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

10411931_10154738849685012_2876135868607848212_n

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

10411931_10154738848795012_9165484243064064907_n

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

64371_10154738849160012_7955380457167465481_n

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’

1236011_10154738846740012_4261694464974786075_n

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.

lbo2

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.

july

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

Barney Curley or Big Bucks?

When the office calls that early, it’s usually bad news! Something overnight, typically a multiple up on NCAA basketball colleges I’ve never heard of. This time was different. A new client just popped up – with a Trixie bet. Three selections covered in doubles and trebles on the All Weather at prices.

Ok, so what?’

ehm, well it’s the system flagging the second wager on the same three selections in the last 4 minutes.’

er, ok, tipping line stuff?’

‘No, – Curley’s mob up to something, all ex Curley.’

That’s how it goes in the world of private client betting. I fancied the same conversation taking place in trading rooms about the land and on the Rock too. All around 10am. Everyone laying the same 4 horses- of which we caught three. The rest is, as they say history. In truth, we lost pennies as a firm on the affair. Far less than a couple of grand. For which for a Bookmaker like me wouldn’t result in the cancellation of the sweet course. Barely an irritant.

Let me dispel some myths. I know there are a lot of people in and outside the betting world who speculate on said matters and would appreciate some insight.

‘The linemakers should have spotted these 4 ex Curley runners and priced them up conservatively’

Well, apart from the obvious, these particular animals barely beat the ambulance home in 47 races prior to CurleyGate, they were also spread over three yards and two codes. If compilers spent their time watching for such activities and pricing up a 6/1 chance at 4/5, just in case, we would be laughed out of court as well as removing huge percentages from our books at a keystroke. That’s to say we would be guessing ‘today is the day’ and accepting no stakes on 15% of the book in this example. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Imagine if Waitrose were to remove 15% from their turnover how long they would survive? That’s of course if they wanted to compete. Since there are well over 50 gambling yards sprinkled about the country, we would be endlessly ‘going with’ runners and accepting an unsupportable loss in turnover and margin. It doesn’t compute. Instead as a community we react to the weight of money. Of course in doing so, we have to accept a seriously unbalanced book we’ve no hope of redressing. In other words stories of 2 million + losses on these horses would, in my view, be on the conservative side.

‘The Bookmakers simply plough the money back on Betfair and sit back and make a profit, whichever the result’

Yes, I know I’ve covered this in previous reports, but on the basis we have a few trolls out there who think the kind of liabilities proper layers build up could ever be traded on Betfair, allow me to invite you to view the average liquidity- the biggest exchange at around 11am daily.

Image

It’s not going to cover it, is it? You see the ‘layers’ on Betfair for morning price activity have all but dried up over the years, they’ve basically done their brains laying live horses and struggling to lay the non triers. (Yes folks, there are non triers.) The trading Bots don’t start spinning until liquidity comes on board.

‘These horses all had the form to win such races, with such as Eye Of The Tiger having won a Group 2, rated 112, and now running in a class 6 maiden off 56’

This is a fairly old argument, and one as a Bookmaker is literally impossible to determine. At what point, as a layer, does one become a backer on such animals whose form is so evidently masked by continuing poor performances? Take one of the races where he would have been off 75 at Newbury for example, at the attractive odds of 50/1? Was that the day to be with? In fact he was tailed off, just as he was during 2012. Or Indus Valley, whose form under Des Donovan in 2011 and 2012 matched that of Eye Of The Tiger and barely beat anything home. One wonders at the pre race conversation from Barney Curley to TP Queally as the ‘Tiger’ was virtually pulled up at Haydock, or any of the other efforts that year, ‘jump on the ambulance if you need to lad’. So as a Bookie it’s thoroughly impossible to determine the moment when apparent no hopers suddenly encounter money and their ‘fortunes’ so dramatically turn about.

Image

Above photo – the Racing Post’s take on Indus Valley’s forecast odds and the line of ‘form’

 

As I watched the whole affair unfold, I was properly incensed at the very nature of this coup, and I said as much at the time. Describing it as Racing’s shame. That’s strong words I know. Long ago my Father told me if I chose the difficult career path of Bookmaking that the inevitable consequences would be the stigma unfairly attached to the profession, that we were less than savoury. Those who really knew John Banks as their natural ‘enemy’ in gambling came to know him as a Bookmaker of the highest order, who never turned down a bet. That he would conduct his business with them in a thoroughly honourable and respectful manner. To pay with a smile, to engage, and even entertain. He was viewed as a maverick by the establishment. Openly critical of the Jockey Club, their lack of commercial nous, and the insular manner of a Club that’s never welcomed a Bookmaker as a member. They’re not Gentlemen you see.

Image

The Club had their day with my Father, drawing up charges with no foundation or any evidence whatsoever and warned him off for three years. Of course, we always knew it wasn’t Dad they were really after – but other upstarts, particularly jockeys, in the sport who were ‘untouchable,’ simply because to charge them for their wrong-doings meant risking the very good name of the sport. Rather like today, it’s often the middle to low pegs who feel the wrath of the BHA.

The modern day Jockey Club is divided into two clear groups. The Racetrack men, led by Simon Bazelgette. He sits in an open plan office working alongside the man who organises the ticketing. Their management characterised by a shrewd bunch of individuals, evidenced by the quality of business they run. Successful and ordered. This group of reformists are currently bent in helping Bookmakers like me improve the lot of the Betting Ring. Precisely what it needed. And in spite of archaic efforts of the FRB to block both JCR and the sensible majority of Bookmakers asking for their assistance. Once I have persuaded JCR that Bookmakers and Betting Exchanges shouldn’t be inextricably linked on track, my work with them is done! I’m constantly impressed by racetrack management from Musselborough to Ascot. I watch fellahs like Charles Barnett, Johnny Weatherby, Edward Gillespie strolling around their domains, engaging with customers in their Silver Rings, affording their customers there the same respect they afford their annual members.

The second arm of the Jockey Club, is the Stewards. Drawn from leaders of industry, breeders, trainers, Bankers and owners. Largely a Public School Club, its not unfair to say. These are the people who steward the sport, police it if you will. Do they understand Betting or include it in their analysis? More often than not it’s a no. It’s always been, to my view, totally at odds to the good name of the sport, not to properly monitor what happens in the betting market when we are talking about racing. Horses that go from 5/2 to 8/1 on Betfair, and who break out of the stalls at sometime double that quote-having done nothing wrong in emerging, other than somebody is profiting from insider knowledge. Does this type of thing go on? Constantly. Is it more or less likely under the exchange system than sharing information with the likes of John Banks and asked him to lay it for you? The answer is evidently the exchange system, because to facilitate profits from ‘lay to lose’ – you don’t need a compliant Bookmaker, you can do it yourself, lay it to the world, or ask your milkman to do it for you. And of course, where the rewards for winning are often far less than for losing, you have a major problem with integrity.

Of course, the modern day BHA structure pretty much mirrors that of the Jockey Club before it. The Chairman knows nothing about the Sport, by his own admission, and has been seen less in front of the racing public than Bobs Worth. I believe he made an outing at the Gimcrack dinner and the Leaders In Racing bash. Henderson’s star has made 3 appearances so far this season. I see no purpose in a Chairman who doesn’t thoroughly understand the product, or who is, in effect, invisible. Can you name him? Bet you can’t.

These days I am faced by an often difficult choice. Keep my mouth shut at what I see around me in support of those who errantly view silence as ‘for the good of the Sport’. In conscience I cannot allow myself to become another ‘yes man’, when I witness things which very occasionally I consider abhorrent. I love the Sport Of Kings and fight for a higher quality product, with less actual racing, more competitive and appealing events, and a strong and well funded integrity department. In spite of this, I accept that I shall never sit underneath Stubbs for lunch, I am apparently not a gentleman. No worry, I know I am. Further, my particular brand of skills has yet to be called on under the current structure in the BHA. That’s their choice, but it isn’t particularly wise.

In response to those, who would prefer I tow the line more often, I say this. First off, I’m no rebel.  I am determined, however, to see certain snobbishness I evidence, banished once and for all, for the good of Racing. The racing press is far too tepid. When one considers Racing against Football for example, or the Racing Post against the Daily Mail for critical reporting – Racing gets off almost scot free. That’s not healthy.

What puts me in the position to criticise the ruling ‘class’ of the Sport? Quite simply it’s the hard world of Betting, which underpins and finances Racing, which broadens your outlook every day you’re in it. It gives you a depth of understanding far greater than many who sit in the governance of Horse Racing. Am I better qualified than Paul Bittar – could do a better job? Absolutely. I grew up on racetracks, I’ve lived and breathed Racing for over 40 years now. I didn’t start off life as an accountant. In the case of Adam Brickell, the BHA’s head of integrity, we find a trainee solicitor, with three years experience in racing sitting in an office. He’s elevated, quite farcically, to responsibility for the good name of British Racing.

It astonishes me the BHA would choose to go into battle with experienced Bookmakers on levy with such as Ralph Topping without highly experienced betting advisors to get the best deal. The trouble with this attempt at engaging with the Bookmakers and Exchanges, wasn’t the concept. In that Bittar is absolutely right. The correct approach to do is to draw them into the fold; but you have to fully understand their business, if, that is, you’re going to negotiate for Racing. I would never have advised settling on any deal prior to point of consumption. Once these Bookmakers are forced onshore, you have a whole different ball game, and a more pliable deal can be struck. A betting advisor would have known precisely how they route a top punter from their London Office to Gibraltar at the flick of a switch, why Ladbrokes raised their telephone call centre minimum to £25, or why Coral seem determined to argue for Racing of such poor field size and competitiveness it defies any logic. The importance of their machines, bingo, roulette and even the virtual.

I’m not looking for a job at High Holborn. I am pointing out that betting people are often those best qualified to run the sport. As a betting man, I know the machines would fail without racing.

What irritates me with the BHA? It fails to understand or engage with its core customers, – the punters. It consistently refuses to include them in negotiations. Describing them as ‘disparate’ – not worthy of inclusion. Why? They are adding a hundred million to your sport. Worse, it refuses to tackle its regulatory duties responsibly. Preferring sound bites over results, an occasional example made of lower grade connections. Champion trainers, leading jockeys or top owners aren’t in their headlamps. To deal with such individuals, in their view clearly, risks bringing the sport to disrepute. Investigations into such as Godolphin conducted with great haste and pronounced as solved, despite many questions unanswered. In 2013, there were over 90,000 runners over 1464 fixtures. There were just 96 running and racing inquiries. Just a couple of non triers punished. How does the board of the BHA view this as effective policing of a sport underpinned by gambling? Either we don’t have the resources, or the will to keep this great sport clean. Preferring the TV licensing approach to enforcement – we will find you with our detector vans! Oh yes, I’m sure you’re outside my stable with a van..

What concerned me most about CurleyGate, round two, if indeed he was the chief perpetrator in this case, was the polarisation of views on social media such as Twitter. Whilst I was expressing outrage, not at losing clods of money, but at the fact that last to first place gambles seem completely outside the rule book, that the Racing Post failed once again to represent the views of those of us who would prefer a clean sport to bet upon, rather than what was good for a few insiders. That they chose to print such comments from Butler as ‘I know nothing about Betting’ without adding the banner headline, ‘what a bunch of bollocks’. At the same time, others were lionising the achievements of Messrs Donovan, Butler and Curley.

Let’s deal with that. Fine, I accept the old enemy approach. One in the Bookies eye. Especially given so many ‘major’ Bookmakers these days adopt a less than customer friendly approach to punters. Who cares if they suffer occasionally? But to canonise these trainers, and their organisation, because they can get a 112 rated animal to win in a race against horses rated 4 stone inferior? Oh please, spare me such nonsense. A bit like Manchester United beating up Scunthorpe. Of course, folk will talk from their pockets. I’m sure many of those praising Curley as the figurehead of this gamble,  won a score backing one of these horses at odds on, as they were for most of the day..in the meantime they were actually cheering on their own demise, as no question, the Bookmakers will close ranks on the product. If you moan you can’t get on, this gamble won’t do anything to help you out.

And who represented the views of the silly sods who backed these horses in the 47 races in which its fair to say their best chance of staying in front was in the paddock? Of course it’s not my responsibility to investigate these performers and whether or not they ran on their merits. That’s surely the role of the stewards. Fine, so where were the inquiries into group two performers finishing tailed off five times in a row? Very poor performance from the authorities and no mistake.

Horse-racing-stewards-wat-007

For every journo, blogger or twitterati praising the perpetrators of this coup, there appeared an equal number of good folk expressing often serious reservations. I read Rod Street of Great British Racing and his comments that coup’s had occurred in the past and people still bet now. Surely he’s ignoring their concerns? Or perhaps as somebody put it, adopting the ‘glass half full’ approach. And Graham Cunningham of Channel 4 with the same view, this time using the Godolphin scandal as a bench mark.

Both of these views are totally wrong. Because the racing share of the betting cake has been in serious decline for some years now. That’s a matter of fact. Now, I accept there are often varying factors in play here, but to discount the importance of a clean sport to those betting upon the same, is highly dangerous. Would you wager on a roulette table if you knew it was slanted to one side? Such views, whilst I’m sure were meant to protect the image of the sport, and in respect of lawyers, in fact go a long way to convince those who share my view that the sport doesn’t take integrity matters with anything like the gravitas it should, and the press aren’t properly on their tail. To be fair to Cunningham, he was very much on the case for his network and despite the involvement of Dubai as a sponsor, in the Al Zarooni affair. Channel 4 Racing don’t shirk their responsibilities in any way, because they don’t answer to Racing.

I put Cunningham and McGrath in the same category as Hislop, Chapman, Wood, Muscat, Paley and Cook. Journalists who need letting off the hook more often for the good of Racing. One day they’ll invite me on ATR or RUK. Not for a second would it worry King Ralph or Breon Corcoran, because they know I speak for Betting. Would it be more entertaining than a fireside chat with Alan Lee? No odds there. Want more viewers? What are you waiting for?

It isn’t just the bettors who suffer and complain. We must consider the Bookmakers if we are too encourage them to promote Racing over a machine. Give me the option, as a businessman, between four gaming machines, guaranteeing a profit, or laying a bet on the nefarious activities which pervade the likes of Wolverhampton, with horses being ‘asked to be withdrawn’ and trainers requested to be strip searched  – I know which one I would choose. If we are to prosper as a sport, we must look to our responsibilities to providing a level playing field as far as humanly possible. This isn’t achieved by allowing a horse to go from 20/1 to 4/6 without a very serious inquiry and draconian punishments if found guilty.

I’ve detailed a few of the issues facing Racing. What are the solutions?

First off, it’s important to install a regulator at the head of the Sport who understands fully his responsibilities to reforming the good name of the sport. Who engages publically with all the stakeholders and conducts his affairs openly, not in careful press releases. They should have powers and staff no less than are the norm in such as the Hong Kong Jockey Club. A body who employ 240 integrity officers for 6 days racing a month and who tolerate no breaking of the rules under the most severe penalties. Counter that with the ten odd individuals the BHA employ.

Connections should have no legal right with the courts to challenge the decisions of the regulators. There has to be a clear stipulation, you run under our rules and you accept them, warts and all, to the good of the sport.

Stewarding has to be centralised, and by professionals only. Reports from Kempton the other night of stewards ‘noting’ explanations, can and were only treated with total derision by those looking in on proceedings. If Eye Of The Tiger for example had problems with his legs and back, as was claimed, presumably he would have been undergoing treatment, veterinary or physiotherapy to deal with his issues. There would have been bills. Connections must be summoned to the BHA to provide exhaustive proof, and those findings shared openly with the betting public. If there’s clear evidence- all well and good. In the absence of proper evidence, and in the light of the rather obvious gamble, one can only reasonably conclude the horse’s performances in 2012 as simply down to being unfit to race, which is clearly against the rules of racing. The clues were clear in the betting, and shouldn’t be ignored. If local stewards can’t take the hard decisions, or bring the sport into disrepute because they are unwilling to police the same, or too familiar with trainers they meet every day, they should be removed from the proceedings, completely.

Paul Bittar- now in his final year as Chief Executive has to demonstrate, a willingness to fight betting organisations, racetracks and picture providers for a security budget commensurate with the 1464 fixtures they require of the sport. A view he openly endorses. They have to be prepared to meet the proper cost of policing the sport. If unwilling to meet the costs involved, the fixtures have to be cut to a level which both increases both prize monies to owners and funds a respectable integrity division.. If he is unprepared for this undertaking, and in the face of one security crisis after another in 2013,  he is clearly not the man to lead the sport, and should be dismissed. The confidence and image of the sport has to supercede any other considerations.

The All Weather programme has to be capped at its current level. Prize money has to increase dramatically at all ends of the sport. The engorged fixture list, averaging now less than 8 runners a race and riddled with odds on chances has to be cut now. The programme needs proper balancing, if a meeting consistently delivers low fields, it has to be redressed. Field sizes and quality are directly related to popularity of the events.

The BHA have to move out of unnecessary premises in High Holborn and invest the savings in integrity. The cuts in the budget for the security of the sport need reversing.

Blank days have to be introduced in the calendar to increase the appetite for Racing. The jumps season to be shortened and the All Weather season restricted to 9 months a year, excepting the evening programme.

Racing has to stop now supporting products which rival for the bettors money. Betting shops clustered together don’t add to the Levy. Picture rights incomes for racetracks, which they earn per shop, are subordinate to the Levy. Racetracks have to afford more of the circa £7500 a race fees they gain back to prize money.

Image

Football learnt years ago it had to look to itself to improve. It dealt with its hooligan issue of the eighties, built better stadia and seats and improved the experience for those attending. We have to learn from that lead. We cannot sit back and rely on the Ebor Festival as being sufficient when bettors turn to other products and newspapers dump us from their coverage. Let us not forget the BBC no longer involves itself in Racing as it did. Anyone notice they’ve gone? This has all taken place in the last five years. Thank God for Channel 4.

The sport doesn’t run the risk of a continuing decline in its market share in the Betting Shops, it’s a racing certainty. Should we continue to permit such brazen last to first gambles, without reasonable explanation, to go unpunished, because they were off the track for two years and we can’t cope with that? To allow any individual to put two fingers up to Racing?  To prefer instead a ‘cloak and dagger’ approach to stewarding, and an ‘it doesn’t happen’ approach? To rely on our great festivals to prop up the eternal midweek racing without people? Then I promise you guys, other sports, bells and whistles will replace racing as the betting medium of choice with Bookmakers and their customers. How will you fund it then?

Yesterday I watched a fabulous trials day at Chentenham, with some amazing finishes and the return of one of the biggest stars in the sport, returned to entertain us by our greatest trainer. I loved watching the whole day, win or lose. I watched bookies and fans struggle in howling gales to the betterment of the sport.

What will the press and Racing fans worldwide be remembering the most from this week though? Big Bucks or Barney Curley?

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2011/oct/17/timeform-non-triers-widespread-jumps

47 MILLION AND CHANGE!

Image

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

Yes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1464 Fixtures.
Some key statistics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The regulator.

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

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

Condoned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The honeymoon is definitively over.

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

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

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