General

When the going gets good, do the good get the going?

Cheltenham’s clerk of the course, Simon Claisse has very shaky form with his going descriptions for day one of the festival meeting. Good to soft has been his verdict in four of the past five years (soft in 2008).

Timeform, using race times as well as other information, has disagreed with that description  four times in the same period. Simon Rowlands’, (head of research and handicapping at Timeform), article on this is here.

Many readers know that the going is the key factor for most form students. Millions will be bet on Cheltenham runners over the next four days but until we hear the verdict of the jockeys after the first race each day, no one who is serious about their betting can back a horse with any real confidence.

Accuracy advocates put plenty work into trying to get things changed.

A thread on the Betfair forum, faithfully noted official going descriptions and compared them with time-based ones, publishing the results, for two full seasons.  One of the architects of that thread voted in my blog poll and left the following comment:

“His (Simon Claisse) stick readings defy belief , He has Champion Hurdle day (2010)  as softer than when Grand Crus won the Cleeve!!!!! But until you dig around and find out when a lot of the readings were taken(up to FIVE days old!!) then you are not going to get a lot of sense out of them

Take them 2 hours before the first and an hour after the last if you want them to have ANY meaning”

So, who cares? It’s Cheltenham, the NH season’s X Factor now, with almost all other big races being treated as an extended equine ‘boot camp’ for contenders. Maybe many people don’t care. The ‘holiday’ atmosphere of the festival, tempts them to abandon discipline for the duration and treat their bank as spending money.

A week ago I opened a poll on this blog based on the question Do you agree with festival policy on producing easy ground for day one? I placed a link on my home page, inviting votes. The home page has over 2,000 views yet only 198 people chose to click through to the poll.  Of those 198, just 70 voted.  The top ‘answer’ with just over 31% was “I don’t mind, so long as the going description is accurate”

Only 10% opted for ‘Yes, it’s the best strategy for welfare and safety‘ (You can see all results by clicking here then clicking ‘View results’ on the bottom left of the panel)

I’m no pollster. I intended to be objective in compiling and wording the options though perhaps I missed in that aim thus discouraging people from voting. The result was as I expected – most of those experienced in betting on horseracing, don’t care what the going is so long as it is accurately described.

How much will be bet on the Supreme tomorrow and what percentage of that on Cue Card? He’s seen as a banker by many yet, based on Timeform’s going descriptions, his only hurdles defeat has come on good ground.

Just 70 voters would cut little ice with statisticians, I suspect, the sample size being considered too low.  But isn’t it time Racing for Change started looking seriously at this subject?  Much of RFC’s focus seems to be on attracting newcomers, yet every marketer will tell you that it is much cheaper to retain current customers than to recruit new ones.

Racing’s dilemma here: the more that people learn about horseracing, the less attractive it will seem as a betting medium compared with sports where full and accurate information is available.  A description of the going, which punters can trust, at every track, is essential to the long-term financial health of the sport.  It might not be an easy objective to achieve, but we must find a solution.

For a start, when racecourse execs sit down to compile their list of “stakeholders”, they ought to add, close to the top, “off-course punter”

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