Racing and the whip

mark souster

Mark Souster

 
The debate about the whip, especially in jumps racing, is one of the  most important issues the sport has to confront. For some it is an existential threat. It has pitched traditionalists against reformers, heretics against the believers.
The focus on equine welfare and all that that entails – with fatalities high up the list too – will be on the Cheltenham Festival next week like never before. The scrutiny will be intense.

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Remember it was two years ago that six horses died at the Festival, three in the Grand Annual. The images of tired horses being whacked in the four mile amateur’s race run on soft ground and when only four finished triggered an outcry.
Paul and Clare Rooney who are among the sport’s biggest British owners, then announced they would boycott Cheltenham – albeit only temporarily as it turned out – on welfare grounds.
It led to a review and a marked shift change in public perception which racing is only now starting to come to terms with.
At the prompting of government responsibility for its ultimate resolution has been taken out of the hands of the BHA, and falls to a new independent Horse Welfare Board compromising experts as well as laymen and women.

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Its first report landed last month.  It is clear as day that stronger penalties for misuse of the whip appear to be a certainty by the autumn. “The overall number of offences (over 500 in 2018) remains unnecessarily high and the current penalties do not provide an adequate deterrent effect,” the board concluded.
In its wake, the BHA has announced a three-month consultation with racing insiders and the public on changes to the whip rules, with a view to deciding on and implementing changes by the end of October.
The number of whip offences fell to an all-time low of 410 last year, less than half the number from 2011. However, the board pointed to concern on the subject from the public and politicians.
It said racing had to demonstrate “a proactive, positive direction of travel in relation to the whip, taking steps to eliminate misuse and leading any discussions around the future removal of the whip for encouragement”.
Far deeper questions are also being raised. Should that consultation include questions about whether a horse should be disqualified when its rider breaks the whip rules and also whether the whip should be banned as a means of encouraging horses in races?
Could punishments for whip misuse even be extended to the trainer and owner who had employed a jockey found to be in breach?

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Barry Johnson, a former president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons is the chair of the HWB. “This is a matter of public trust.”
The prevailing thought seems to be that racing needs to address these issues and be accountable if society is to continue to give them a ‘social license to operate.’ Well that is taking it too far.
Racing maybe facing a King Canute moment where the end result is the sport being swamped in a tide of public indignation.
But it needs to draw breath and compose itself and come out with persuasive and reasoned responses. Emotion must not be allowed to replace hard fact and cold analysis. For instance when presented with the evidence from the BHA the Rooneys changed their minds and good on them.

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We need to get to the core of fundamental questions: Why do we use the whip – for safety encouragement, or an element of both? Where and when did it start being used? Does it instigate a fight or flight reflex? Does it inflict pain?
If it doesn’t, as most contend, then it’s not cruel then why shouldn’t we continue to use it?  And why call it the whip which has such negative violent connotations?
Perhaps a controlled experiment and research would help. If a horse responds to the whip, is it because it focuses them? Does it make them try harder? Or simply stop?
Would we be better off without the whip, so we have lots of hands and heels riding, and maybe carry the whip only for safety?

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Do horses go faster with the whip? If not then why do we use them?  Especially as it’s always at the end of a race when they are all going slower because they are tired.
As one expert put it to me: “I’m sure if you had hit Seb Coe towards the end of a race he probably wouldn’t have been able to go any faster.”
So many questions and as yet too few answers.

Mark Souster

 

Mark Souster has been the racing writer at The Times since 2016. Before that he was rugby correspondent. In that role he was named sports journalist of the year by the Society of Editors and won sports scoop of the year for his revelations about England’s 2011 World Cup campaign. He has twice been nominated for sports news correspondent of the year.

A bet to win £100 Sir?

‘When I was younger, I worked in my family’s betting shop in Yorkshire, and we never turned a bet down. ‘ Philip Davies MP.

‘Skybet undertake to lay to lose its customers, on Racing, £100. Richard Flint CEO of Skybet

skybet

In the intervening period since Davies ran his family’s little LBO, things have changed dramatically in the world of bookmaking. Little bookmakers, the likes that Davies describes, are dying out, in favour of supermarket style betting companies like Skybet.

And they’ve stopped taking bets. They provide no reasons for these failures. They answer no questions on the matter.

As things have stood for a few years now, regulators, advertising standards, trading standards and MP’s have stood by and watched large betting corporations advertise products without mandating them to offer the same to all of their customers. I’m no consumer lawyer here, but it seems these companies are breaching several codes, not to mention basic consumer rights.

The Gaming Committee in Parliament has taken an important first step here. What I’ve always found hard to understand is the lack of activity amongst regulators to bring firms fully to account. Consumers have rights.

Richard Flint’s speech revolved, of course, on the rights of the company, in his view, to deliver profits for its shareholders. The rights of consumers, no, wait a minute his own customers were not considered. He is perfectly aware of the PR ills afflicting modern day business, but such matters are usually brushed over by Richard Keys adverts.

Of course, the views of Richard Flint were taken by Racing Post editor Bruce Millington who spoke with some passion to describe all nefarious means punters utilise to get a bet on, and even run business off of bookmakers, without beginning to understand why that was taking place. Nor that such behaviour can be readily controlled by online operators should they wish to. He discussed line trackers, arbers, bonus hunters, value burglars. All the bad things some punters are supposed to be up to these days. His sympathies very obviously lie with big betting as at no stage did he criticise Flint for their modus operandi, nor did he offer any workable solution as Rowlands did for the HBF.

The Racing Post is an active partner in such companies, the very future of his paper and jobs sold to companies that include Skybet. Bruce is, by extension, an employee. I found his participation odd, I mean what did the gaming committee expect to hear from the Racing Post editor? Certainly not a robust defense of consumer rights but I suppose most representatives of big betting declined to appear and explain themselves. The Racing Post has never to my knowledge ran any article openly criticizing its partners. It might ‘report’ on fines or the like, but comment? Certainly not as it has proffered headlines like the image shared below, sensationalising (errantly) the activities of on course bookmakers who do not sponsor the paper.

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Bruce did clearly say a ‘lay to lose’ minimum was something he felt would not work, but he’s totally wrong. It works extremely well in Australia. The eradication of nefarious activity in that state and a fairer betting platform either escapes his intellect or offends his commercial sense. A lay to lose minimum certainly can benefit operators, forcing them to bet to a margin where everyone is granted a wager, as they are entitled to.

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What Bruce should be screaming is why on earth everyone (but him) isn’t being afforded a bet. It is right that newspapers are seen to champion the rights of consumers. This is why I’d suggest he is so universally unpopular. A role he seems to embrace.

On the very day he was speaking ‘on behalf’ of punters, he sanctioned the first three pages in his paper in support of FOBT’s. It’s simply indefensible, little wonder the circulation is so low. Where is his respect for the many complaints directed at the trade paper, from his readers, for its defence of betting when they behave so poorly? The hypocrisy of this editor stinks.

Ok, so why ‘restrict’ anyone. If you’ve decided someone is no good – why risk the embarrassment of being a multi million pound company and laying a bet of £1? Surely you just close the account and move on?

No NO NO!

Let’s examine Skybet. Bought for circa 800 million a few years back by CVC. Business ‘grows’ in customers. It ‘Claims’ a half a million more this year to 2 million. It doesn’t release profit figures. In ‘growing’ the business CVC now plan to float the same at a proposed value of 2.4bn. Some rate of ‘growth’ that, – a fanciful figure! But you do the maths. If they even get close to that valuation for its owners, it dwarves doing a few million in because you laid ten places in the Grand National, or offer Best odds against everyone on a Saturday. So even if you do lose a few million ‘gaining weight’ the city loves you.

Conclusion? All you mugs are double mugs for opening up accounts with them, only to be treated like dirt because you’re good at punting and then permit them to keep your account ‘active.’

So you get it? It’s not about the win or loose, it’s the total number. Hence Bet365 ‘claim’ 22 million customers. The level of restrictions, given how close to the bone, even overbroke every Saturday on racing, they choose to bet. They ‘add’ value to the company.

This isn’t what Richard Flint covered, he knows you’re too dumb to figure this one out. He knows no matter how he treats you, you’ll sign up like soldiers if he offers ten places in the US Masters. You’re not very bright – are you? In fact I’d conclude so many who complain to me about restrictions are as dopey as sheep. Why should I care if your moral sensibilities end at their next offer?

How many of those treated so badly, sign up to my firm? Even if we’re just as competitive and lay every one of our customers a wager online to win at least £1000, I hear people say ‘I don’t like the colour of your website’ or ‘you don’t do cashout.’ So we treat punters with respect (punters-not traders btw) – we don’t do cashout, the highest value product to a bookmaker, we rebate a little to our customers every week and we don’t do gaming. We’re precisely what the smart individual should be about, being rewarded for their loyalty and growing old together. I’m a traditional bookmaker and very proud of it. I thoroughly disapprove of these gaming giants and everything they stand for. So should you, make a stand today and sign up to us.

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Richard Flint I found engaging, smart and non-confrontational. A decent sort, and at least brave enough to answer his critics. However, his company, and its peers, do bombard our children with adverts, exacerbate a problem gambling culture, allow people to fund their accounts with credit cards, and leads with slogans like ‘it matters more when there’s money on it.’  An odd campaign for a company more famous for what it does not lay, than what it does. Much of what they do offends a traditional layer like myself. I’ve only ever known laying bets, but they force me to compete on prices they choose often not to lay.

I do applaud this first step from Davies and his committee and the work of the punters forum. I note they haven’t had the courtesy of a response from many companies, that doesn’t surprise me.

Lord Lipsey had it right. He warned operators that to ignore the concerns of Parliament into their behaviour, or even to simply fail to engage with customers and regulators is a dangerous move for the companies. He also made the very valid point that for firms to advertise a price for something, yet not to lay that price, is an issue for advertising standards, of which he has considerable expertise. His view the ASA would likely rule against such operators for their failures to lay what they peddle. So why haven’t punters done precisely that?

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Apathy. Punters love a moan, but most are simply too damn lazy or feckless to do anything about it. They whine about Bet365 not laying them a bet, but meekly sign up to their next offer. Donald Trump was elected despite offending the sensibilities of women, Mexicans, immigrants.  People howl, then line up to sign on.

The bottom line, what it all comes down to, in betting, is PRICE. That’s the sole determinant of whether you lay a bet or perhaps not. And naturally how much you lay. Since so many offers are so very unsustainable in commercial terms, yet attractive in new customers.

If I look at a sea of punters in front of me at Cheltenham, I don’t think of who is undesirable or not. We simply don’t restrict bets on course since we run a book based purely on the odds. Indeed, the smallest fiddler on the racetrack would comfortably lay a bet to lose £105 to everyone. Something Skybet will not.

When on course bookmakers were mandated to respect each way standard place terms, they adapted. And so can big betting to any ‘lay to lose’ minimum.

Would some punters lose out? No, but traders would. Those currently utilising bookmakers to facilitate a business. Casual punters are not as obsessed by price as you’d imagine. They just want a bet and I have every sympathy with their complaints.

So a business based on PRICE and not MARKET SHARE would accommodate all of its customers. Isn’t that right Richard?

My point to the committee involved the UK Gambling Commission. They collect essential data from online operators for every quarter. Number of self-exclusions, cooling off, age and sex of new customers is all collated. Lots of interesting material on the demographics of the UK gambling sector. But they currently do not require operators to provide data on how many they close, how many they restrict. They seem afraid to tackle the subject. Why? Surely Parliament and the DCMS must be provided with this information, if they are to have an accurate picture of the sheer scale of the problem.

There’s a clear problem. They are responsible for fair play. Make it your business to find out what’s going on. That’s how you justify your wages lads.

Richard Flint claimed they only restrict 2% of their customers. I’m not sure if he was discussing ten pin bowling, but with my online experience, I’d say that figure was fanciful. In the absence of data who can accurately dispute anything he says?

How do restrictions work? You’d be human to imagine such impressive companies have the very latest tools and analysis, not to mention teams of staffers working on the problem. In fact, it’s depressingly low tech. Broadly based on rather simple software tools working at the point of sale. Bookmaker price vs exchange price. Yes, I did say exchange, the two-bit penny arcade that runs the show.

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Traders for such companies aren’t career bookmakers blooded at Ludlow over twenty years in the rain laying bets and understanding margins. They’re young, impressionable and often ill trained student types, trained to follow Betfair. Many of these traders I’ve met in interview, and their lack of depth and understanding into how punters think and behave is startling.

The truth is Denise Coates of 365 doesn’t engage with customers, – other than via Ray Winstone. They don’t answer questions, offer views, defend or trumpet the business. She’s not alone. William Hill, Betway, Betbright and Betfair have nothing to say on restrictions. They simply refuse to comment. They’re too ashamed to engage.

I’m in the online marketplace. I thoroughly support a lay to lose and it should be £1000 a bet for my customers. That’s what it is, with almost no exception. Yes, we close the traders down or stop them taking prices, but that’s only after personal and detailed analysis of their actions, and only when we conclusively feel they’re operating business off of our backs. And then we tell them exactly why we’re doing what we do.

For those of you thinking of challenging me on why I don’t just lay everybody right now every bet? Well quite simply I’m forced to compete with companies like Bet365 and their restriction culture or put the key in the door. So, patience is what I ask, until government mandates they offer a fair bet to all – I’m manacled to their policies. I do better than any of them in laying a bet to all my customers though. I’ve noticed barely a single restriction in my business in any wager to win at least £1000 in my business in the last month. We’re reacting.

What I support is a culture based on price and respect for all customers. I don’t agree with Simon Clare of ‘never a quarrel Coral’ when he says, ‘some need to be controlled.’ I believe it’s up to the operators to operate a fair platform of betting for all, to an acceptable lay to lose. £1000 is not a gigantic sum for companies turning over billions a year. Any argument against that level I’d challenge in any debate, bring on a straight debate. We operate to that level right now, don’t tell me Skybet, Betfair or Coral cannot match my offer.

 

Good luck getting a bet with them.

 

https://www.racingpost.com/news/news/are-bookmakers-unfairly-closing-customer-accounts-views-from-tuesday-s-debate/316874?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Wednesday%20News&utm_content=Speeches

Racing Post link to speeches given to the panel

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Unibet’s favourite ambassador

There’s a dangerous saying in Racing. ‘How dare you question me?’ One could introduce  perhaps ‘I am beyond reproach.’

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But Nicky, you’re not beyond reproach, for a second. In fact it does appear to coin another well turned phrase, ‘he doth protesteth too much’

Whilst I personally find Nicky,  a most amiable sort, and of appreciable talent, there are two things which he has to take fully on board. One, racing fans don’t have reason to appreciate nor like the commercial stance you are adopting in relationships with Bookmakers. And second, you have to accept that the behaviour of those who work in your yard, or how information is utilised, will be the target for speculation, for as long as you maintain horses are in great order, only to withdraw them a couple of days later.

The ‘some journalists are dead meat’ comment, is unprofessional, and unjustified. Frankly it’s a dangerous precedent, from a yard that so dominates the sport. Journalists have an important role to fulfil, and it’s not to kiss people’s backsides. Fine, we all accept Racing press notoriety not for hard headed sports journalism, rather a deserved reputation for the supine. Printing the rubbish peddled by top trainers as gospel has long since reached epidemic proportion.

See this interview with Matt Chapman from ITV’s feed in which he denies there was a problem with Altior on the Saturday before the Tingle, and maintains there was ‘no issue’

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjn1YjumaXYAhXpCsAKHX7WAJ0QFggwMAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.itv.com%2Fracing%2Farchive-clips%2Fmatt-chapman-speaks-to-nicky-henderson-about-the-altior-controversy&usg=AOvVaw1OlX8-6oTcPV6qZcU03oJu

And here is Nick’s Unibet version which maintains there WAS an issue with ALtior’s breathing the Saturday before

https://t.co/4dfZFYlzfq

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to understand which version I am to believe?

 

To deal with each point. One, the practice of association with Betting companies is an abhorrent development, something Henderson should be fully aware is deeply unpopular. Let me remind people how companies such as Ladbrokes utilise information to their advantage, gained from accounts they operate,  as in the David Evans- Rule 4 saga. Anyone that imagines these betting behemoths behave with impeccably good manners when it comes to money must be living in some form of fantasy world. None of them behave well. In fact there’s compelling daily evidence to show how low they have stooped as companies in their pursuit of accounts and money. They’re bound to use associations with top trainers to their commercial advantage, and to penalize their customers therefore. And Nicky knows this, hence his exaggerated indignation at Cheltenham.  Unibet have no reason to release your ‘information’ promptly. They are not a news service.

Punters simply think they are being cheated, whether that’s true or not, such association used to be outlawed, for very good reason. The BHA haven’t supplied any rationale for this decision, and don’t expect a docile Gambling Commission to do anything about it either.

To boot Unibet have ensured the very latest flow of information from Seven Barrows, via their association with your stable Jockey, Nico De Boinville. Couldn’t get any more insidious.

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Henderson simply shouldn’t be releasing information via any medium other than the stable’s own twitter feed, or perhaps via the racing press feed. Good news, or bad news. A Bookmaker is simply not the right vessel.

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As a bookmaker, we were aware of very significant monies for Fox Norton, for the Tingle Creek in the day PRIOR to the withdrawal of the mighty Altior. And we were not alone as the news was all over Twitter. Betfair exchange and other bookmakers reported the same pattern of monies. Fine, Hendo may not have personally made a final decision as to the participation, but others quite clearly had leaked their doubts to their associates, as to the participation of Altior. The fact remains, some people generously helped themselves before the information was released, and they were proven correct. Who was leaking this information, or were they all better informed than Henderson himself? You were after saying the horse was in ‘magnificent order.’

One concludes either Henderson doesn’t know the well being of his horses, he’s waiting on the strength of the opposition to show their hands, or someone else in his organisation knows his charges better than he does.

Perhaps it could be the myopic focus on the Cheltenham Festival. A subject which concerns many racing fans, excepting the regulator itself. The Tingle, Fighting Fifth and many more top races decimated. The BHA far too slow to establish minimum conditions of entry for the Festival. Something they’re told by the likes of Henderson ‘isn’t possible.’

It is. Yesterday I heard the NFL, the world’s best sporting body, totally re-jig it’s schedule next week, to put all potential playoff games on at the same time. Doubtless upsetting giant TV networks. That’s how to run sport. Act

The truth is – Altior will be another one of those top stars who turn up in March, having not experienced a real race (of his class) in the six month lead up to Cheltenham.

The pigs ended up in the betting trough, and people are fully entitled to know why, since they are investing in the sport.

Associations with big betting companies by jockeys and stables has to be ended by this BHA. There’s no sensible regulatory reason for such deals, other than to upset the very people who funded the sport to the tune of 52 million last year.

Remember, Mr Rust, the only people to benefit from those deals are the best of trainers and jockeys. The little guys rarely share in such windfalls, and if it in any way has the whiff of impropriety,-  it has to be outlawed.

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Finally, I would add that Henderson’s ‘how dare you’ approach, as a top trainer needs to be roundly condemned, in all quarters. This arrogant approach, that if you dare question anything I do, in the manner so common in other sports, is damaging to the good governance of racing. nobody should be above fair interview. Tell me why Nicky Henderson thinks he only deserves good press?

It wasn’t so long ago Nicky, that you were handed the softest ban in living memory for doctoring records, to conceal guilt, and administering banned substances to your horse. I don’t doubt the shame of reporting in those days leaves a hurtful stain in your memory, but you have to accept that those journalists, then and now, are simply, and fairly, doing their job. You broke the rules, knowingly, and with appropriate disregard for the rules. It’s more than a bit rich to claim the moral high ground over your associations with betting companies, especially if you don’t bet with Unibet. I expect most people get their racing news from the Racing Post, or the Guardian. Aren’t these more appropriate mediums?

So Nicky, accept the brickbats as they come, because you most definitely benefit from a veritable avalanche of good press when your horses do well.

I suppose I’m dead..

 

 

 

 

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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ryan

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.

Champions Day – The Bookies view..

 

 

champ

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 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 a chunkin 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.

I threw the money into the bag as if i stood such bets every day of the week. I gave David Power an interest 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.

National Hunt – a code in crisis

Racing fans comprise four sets of folk. The outraged form 49% (A). This group won’t hear speak or listen to any criticism of the sport, they either work for a racetrack, punt favourites over the jumps, or sit indoors with the curtains shut.. The disaffected, numbering 50% (B), a group whose numbers rise annually and constitute the biggest moaners in Racing. Escapees from the Betfair forum, sitting in their underpants at home whining about getting on. The third group go Racing, but only view it from corporate boxes, don’t drink beer, miss all the fights and haven’t a clue what’s really going on outside the box. (Group Q) Excuse merchants, apologists and evangelists form another strange sect (Group E). Then we have a small section of disaffected journos and pundits who’d better shut up or else (X)

The final 1% work for the BHA (Z). The persecuted ones. They would join St Peter being crucified upside down.

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The executive are selected by the racetracks on rolling three year contracts. The current Chairman knew less about Racing than my cat when he arrived, presided over some notable fails like Mathew Lohn, then quietly and ‘humbly’ voted into another 3 year term..

Now tell me – why would you vote to Chairman someone who knew so little about the sport? Why did he then go about the removal of a more experienced board in favour of amateurs with equal skill level? Why are commitees informed a reduction in the programme is ‘off the table?’

Is the regulator looking after the interests of racing, or is the system of election of the Chairman dependent on what he does for  racetracks? Chairman of the BHA isn’t akin to golf club captaincy.

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Look, I know you all think I hate the BHA (Group Z). Come come now, I’m not that bad really, honestly. I’ve made clowns of them once, but I’d like to think their decisions were based on regulating and promoting the sport, not battling bookmakers for cash. Truth is the BHA  (Z) hierachy is never going to act for Racing for as long as the tracks sit on the board and appoint the leaders.

Turkeys rarely buy Xmas cards. More galloping about the ovals keeps the track bosses in tweed and BHA execs in badges. Kempton makes more money than any other JCR track (Group A) – except Cheltenham. Pop there on a Wednesday night and you’d swear the gates had been locked shut. It subsists on an attractive Levy payment for every race. Three runners or fifteen, its all gravy.

The swing to sandpits, to include the gothically dull Newcastle straight (A), needs runners from the available horse population, and owners. If you’re a prospective jump owner, up against wannabee’s like Rich Ricci (Q and E), forking out hundreds of thousands a horse, – you can afford 65 pence a purchase. Ricci stables his muckers the Mullins pad, coffee machine, babestation and minibar in every box. Regular owners on limited budgets can’t compete nor cover the exxes. And your trusty milker can only hack around 5 or 6 times a year. On the all weather, chances are you’ll do better. Even if you’re the only one interested if it wins..

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It is a matter of pure fact belting out sand races at the rate of 3 meetings a day harms the winter code. Is there any chance a whole summer of jumps nobody cares about is a pointless exercise, for everyone except Plumpton? Or have i taken leave of my Scottish mind?

Jump Racing sacrificed on the altar of an engorged BHA all weather list . Months of 4 and 5 runner events. It’s not on, and time you fans stood up and demanded change.

This year, and with apologies the excuse merchants (E), the fields in jump racing have never been so poor. 3 and 4 runner events abound. When they’re strung out for 465 yards, this is what sporting people (B) call ‘uncompetitive’or ‘dull’- unless that is you like Formula one

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The ground isn’t firm. It’s good racing ground, so stop telling me a its akin to a bed of nails to a horse. Indeed they’ve been running all summer. And when the ground is good in April at Aintree – they’ll be running, this is what explodes the myth about ground..There’s simply too much racing and too few runners to support the code and it cannot roll on for 3 or 4 months in this vein every year, whilst we all sip champagne in our box, waiting on Cue Card. A couple of weeks ago we had 19 runner fields at Doncaster on the flat. 7/1 the field and 1/4 the odds if you’re a betting man. Competitive, and attracts people to watch on telly. Yesterday I watched Lydia Hislop (X) trying to make Wincanton sound interesting. She should have been awarded a DSO..

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So Mr Harman and Mr Rust (Q E and Z) I know the issue of racing volume gets dull, but that’s because you refuse to accept it’s a failed system..  I fully accept your jobs depend on the goodwill of masters more interested in Levy than bums on seats. I’m staring at a Kempton card with 3 three runner races and a Carlisle card with a 2 runner heat. It’s your turn in the chair and you’ve got two years left to save a code so many love before you’re replaced by the fellahs who run Southern Rail (Q).

This is a sport very much in crisis, and you are tasked to act in the interests of the sport as a whole, even if the Trustees are more interested in levy grants. Do better than serve out your time and a 0.1 runner increase per race per year. We’ll all be pushing up daisies by the time you start delivering.

 

Or am I being too diplomatic??

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ps. If you want to earn money from Betting, try enforcing a minimum margin on operators in return for hefty levy rate reductions. Not a tip you’ll get from the current crop of non execs..

Banks.(X)

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