Independent bookmaker Geoff Banks www.geoff-banks.com is my guest preacher this Sunday. What follows is his opinion, in his words…
Anyone that describes racing as dull has to be an astronaut. If the highlight for your average rocket man involves periods of sheer terror sitting on tonnes of high explosive jet fuel, punctuated by moments spent trying to work out the on board toilet then I suppose racing falls somewhere between the two. Racing provides so much more gripping entertainment. My week started with ten minutes of fame on Channel 4. The director in my ear telling me to ‘pipe down’ – this is fairly standard. Two large security guards stand off camera ready to drag me off set.
So we chat about Gosden Horn, sitting in the sun, with forecast temperatures of 18 degrees. Lucky asks if I feel the greatest horse on the planet will take his chance. Now, I’m supposed to have done my research, which includes looking at this horse’s form.. – Unless I’m mistaken, the brute beat none other than Storm The Stars at Nottingham on ground described as good to soft- soft in places. Add the paltry 700 grand on offer, the thousands who had paid to see him, the kudos in doing the Derby-George double, that the horse had travelled, that the field was inferior, and that I’m paid to speak my mind – I said I was confident he would indeed take place.
Everyone knows I’m rarely wrong.
A gaggle of press accompanied Lord John on his perambulation around the track, sporting a knitting needle to stick in the muddy bits and accompanied by Anthony Oppenheimer, -carefully dipping his cheque book into the ground. And yes, indeed, race fans – it came up ‘moist’. Of course I jest – it was his credit card.
Seriously though, there are two schools of thought here. Those who believe a top trainer just has to be right, who never question those wearing trilbys from the 1970’s, because they’re jolly good chaps who’ve done us a favour when the money is down. Of course we get the odd sycophantic type, hoping for tea and cakes at the Gosden’s, claiming it’s a ‘welfare’ issue if a horse races on ground these days which is less than ideal. In reality – it’s rare to see a horse keel over because the ground is softer than he’d like –so what if it’s a bit tiring, it is supposed to be a race! If the horse is as good as they say (rated best ever) he should have managed the whole experience no bother.
See Millington column in the Racing Post, describing those who refuse to question authority as – ‘racing’s mystifying shrug of acceptance’ – a very apt phrase to describe a cancer within the sport which denies us our stars because it worries wealthy owners where their next meal is coming from. People simply don’t question how things are ‘done’. I can’t see that as productive or healthy.
The second school of thought considers the withdrawal as purely commercial. Since the handicapper, surely on a tonic of steroids, gave Golden Balls an almighty Frankel equalling 130, after a barely workmanlike Eclipse – the ultimate grovelling rating – this i assume revises Dancing Brave to a new low of 38? The price of one night in a fancy hotel, with black tower and carnations with the Derby winner would have risen to Frankel like proportions. These super lovers easily command over £100,000 to give a mare the thrill of a lifetime. Basically in commercial terms three days in the sack for Golden Horn equates to one King George. Provided you keep that precious rating of course, – that’s the key. In reality, the attraction of actually racing vs breeding is no contest. It’s simply not worth the risk of defeat.
Gosden reached deep for his expansive book of excuses, and serious looks, on Racing UK as the rather good Lydia Hislop poked him in the ribs. The horse was withdrawn for fear of a ‘difficult race on unsuitable ground’ – a hard race in the King George (are you kidding?) That he would have had to be a ‘Leger type’ to go through that ground. To my eye he had stayed on past his peers in every race and looked better the longer a race was. Perhaps if he’d equated it to the Velka Pard De Ubicka?
Interesting aside from Timeform speed judge Simon Rowlands who equated the times, that Saturday, amongst other marks, to Nathanial’s good ground performance. Suggesting the ground as no worse than good to soft. Might we have expected a quicker time from the 3 year old rated 130? Basically Gosden got it wrong. That won’t have the grovellers revising their views. That’s racing.
Those who had paid hard earned to see the horse at Ascot merited little consideration. Whichever school of thought you favour, you can let me know. I’ll take commercial, since we’re in a game of opinions! It was a thoroughly feeble decision. And I will add to that role of honour the connections of Gleneagles, withdrawn three days before the Sussex Stakes. There are, quite frankly, far too many opportunities for such animals to avoid each other and the sport is of secondary concern to how much uber rich owners can earn from such charges and price out the lesser owners. I wonder how much is enough?
At least Juddmonte gave us Frankel as a 4 year old. For that they should be commended. I believe the freak ran on ground described as ‘bottomless’ – now he had balls. May they be stuffed.
Like a suggestion? Time for the pattern to have more rigourous standards of qualifications, in issuing ratings. A minimum requirement before we hand out the gongs. It’s plain daft that horses like Golden Horn or Gleneagles maintain their ratings by avoiding tricky asks. A bit like Barcelona refusing to face Real Madrid. It’s clearly an idea that needs fleshing out.
We could extend the idea to the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham – what do you think?
Feature of Ascot’s excellent support card – a big sprinty thing where they split into 9 groups and the commentator takes a pot shot at who’s actually in front. Now this gets entertaining! Unless you’re an official.
History says Speculative Bid travelled the course without the jockey because Spencer was sitting on the stalls rather than the horse. Perhaps he was practicing his dismount? Starters don’t react to cries of ‘No No No’ these days- nor do they speedily inform the stewards of the status of the horse in this age of walkie talkies.
Now I know you’re dozing off here- because who gives a monkies if the bookies done more of their money than they should? Rub of the green. But there’s a strong message here – and it’s important not only to learn from it, but hold the BHA properly to account, because that is how we progress change. Of course folks make errors, but what struck me was the abject lack of taking responsibility or a will to apologise. A thorough lack of understanding from one of the most professional group of stewards in the game, that they’re responsible to the betting community and the general public- most of whom have had a bet.
Error one – ‘we’re looking into an incident at the start- but the placings are unaffected’
If you’re enquiring into the status of the favourite as a runner, you’re most definitely affecting betting markets. Why not mention what you’re actually discussing?
Bookies paid out dutifully and swiftly without deducting one fifth of winnings as rules dictate.
‘Weighed in’ –Now we all know someone didn’t do their job here. Who to blame? Perhaps the stewards themselves for taking so very long to find out what happened to the favourite
Bing Bong – Bing Bong Along
‘Stewards Enquiry – we’re looking into the status of the favourite and whether he was a runner or not’ – Say what??
Bing Ding Dong
‘The favourite was a non runner’ customers can get their money back – oh right, sure thing.
So we pay everyone out on the favourite. Which was an illegal instruction. In the meantime the Betting ring managers are besieged with confused customers. Although most bookies had paid out. Not to have done so under the instructions given by the stewards would have been unprecedented – would have potentially resulted in loss of licenses – and would have most certainly caused a riot.
90 minutes pass, during which time the betting ring manager high tails it to the stewards secretary to remind him that what they had done was an illegal instruction under the rules of racing and explain what a bet is. Oh and what ‘weighed in’ actually represents.
‘Stewards now instruct that Speculative Bid was in fact a runner for betting purposes’ tra la la la la – go back to the bookies for more.
Those few who had had rule 4’s deducted took the opportunity to return for another refund. Tee hee. (not all I would add- most realised the bookies were as much victims here- and behaved impeccably).
Jamie Stiers took to Racing UK to explain what went on, roughly. He refused to apologise. Not in his remit.
Here is the ‘decline to apologise video’ – this from the BHA’s head of regulation – so we should expect a polished performance. Instead it adds to the shambles by giving the impression even he didn’t understand the rules- or know what was occurring. ‘I am advised a rule 4 should have come with the withdrawal of the favourite’ – this is a staggering remark. I believe my 12 year old knows this one! As head of regulation he clearly had to have the rules of betting explained to him.
The stewards made enquiries and in their report they mentioned those findings would be shared with the Authority. Oh, I’ve heard this one before. The brush.
the official report from Ascot:-
The Stewards held an enquiry into the start to ascertain why SPECULATIVE BID (IRE), ridden by Jamie Spencer, failed to start and eventually left the stalls rider-less. They heard evidence from the rider and the starters. Spencer stated that the gelding was loaded late as he was known to be difficult in the stalls and just prior to the stalls being released SPECULATIVE BID (IRE) got his head over the adjacent stall 23. He added that when the stalls were released he was off the horse. Having heard their evidence and viewed video recordings of the start, they found that SPECULATIVE BID (IRE) was deemed not to have started and, under Rule (B)10.5, ordered the gelding to be withdrawn.
The Stewards further enquired into why the Weighed In signal was given before the enquiry into the start of the race had been concluded. They heard evidence from the Stipendiary Steward, the Clerk of the Scales and the Racecourse Announcer. Having heard their evidence they forwarded the matter to the British Horseracing Authority for further consideration.
Look, I can take a joke as much as the next man. I can easily accept errors are made. My problem with the Authority here is the abject lack of transparency, a failure to immediately apologise and take ownership of the problem. All businesses pay for their errors- except the BHA it seems. They want the bookmaking community not only to foot the bill, but take the flak, the assaults that took place on my colleagues, the inconvenience and the loss of face. In the meantime they will conduct internal inquiries and ‘move forward’. If moving forward is to set a precedent whereby we pay for their shambolic and ill informed stewarding – then I have one answer.
I’m sorry, but I’m tired of the simple lack of accountability for errors and the high minded attitude that comes with. Appalling race planning, 8 flat meetings on a Saturday in July, 3 jumps meets on a Sunday. Embarrassing integrity enquiries taking years to prosecute in which video of races are lost.The head of integrity is still in his post – headlines ‘we’re consulting ourselves into how we’re doing’. Yup. Race planning is for five year olds, yet its head sits in her chair. A general lack of consultation with the general public. The mundane press releases in the place of open press conferences like other sports in which journalists have an opportunity to test their performance.
I should say it makes me deeply uncomfortable to have to challenge the organisation. But I feel a clear need to defend my colleagues even if the actual cost to myself is minimal. Let’s hope they behave in a manner befitting new management and the promises made by Nick Rust to come together. Here’s your chance Nick.
Of course the BHA have registered successes – more so from it’s rather under funded commercial arm – REL. The Champions series, Qatar involvement, marketing on a shoe string budget. This leaves the authority actually responsible for planning, integrity and regulation. It lacks any clear authority over racecourses to the detriment of the sport – and everyone has a job for life.
I’m convinced amongst appreciable talent in the BHA are a few individuals without the necessary qualities to represent the sport. In every walk of life it’s critical for performance to be achievably measured. Failing employees and managers to be moved out and replaced with stronger people. And what’s with employing a board lacking in any appreciable experience in racing? So they can be bullied?
A line from excellent columnist Rich Lee – worth quoting –
“ ~~’Has there ever been a racing authority that was not incompetent, lacking in imagination and dynamism, or out of touch with the industry’s needs?’ Guardian racing writer Chris Hawkins…asked this rhetorical question in 1996.” Plus ca change…!
In between times ‘Britain at the Bookies’ – little to say about this, rather dull if you’re not in betting- and feels like an advert for gamblers anonymous. Can’t help feeling this wasn’t a good idea.
Goodwood. ‘Appointment with fear’ my Old Man used to say. A graveyard for bookies, some of whom are buried under Trundle Hill. Good news for the betting men with Hughesie retiring. He’s cost us a pretty sum over the years.. good luck to the legend in his new venture – a gentleman jockey.
And so we trundle on to York. Another track with a sense of style. A possible meeting for Golden Horn and Gleneagles? On a strip of council land. If you want to get in free, climb under the gate at the ten furlong marker and look like you belong.
Vernon’s tips for day one of the Ebor meeting at York will be available to members on the evening of Tuesday August 18th. Sign up now for £10 a month.