Vernon Grant writes:- It’s always fascinating to read two different perspectives on how a high profile meeting went from a betting perspective. We punters often see things differently from the bookie.
As a spectacle, Royal Ascot 2015 was a cracker. As my friend Jim McGrath said when Channel 4’s excellent coverage of every race across five days came to a close, this Royal Ascot was: “The best international meeting that has ever taken place in Britain.”
On the punting front, however, it was one to forget. At least for me. For many years I’ve been telling my followes this: “If in doubt, back anything Ryan Moore is riding.” Why did I not follow my own advice last week?
A meeting that began well for me, with winning tips at 8/1 and 11/2 on day one, thereafter went from bad to worse. Indeed, only a very late in the day bet on Snow Sky saved my bacon.
I spent the week watching the meeting unfold on TV, wishing I was there to enjoy the sunny first four days (how come it only ever rains when I go racing?)
I sat there telling my better half how, with exception of the Frankie factor, the bookies must be coining it in and smiling from ear to ear. But were they?
Here’s the viewpoint of Geoff Banks. In the coming days, with my punter hat on (I look sillier than Harry Redknapp in a topper), I’ll respond to Geoff’s article.
Before the days when Gibraltar was home to the big name bookmakers, men like Geoff Banks were the true rock of racing. The gentlemen of the turf, as my Dad used to call them.
If it ever all gets too much for Geoff, and he decides to retire to his yacht moored off Cannes, he could always fill his time writing. Perhaps he could pen press releases for the British Horseracing Authority.
GEOFF BANKS WRITES:-
Driving around Ascot is a pretty harrowing experience – streets full of burnt out Bentleys. Every once in a while you’ll pass a Waitrose, and really know you’re in a bad area. They don’t do Tesco here. The trick to Ascot is finding somewhere convenient to park – there’s an exit one way system which sends you back to Sunninghill (a mile away) via Biddlecombe (286 miles away). You have to know the system or you’re stuck in the High Street for several days.
Flick knives and knuckledusters dutifully handed over, you’re greeted by throngs of gatemen. First thing you notice is how polite they are, they check what socks you’re wearing and smile. You see, at Royal Ascot – everyone feels like a Lord for the day – even if you’re entirely potless. Bookies enter with money and they’re x-rayed on the way out to ensure they’ve left it all with the punters.
One enters the truly vast terminal – had it’s detractors when it was built, but these days thanks to ‘green fingers Barnett’ – the place resembles an advert for house and garden. Full of comfy armchairs – nooks and crannies to enjoy your glass of champagne. Uber civilised. Quality extends to every enclosure, a track run by toffs – but to everyone’s benefit – no enclosure escapes the personal touch – and you can escape the beer swilling hordes if that’s your bag.
They don’t do Pomagne here!
And yes, they actually serve a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket, not a bag, and with a glass should you so desire. You see, if you’re not at Ascot, York or Goodwood, where they do things with panache – most tracks think you deserve a bowl or tumbler to drink your champagne from. Odd sort of business plan for your best spending customers wouldn’t you agree? Ascot hasn’t dipped standards to the banal trick of hiding customer service values behind health and safety.
Ascot also don’t do themed evenings for people dressed in football shirts… possibly because they take the view their long standing real racing fans might object to spending their days with Yah Yahs.
But I digress.
When they rebuilt the old Ascot – some of the members said they’d never return. Well I suppose if you’re pushing up daisy’s and by extension possibly not reading this – that could indeed be true. For the rest of the ‘I’m never going again’ mob – it appears to my inexpert eye, that Ascot have built one of the world’s best sporting arenas – outstanding restaurants, bars and service. In a racing environment obsessed with sand , it’s refreshing to walk into an Ascot or York where the focus still remains what goes on around the track – not (perhaps) in a betting shop.
I spot Nick Rust, the new BHA chief exec in the throng – clearly his suit was made for someone bigger – he’s chatting to someone about ‘coming together’. I wonder idly if he’s explaining why they dug up Newcastle to create a terribly interesting series of races in a straight line. For this week though, exceptionally and perenially, we have the best racetrack in the world.
The first race rolls around – there’s a lump from Hong Kong – ‘Able Friend.’ Our Gallic friends have sent over a Goldikova clone. Most bets are in euros, as the far east specialist proves more suited to racing at the back. Solow wins well and Maxine Guyon flicks a V sign at the toffs as he passes the post. I don’t blame him. The bookmakers rename the winner ‘Sorrow.’
The rest of the day degenerates into the stuff of nightmares for the bookie types as the Festival lurches from Prince this and Queen that. If it’s not the favourite, it’s the galactically talented Ryan Moore sweeping the board. That won’t go down well on the High Street.
People that know me understand I’m one for speaking plainly. I have listened to several respected scribes eulogising on about the rather evident talents of Mr Moore. Little question he’s probably the most talented jockey we’ve witnessed on the flat. It goes along the lines of ‘isn’t he magnificent? What a rider! And to those that know him – apparently quite a wit.’
Well, to the rest of us, who’d rather a jockey smile when he nails a Derby – he’s a thoroughly morose character – he doesn’t endear himself – nor promote the sport that makes him several millions in any way, shape or form. So no, I don’t find him admirable as a human being. Two weeks ago, we saw a brilliant horse take a Derby with a pilot who will do more for headlining the sport than Golden Horn himself. Leaping out of the saddle and engaging the crowd. That cost me a rake, but I smiled when I saw it. That’s what the fans want – not the taciturn one. He’s for betting – not for Racing. Shape up Ryan! Dettori, McCoy, Hughes, Walsh amongst many happily give of their time – you can’t manage a smile?
When you look at the results, you could easily conclude they didn’t look that bad for the bookies, but I suppose it was the combination of several favourites going in – and if they got beat, it was either Moore or Dettori on top. Thursday I think was the most entertaining betting day – with Moore bashing the firms with a 14/1 opener followed by a 5/1 winner. Payouts could potentially dwarf the Mullins quad at Cheltenham (thanks Annie).
One major off course layer went into hyper drive sending nearly a quarter of a million back for Kingfisher in the Gold Cup – all those 10p accumulators, at guaranteed odds, I expect suddenly come to haunt. This time it was Maxine Guyon to the bookies’ rescue as he held Moore on his inside – causing him to switch paths at the critical stage. For me the week’s unlucky loser. For the major bookie involved – several pence retained on their share price. I expect they were not alone in hiding under their sofas as Kingfisher turned for home.
Racing festivals haven’t been that great for the firms over the last few years. Most lead with fabulous offers and price boosts created by their marketing departments. Combine that with a dip in on course margins – polarisation of expensive horses shared by a select few jockeys and trainers, and you have a problem for those betting on the product. Expect you’re reaching for a Kleenex right about now.
Racing starts every day with a race for the Royals from the mile start in their fancy carriages. Now I’ve watched this for more years than I can remember – never once has anyone tried to pass the one in front. Surely I can’t be the only one who’s spotted the biggest bunch of non triers in racing? Fair enough, they put on a good show, the whole event surely organised to give the bookies another betting heat to do their brains in – namely the colour of the Boss’s hat. But I’d like to see more effort from those in behind. I know I speak for all concerned who back the second carriage every year.
God save our Queen. You won’t see a pageant like that at Goodison Park. A uniquely British summer scene.
I took one wander down from the Royal enclosure towards the Silver Ring. Ascot is so vast, the silver ring is nearer to Egham. As enclosures go, it’s really quite well turned out. I walk as far as is possible before the waft of chips overtake that of Chanel. There are bookies all the way down the racetrack, making noise, taking bets. I wonder what will happen to the very flavour of racing when the tracks inevitably take over the betting. Don’t think we don’t know what you’re about, with your expansive plans for data charges etc etc – we’re on to your tricks!
Racetrack bet however, could do well at the festivals, I don’t think the punters are in any way price savvy, we know that from Chester – they just want service. But the diet of midweek racing we’re fed by tracks-horsemen-BHA, has leant itself to poor attendances from both customers and bookmakers. What’s the future without the ring? My dream we wake up before it’s all too late – the major betting firms have deserted racing for football and roulette. I suppose then the sand will go back to the bunkers. No Big Jim, Barry Dennis, Victor Chandler.
Imagine a world where an exec at Channel 4 suddenly decides the network should quit racing, in the face of the often ridiculous criticism of a show affording the sport 44 cameras and the best coverage it has ever experienced. By comparison the BBC with its almost ‘cottage’ coverage. Racing feeds the network a diet of 5 runner group races almost weekly and wonder why the numbers are down – then makes it awkward for them to show alternate meetings in its coverage and ignores Channel 4 in any decision making processes at the highest level. Remember, they can make more money for less hassle from ‘Everyone loves Raymond.’ Don’t think the BBC will come back to save Racing from itself – they barely mention the National.
Racing has an awful lot invested in very few options. Royal Ascot is amazing, but if Aston Villa play Scunthorpe it’s likely to pull in more sponsors, viewers and press coverage. The next few weeks Racing will go into its shell from Sunday to Friday, bang on 7 meetings on the Saturday, and bolster attendances with pop concerts and a grotesque obsession with selling as much beer as possible. Hmm, get back to the Racing. Ascot leads for me with the right balance and never loses sight of its focus on the Sport.
It’s not supportable, but with a regulator fascinated by commerce, rather than how is the sport best served and gels together, – a board of novices to do as they’re told? As Nick Rust so accurately describes – the underlying trends are declining. He’s just not going to do anything about it. Sorry Nick, I don’t do sound bites. I did enjoy your BHA seminar though, with Rod Fabricious harking on about artificial insemination… not sure who he wanted impregnated though.
Fortunately there’s enough quality in York, Goodwood, Cheltenham, Chester and Ascot to name a few to keep British Racing at the very top of the world order, British racing has a unique calendar of major Festivals. I wonder if there’s an RCA man reading this, sympathetic to the view most racetracks are struggling with an identity crisis? A racetrack, a greyhound track or just a vast pub. Here’s one to mull over – try proper segregation of long standing racing fans, who don’t feel to have beer spilt over their girlfriends, or even the often threatening environment, from the oiks that do, – rather than selling all in sundry a pass to the members enclosure, keep some areas with civilised folk in mind. Possible?
Early evenings at Ascot are spent gate crashing car park parties and pretending you’re one of the owners. Everyone standing quaffing champagne, leaning on their Astons, in an age old and endearing slice of the great meeting. It’s my time to get asked by people stuffed with my cash, how much I’d won that day.. (where’s that sharp knife?) Everyone turns up without being invited – ‘Who ARE you – and why are you stealing my champagne?’
How good was the meeting? Well to my mind pretty outstanding. How does it compare to Cheltenham? Well they’re rather chalk and cheese. Ascot is very much more about the social scene. But there’s no loss in focus on the racing. Quipco have stepped in. There’s a new Group one sprint attracting foreign raiders that really works.
It has management focussed on quality at every turn. Entrance charges to the meeting aren’t steep – considering what is delivered. Cheltenham has a different feel. Far more the betting event, with months focussed on it’s feature races. The two great events provide balance. Is it a bit toffee nosed? I don’t think so, sure the babies are on Smoked Salmon, and they tow away Ford Escorts, but one has to keep the Riff-Raff out 🙂
See you at York – could it possibly get any better?
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