weather racing to be programmed in the summer in opposition to key festival events such as the Derby

 

Summer jumping programme to be scrapped for two months.

 

Race planning to fully consider Geo location factors

 

A minimum number of qualifying events for entries for Cheltenham

 

A modest cut of 100 fixtures

BHA to create a betting forum with representatives from both large and small Bookmaking concerns, punters and racetrack management with mandate to improve betting turnover on the sport

SP Mechanism to exclude racecourse bookmakers and to include the major 6 operators to include the Tote and Betfair in a new mechanism based on the weight of money

 Coral to reintroduce the blonde to their adverts. It was the only betting advert worth watching..

 

coral

These plans will affect income streams of some and put other people’s noses out. I’m not, however in the business of making myself popular amd I think my chances of making the Jockey Club are a bit slim 🙂  Of course I understand some of us turn left on aircraft and don’t worry about what’s happening in the back of the plane. How much it costs, whether they’re drinking from a real glass, and what film, if any, they’re enjoying. But such individuals must be viewing the approach of 2018 – when the Turf TV contract expires with firms like William Hill with some trepidation. If you’re sitting there thinking the racing is ‘terrific’ and Bookies should pay more for the product because they have offshore wings making bundles out of the sport, you need to excuse yourself from the room. UK Racing is, quite simply, the weakest betting product globally. Let’s not get snobbish about betting – it’s the engine that drives the sport.

These suggestions will have racecourses reaching for their calculators and the big Bookmakers shuffling their PR crews out to protect ‘their’ business model. The argument shops will close if we don’t come ‘to the rescue’ simply isn’t the case. The strongest product for bookmakers remains horses – and the better quality that is, the better for LBO’s. Of course the measures are quite radical, but I think we have to accept a degree of surgery. Next time you pass your local betting shop – see what they’re peddlng in the window. Right now – it isn’t Racing

You have a voice. Use it

Geoff Banks

June 2014

Link

http://www.archk2014.com/en/2014-arc-video-06052014.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

THERE IS ONLY ONE DERBY

The Derby   Who could not enjoy the Derby? An iconic race on an unusual twisting track where the field drops into the straight and race downhill past rows of London buses. It’s one of the great British events. One of my favourite meetings of the year. buses On the eve of the Oaks, I was at Epsom to film a small fun segment for Channel 4. Hundreds of workers buzzing around, having meetings, preparing.  Epsom, whilst it is a great track, disappointingly only produces one meeting of merit a year. That’s not a comment meant to impugn Jockey Club. I think the reason being the unusual nature of the track makes running more premium events there difficult. I think that’s a shame. It also argues the importance to the track of a financially successful Derby.

Jockey Club Racecourses have a talent for organising large festivals. I’ve been behind the scenes on many occasions. It’s impressive. I don’t believe people realise how much is involved turning a racetrack that’s done nothing for months into such a showcase for the sport. Chairs, bands, bunting, car parking, food and drink. The organisation performs the same feat at Aintree for the National, Newmarket for the Guineas, Sandown for the Eclipse and of course Cheltenham, to name but a few. They know what they’re doing here. And I love every one of the aforementioned. I don’t want to suggest otherwise.

JCR are, of course, the commercial arm of the once rulers of British Racing. They have a debt book to manage and of course it is vital to turn as many events as possible to profit. That’s business. One of their most successful tracks commercially is Kempton, tumbleweed blows about the place and never strikes an ankle. A product engineered for the shops.  Little wonder Newcastle looks on with envy. The turf tracks such as Epsom and Sandown can struggle if their numbers dip

 

photo-72

The Derby, arguably, is the second biggest draw in British Racing. For the last century (at least) its traditional slot was the first Wednesday in June. This was changed to arguably more lucrative slot on a Saturday. I have a big problem with this. I fully recognise the commercial importance of the event to Epsom and I also understand the stance adopted by the BHA in favour of large betting concerns in supporting so many race meets on a Saturday and more generally. I have been at odds with them on this subject because I do not accept the Sport itself benefits from this arrangement, nor the volume of racing, as advocated by Ralph Topping or Andy Hornby. They are running the sport to their gain and our ruin. If it was the case our beloved racing was ‘furthered’ by so many meetings on a Saturday (8 of whom competed with Epsom) – we would surely witness LBO’s about the country pushing racing in their shop windows. However the opposite is most certainly true. Shop windows are dominated with banners pushing the machines racing has no financial interest in. Shoving FOBT’s down our throats with warnings about ‘responsible gambling’ – You couldn’t make it up. BlcYya1CMAArtbN

 

Mr Topping, shortly to retire from William Hill I’m glad to observe, led the pack of casino operators with an offer of 5/2 Australia to win the great race. After the flop of True Story in the Dante, William Hill were 4/6. £1 wagered netted £2.50 on the day of the race, yet would have won just 67p in profit the month before – a mere 32% drop in margin. Had Australia had one of his legs amputated I think the move would have been a fair one.Most business models would collapse at 5% drop in margin. Its a decision based on trying to suck customers away from rival firms  – and driving them to other products. It’s a Levy wrecking exercise because it drives the whole industry to offering an odds-on chance at 11/8 by the start time, an industry 18% worse off thanks to William Hill. Roulette wins- Racing loses. Yet they claim to be supporting the Sport? Tell me how is Racing advantaged?

In shops more famous for restrictions on Racing and Greyhounds, the margin in betting terms  on racing has collapsed, and let’s be clear on this – this is nobody’s fault but the Bookmakers. It’s a world dominated by pennies on exchanges and casino firms warring on market share. And it’s the latter that provides more liquidity, and therefore more price impetus. I’m suggesting alliances with such organisations are a waste of time if all they do is run the finances of the product to suit their own ends.

I don’t blame Paul Bittar for seeking a more convivial level with these firms. But I believe he has to recognise the realities in such a relationship. British Racing is a standalone product. The sport has become the conduit, the vital fodder such betting companies require to camouflage the presence of LBO’s proliferating our High Streets, as well as provide the background noise. There’s little chance of a fruit machine empire being granted free licensing by a worried government, but one that claims to be based on Horse Racing? Well that’s just British. At least it’s a British lie. Any potential profits from the Derby clearly sacrificed at the altar of market share. Should you care? Well for as long as betting profit funds the sport then the answer is yes. It happens at every festival, with rivals outdoing each other in offers so attractive they’re bound to be loss making. I’ll be glad when Ralph leaves, the firm might return to Bookmaking. I appreciate my view won’t be shared by Betfair, who have eaten King Ralph’s lunch for years..

The big story on the morning of the Derby – and the following morning, wasn’t Australia and his thrilling performance. The headlines were an England friendly. A French Open final won by a fox with nice legs. The Derby festival has competed in the past for critical airtime and exposure with England World Cup qualifying games and matches against Brazil. football

 

The same is true abroad, with their own sporting events in direct opposition to The Derby. Overseas markets are crucial to the success of British Racing’s commercial arm in selling Para Mutuel tickets and sponsorship. Our Sport also managed shoot itself in the foot by adding 8 other race meetings to the mix.  It’s all quantity. I hate using the term madness to such thinking, so I will use a different and less evocative term. Is JCR the only culprit in such activities? Absolutely not. York’s fabulous Ebor, Goodwood’s Stewards Cup. A couple of examples of races that are losing their identity.

I hear Channel 4’s Epsom figures as down 25%. That’s a very significant drop. Some would argue the format of the show as wrong. I’m no expert in television. I do, however, believe the network cannot be advantaged by forcing it to transmit in competition to so many other major sporting events, as well as air our sport in a more lucrative spot than Wednesday. I do believe Channel 4 should be beating on the door of British Racing to demand a better product to transmit.

Are such heritage events totally under the control of our racetracks as to when they are put on, or does the ruling body have to approve the change? I suspect the BHA has some control over such matters and if so I believe it’s time to resist further calls from tracks to move events to Saturdays where attendances gain, whilst the Sport unquestionably loses. I would go further. I think it’s time the sport restricted payments of Media and Levy to any more than two Premier Race Meetings on each Saturday. Broadly this means events such as the July Cup – would not be funded in opposition to Newbury and Chester’s big meetings on the same day. Is this so radical? Not really. Is it easily done in a BHA board with such a hefty racetrack bias? Ehm, er, well..

It’s time for a complete re-think on how we further the Sport both commercially, as in sales of TV rights and Betting abroad, and in its profile. Paralleled with providing improved midweek racing, to encourage traffic into our betting shops. We need to spread out the jewels – not compete for air time, coverage, newspaper space as well as for Betting by hosting The Derby on the same day as England vs Honduras. And yes, I’ll say it, less racing to deal with the issue of small fields. I don’t think people fully understand the negative impact on the sport when five runners set out to post.

And if you’re sitting there thinking the Oikball can’t compete with our Derby because we’re so fabulous? Bear in mind 1.5 Million watched Australia’s romp, and 7.5 Million watched the brainless ones flop about the field in a friendly. Let us not also forget sponsorship for the Derby was only recently saved by Investec who came in at the eleventh hour two years ago and doubtless saved themselves a few quid. Would a Wednesday Derby have been in the same boat for sponsors? Such investments prosper from sporting events from exclusive coverage and exposure.

epsom-derby

 

It’s time to stand up to the racetracks on this subject – and force these iconic sporting events to be moved back to their original midweek slots for a host of good reasons, contra their natural desire to profit more from a Saturday.  At the end of the day ‘ownership’ of the top races in the calendar carries a responsibility to produce more than numbers through the turnstile – although I doubt the Derby’s Saturday figures are that much better than when it was hosted on a Wednesday. I recall queues of traffic for the Derby. Last Saturday I breezed in. The race has certainly lost some of its mojo.

We should enthusiastically place Premier race events midweek with a rights and levy structure which encourages movement off of weekends. Why do we permit Chester, York, Ascot and Goodwood on one day and Leicester, Ffos Las, Windsor and Ripon on another? What are our expectations here? Would you walk into a store if the quality varied so much from one day to the next? Why was Newmarket for example permitted to move its July Cup from an unchallenged slot – to one where it competes and denigrated other fixtures, as is the case on ‘Super Saturday?’

Broadening the appeal of Racing involves dealing with the huge holes in the fixture programme left by top tracks abandoning midweek posts in favour of more lucrative weekend slot. Our winter and the great sport of National Hunt is dying on its feet, if you hadn’t noticed, with the smallest fields on record and a movement toward Cheltenham for the top horses which leaves months of high class, well-funded racing either subject to small ‘match’ races or worse simply won by lesser horses. Such issues are partly driven by a lack of control over racetracks and structures that permit horses to laze about in their boxes instead of being forced to compete in a qualifying number of races each season. We need tighter controls if we are committed to a quality product.

There’s only one Derby

 

Geoff Banks

June 2014

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.

hcb

 

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

 

 

BRITISH CHAMPIONS DAY – A DAY TOO LATE

Orfevre, Treve, Toronado, Camelot, Novelist, Declaration Of War, Intello, Moonlight Cloud, Sole Power, Sky Lantern, The Fugue.

Germany, Australia, Japan.

Most of the O Brien and Hannon yards.

None of the above chose British Champions Day. Now if you’re sitting there saying ‘well this reason and that’ – you’re not on the same page. Move straight to Holborn and collect £200

What we did get, Dawn Approach, Cirrus Des Aigles, Estimate and Talent. Speaking with my Bookie’s hat, these were the Bankers for the bettors at Ascot. With the exception of Estimate (and Farhh) both of whom had been out for months, it was confident Morning Line for me. The Bankers were readily opposable. In the case of Cirrus and Dawn, it’s fair to say their form for most of the year was nothing short of miserable. Yet they found themselves at the head of the markets. The cream of the current French Crop could and would have beaten them senseless- as has been proved the case in Races Like Le Marois. (Olympic held that form up in outstanding style, and for me was the best performer in the crop on BCD)

So, once again speaking with my Trilby and Shades on, these Bankers were considerably under-bet. Cirrus and Dawn were notably weak and whilst I was prepared to stand both for lumps, it proved impossible to field adequate sums at the prices I was forced to offer and ended up actually losing with Farhh and Olympic Glory. The point I’m making isn’t what I won or lost,-  I mean who cares if I lose? I’m guessing most Bookies won yesterday, but not perhaps as much as the casual bettor would imagine. But if our Championship Finale is made up of so many notable absentees, suspect favourites– not to mention every potential Fast Ground performer out there – it’s clear to me we will end up with a product which caters only for soft ground specialists or second tier performers. Nor can it compete with a 4 Million Euro Arc in late October.

Let’s get something out of the way. I’m thoroughly in favour of the idea, and I absolutely enjoyed yesterday. Ascot is the perfect venue and it was right for JCR to concede the point and support the move. We did get a stirring finish to the Champion Stakes. We do need a seasons ‘end’ bash. It’s excellent for turnover and betting – the engine of the Sport. I get the impression some members of the Establishment view Betting as somewhat ‘dirty’, but the roots of the sport more originated in Betting than Breeding. The securing of Sponsorship from Quipco for the series has been a major achievement. And we should take very great pride in that.

A few negative points to consider. The crowd was well down on the previous year, and struggled to reach a level commensurate with the occasion. No Frankel or Excelebration .Equally no Treve, Moonlight Cloud or The Fugue. Two similar races in the QE2 and Champions on the same card, and an oddly sited apprentice race. Predictably it rained and we suffered several notable withdrawals in the lead up to BCD, and every horse who contested the Arc card was beaten. What effect will that have on future entries? I foresee a clear choice, Arc Weekend or BCD – and not both for the many superstars critical to the day.

I’ve been critical of the BHA and in particular Great British Racing on the subject and I want to put this in context. I’ve said openly the broad idea is a good one.  However, in my opinion the day needs major tweaking if it’s not to remain the sub card to Longchamp or the Breeders. Supporters of BCD have been critical of the Breeders Cup. I’m not sure where they’re getting their material from because year on year it’s been supported by some of the best horses on the planet. What I do find as distasteful – the BHA’s consistent failure to properly engage with the Racing Public on the positioning of the day. Ask a question of them and it’s ignored. Their Press Officer tweets only to advise of carefully worded press releases. Evidently the cushiest job in Racing is PR for the BHA. There’s no discussion of decisions, nor the reasoning behind them. ‘I know nothing – Nooothing..’

Fine, if we’re talking about integrity, there’s perhaps an argument to keep matters ‘in house.’ However for issues such as British Champions Day, we’re met with silence. It’s almost as if ‘we’ve made our decision, it has to be right, you don’t understand, belt up.’ I find the whole manner the organisation engages with the Race-going public arrogant beyond belief. Has the arrival of the Australian lent itself to a mild easing of the wall of silence? Or is the Godolphin-Sungate-Egan merely proof nothing’s actually changed here except the face? It’s time to stop acting like a secret society.

Further, there’s far too many entrenched views in the organisation. Committees are formed of like-minded folk, and the same well-meaning individuals involved in various differing quangos. I’ve seen it in Public School boys Clubs everywhere, – and it’s got that same whiff of establishment. It’s time to move away from such cultures and employ people to make decisions whose views offer a broader spectrum. Such failures at the head of the industry isn’t assisted by a super pliant Racing Post editorial. That’s left to the Guardian and the Independent.

Whilst we’re on the subject of the British Horseracing Authority, why should it be the organisation lacks even one single Betting Expert on its payroll? So many decisions the Authority undertakes are affected by, or affect the Betting ‘cake.’ The only examples you’ll find at the Levy Board’s once a year Bookmakers Committee. Made up of the 5 biggest stakeholders in Betting. Hills, Ladbrokes, Corals, Betfair and Bet 365. Casino operators. I can only deduce the reasons for so many committees making decisions at number 75, without input from those thoroughly versed with Betting and its importance can be put down to pure snobbishness. I stand to be corrected of course. Policemen they have, Betting men they do not.

There’s a solution. There always is you know. It isn’t complicated. It may mean upsetting the French and the Irish. But the Irish have shown they won’t be hostage to the age old Pattern. And why shouldn’t the most powerful racing nation do so also, or is that not the British way? France is famous for bucking the rule book in so many regards. Should we feel obligated to respect their sensibilities? We could simply move British Champions Day back a month to Ascot’s September slot. Oh no, that’s just not cricket? Surely it’s just business – and good business? Give ourselves the best track, ground and poach the fast ground specialists from the French. Allez..

As to the ground yesterday – described as soft. Was actually ‘bottomless’ in places according to William Buick, heavy said Hughes and led to the first race – despite Championship status, being over 15 seconds slower than standard. Indeed every race was significantly slower than the ground report suggested it would be. Champions Day on jumping ground? Don’t be silly guys.

We simply cannot compete with the prize fund offered by the Arc, but we can compete on the quality of our racetrack, October ground issues in Paris and just getting our heads in front in the calendar. To boot, we may deal with possibility that those who took their chance at Ascot yesterday – who also participated at Longchamp, simply will not attend next year. Better horses – equals more prestige, attendance, network coverage, sponsorship deals. Last but by no means least, a horse participating on British Champions Day will make the Breeders Cup. Something people seem to forget. Bonus.

One other associated point. Future Champions Day. I very much understand the very excellent Jockey Club racecourses trying to preserve something that is distinctly Rowley. But a Friday bash the day before Ascot is simply unworkable. Nobody would drive 20 miles by choice to get to Newmarket on a Friday, worse the dismal trip home. Anyone going to Ascot on the morrow would need a helicopter – pure and simple. It’s a decision I would revisit. Fine – I don’t run Racetracks, but I’m as certain as Veuve is my tipple the loss in attendance, and by extension sponsors, will seal the fate of the meeting. Go the whole hog and move it to Ascot or tie it into the Cesarewitch. I know not to criticise the Baz, it would have been his brain child to move BCD from a track I know he loves, but there’s not enough petrol in the world to get most of us to Rowley for a Friday bash.

Here I sit, 9 hours after Lord Street’s show, listening to the thunder outside my house. The roads are full of deep washes, cars can barely pass. Bath is abandoned. Ascot simply would not be racing 24 hours later. Last year the participation of the great Frankel– even the event itself was in some doubt right up until 10.30am on the morning of Champions Day. Is this really something we should leave to chance? And do we really want to be slotted in between the mighty Arc and Breeders Cup cards, or do we just show them our rear end?

Geoff Banks

20 October 2013