Punters contributed more than £54m to UK racing last year via the levy scheme which taxes bookmaker’s profit on horse racing. We paid more than that again via the media rights fees tracks earn from bookmakers.
I’m not going into the debate on closed and restricted accounts here. That’s under the control of the bookies and while I accept the principle that no business can tolerate customers who consistently damage its profits, too many ‘innocents’ are caught in the fusillade of algorithms. Anyway, that’s an argument for another day.
I’m interested here in what racing can do, with a wee bit of forethought and consideration, if not to help punters then, at least, not to make things harder for them.
Three recent examples: In September Nicky Henderson gave the Jockey Club press folks a nice quote about the first leg of their Jockey Club Million project, the Betfair, saying it would be a logical place for Might Bite to start. Cue punters taking antepost prices not just about the Betfair itself, but grabbing some of the 50/1 about Might Bite to land the treble. Twenty-four hours after Henderson’s quote appeared in the Post, another quote from him started back-pedalling on the Betfair. What he’s said since indicates that the horse was never likely to turn up at Haydock. When the Jockey Club sought a quote from him he should have given much more thought to its potential effect on punters.
On Monday, Ruth Jefferson, the trainer’s daughter, mistakenly declared Cloudy Dream for the wrong race on Saturday. He’d been entered in Cheltenham’s feature, the Betvictor Gold Cup but was not declared at the five-day stage on Monday. He was entered instead for the staying handicap chase on the same card.
I didn’t back Cloudy Dream and if I had done I wouldn’t have felt too badly toward Ruth Jefferson who made the error, because here are the races she was faced with on declarations day:
The Betvictor.com Handicap Chase
The Betvictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase
She should have chosen the second one, and, sure, she should have been paying more attention, but above all, in my view, there should be some allowance made for honest errors like these. The BHA don’t have the power to suddenly change or ignore a rule. I asked Robin Mounsey, head of media at the BHA, if they would consider approaching the National Trainers Federation to seek their thoughts on altering the rule which effectively governs such errors. Mister Mounsey said, ‘We’d never say no to anything and if the NTF or anyone else wanted to approach us on a matter like this then we would always discuss it, but it is a black and white rule and there are no plans to alter that at present.’
If the NTF were to put to members the proposal that some leeway should be found for Cloudy Dream-type errors, I suspect they’d get resounding support. Every trainer must know that he or she is only a mini-crisis or concentration lapse away from making a similar blunder. Such mistakes are far from unknown. So come on NTF and BHA, get together and strike a blow both for connections of a horse and for antepost punters. The fact that some bookmakers refunded stakes on Cloudy Dream doesn’t alter the fact that changes are needed.
On Monday the Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil, a warm order for Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle, was declared at the six-day stage to run in the race and was separately reported, in a quote from the owner’s racing manager Frank Berry, to be on course for the race. Twenty four hours later they withdrew him. He’d been backed into favourite and they took him out although he was fit and ready.
Trainer Hobbs said: “In discussing the situation with connections, it has been decided that the hurdle at Ascot will be a more favourable first run of the season.
“For a relatively young horse like him, Ascot will be better than the hurly-burly of the Greatwood.”
There it is. No apology. No mention of the money lost. And, incidentally, as was pointed out on twitter today, the horse won the Triumph Hurdle in March when he was even younger; a race hardly lacking in the hurly burly factor. Again, I did not back him for Saturday but many did, and they are simply ignored. Not even a nod to them by connections.
One of the BHA’s key targets is to increase betting turnover on the sport. Promoting awareness among the decision makers, owners, trainers and racing managers of adding the interests of punters to the mix before they make announcements or decisions would go some way toward helping the BHA meet that objective.
And reviewing the rules governing errors in declarations could also bolster punter confidence.
I think Racing often views punters as having only a tenuous connection with the sport when, in reality, it is we who pay the piper. Why do we never get to call the tune?
Edited at 11 a.m. on November 16th to include a link to this interesting thread on twitter. For non-tweeters, in summary, it covers the timeline of Henderson’s announcement about Altior’s withdrawal from the Tingle Creek and mentions his blog contract with a bookmaker. More fuel for the fire around which punters are getting burned.