Mark co­ton

Mark won­ders how long the new £2,000 bet­ting ceil­ing will last down the high street

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Mark pon­ders over the new £2,000 bet­ting ceil­ing


The Pen­zance Co­rals, just be­fore mid-day. It’s a long way to come for those liv­ing up­coun­try, but this is as im­pres­sive a bet­ting shop as you’re likely to find, open for around a year now. Well lit, spa­cious. Ex­cel­lent in­for­ma­tion pro­vi­sion on big and smaller screens.

The ma­chines tucked away against a far wall, as good a place as any for them, bar rust­ing in a skip in the back yard.Ask the man­ager about his firm’s newly in­tro­duced lay-to-lose guar­an­tees. If I want a thick bet in a Class 4 event at Strat­ford, up to the £2,000 ceil­ing, will he have to phone it through be­fore ac­cep­tance?

He shakes his head. Says he’ll ac­cept it, as per the new rule, and not bother with the phones. This con­tra­dicts the in­struc­tion passed on the other morn­ing by the man­ager of a Lon­don shop, who said she’d have to phone it in first, be­fore lay­ing it. Maybe it dif­fers by lo­ca­tion, just as the guar­an­tees aren’t avail­able to those bet­ting on­line or via mo­bile.

A “very dif­fer­ent busi­ness model” op­er­ates here, con­firms spokesman David Stevens, as pre­sum­ably it still does with the tra­di­tional tele­phone bet­ting method, where you’ll strug­gle to get more than a fiver on once you’ve shown your­self ca­pa­ble of string­ing a cou­ple of win­ners to­gether. (On­line it will be closer to £1.68). Even in-shop, away from the imag­ined as­sas­sins with their al­go­rithms, Co­rals can’t bring them­selves to guar­an­tee lay­ing a horse to lose more than £500 in the lower grade events.

That’s a ceil­ing of £500-35 on a 14/1 shot, hardly the stuff of le­gend, though at least the man­ager gives the im­pres­sion he’d know what the frac­tions are even if he couldn’t ac­cept them.

You’re not guar­an­teed to get a penny on in Bet­fred or Lad­brokes over the road, though both shops are busier in this pre­lunch pe­riod. An ef­fort has been made in each to up­grade against the re­cent im­poster, though the Bet­fred re­tains a tra­di­tional seed­i­ness (per­haps de­lib­er­ately).

Pre­sum­ably one of the other shops will have to be sold when Lad­brokes and Co­rals com­plete their grace­less merger and you wouldn’t want to be tak­ing a short price about the guar­an­tees abid­ing, for what they are worth. Pop back into the Co­rals later on, out of the mid-af­ter­noon

mist. Iden­ti­cal weather con­di­tions at Good­wood, where the big stay­ing race is tak­ing shape. It’s busier in here now, with two of the fixed odds ter­mi­nals taken.

An in­tensely-fo­cused punter gives Pal­lasator the of­fice when it mounts a chal­lenge on the Sus­sex Downs, though it isn’t long be­fore an­guish starts cut­ting through the vigour in his voice.

Big Orange is hold­ing on un­der Jamie Spencer, for whom a vol­ley of choice in­vec­tive is re­served as he passes the line. The punter then makes an an­gry cir­cu­lar mark in his pa­per be­fore turn­ing to Strat­ford for the 3.20.

The com­men­ta­tor was buzzing up the mar­ket sup­port for Red Ham­mer in here ear­lier on, though a quick glance at the pa­per in­di­cated it had no busi­ness show­ing around the 3/1 mark. It’s 6/1 now, pre­sum­ably much big­ger on the ex­changes. Finishes nowhere.

Through it all, the el­derly man stand­ing next to me has been mut­ter­ing darkly about the re­sult of a grey­hound race re­cently con­cluded on the left-hand screen.Six won and pre­sum­ably he didn’t.

No­body has moved from the ma­chines, nor gone to the counter for a bet. I haven’t gone for a bet, thick or oth­er­wise. If you backed a win­ner or two for good money in here would they ban you? Turn you away? Are those guar­an­tees “sub­ject to sta­tus?”. What busi­ness do you have in here? It isn’t so clear now.


It is doubt­ful if Mark John­ston gave as much thought to his re­cent re­mark that the new ITV team should “get rid of cover­age of bet­ting” as he did to his en­tries at Glo­ri­ous Good­wood last week (four more win­ners to add to an im­pres­sive to­tal) but it cer­tainly struck a raw nerve.

Read­ing be­tween the lines of the com­ment af­ter a mea­sured ap­pear­ance from the trainer on Satur­day’s Morn­ing Line – in con­trast to an edgy, dis­pu­ta­tious Gra­ham Cun­ning­ham – it seems John­ston is keen that en­ergy be re-fo­cused on the rac­ing, rather than on a cul­ture of slap­dash he­do­nism vis­i­ble weekly on the race­course with its fo­cus on booze and bands, as well as, he be­lieves, in the cover­age of bet­ting.

Prob­a­bly he is think­ing here about the book­mak­ers’ egre­gious ad­ver­tise­ments as much as the editorial side of the cover­age, though the lat­ter is long over­due a root and branch re­think. (It would have been in­ter­est­ing on Satur­day, for in­stance, for Tom Se­gal to have been more closely ex­am­ined on his in­sis­tence on tip­ping out­siders at big meet­ings, where favourites are es­tab­lish­ing such a strong record, and for all in­ter­views with book­maker PR reps to cease un­til the firms in ques­tion can demon­strate a track record for lay­ing proper bets at the prices they are keen to par­rot, like caged birds.)

Re­turn­ing to John­ston, had he been more closely pressed by Cun­ning­ham and others gath­ered in the Good­wood gar­den, surely he would have ac­knowl­edged that to cover horse rac­ing without, at the min­i­mum, a ref­er­ence to bet­ting shows, price move­ments and SP re­turns would be as empty-headed as show­ing cricket without ref­er­ence to the score, but be­yond that? How much weight ought to be given to the ac­tion on the ex­changes, for in­stance?

What con­sti­tutes an ex­pert, when it comes to analysing the form, the odds and the per­cent­ages? Ought the di­vi­sions to be more clearly marked?

Here is where the de­bate ought to lie and hope­fully is ly­ing in the of­fices of the new ITV team, though one sus­pects the main em­pha­sis will be on se­cur­ing suf­fi­cient ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues from the big book­mak­ers to jus­tify the £30m out­lay for the broad­cast­ing rights.

The PR spokesman for one of those firms, Lad­brokes’ David Wil­liams, re­minded John­ston in his re­sponse to the orig­i­nal com­ment that “the pri­mary at­trac­tion to the sport for the pub­lic is through bet­ting”.

Or it was at least, back in the day when John McCrir­ick was hold­ing court in a vi­brant bet­ting ring, and Peter O’Sull­e­van and Ju­lian Wil­son were striv­ing to bring grav­i­tas to the great game with an ef­fort­less­ness which be­lied the hours they had put in be­hind the scenes, not least on the tele­phone to their book­mak­ers.If spokes­men like Co­rals’ Si­mon Clare now find it “be­yond laugh­able” that a man of Mark John­ston’s stand­ing should con­sider elim­i­nat­ing bet­ting from TV cover­age, then how come they have spent so much time, ef­fort and money on do­ing pre­cisely that in their ad­ver­tis­ing in re­cent years?

Gone is any thought of mar­ket­ing the game in a tra­di­tional man­ner, as a mat­ter of mea­sured re­flec­tion, an op­por­tu­nity to ex­er­cise at least a mod­icum of skill and judge­ment, as the gates are swung wide open to those who are tempted not by a bet but by a gam­ble, a friv­o­lous bit of fun on a Satur­day af­ter­noon be­fore the foot­ball gets go­ing.

No loyal and worth­while viewer base for the sport of horse rac­ing can be gar­nered from such a shal­low and ir­re­spon­si­ble ap­proach (and this is to leave aside the near-fa­nat­i­cal pol­icy adopted by each and ev­ery firm to ex­clude, re­strict or elim­i­nate those pun­ters bet­ting along tra­di­tional lines; those who would tune into their Satur­day cover­age in the hope not just of some idle en­ter­tain­ment but in the re­al­is­tic hope of ac­tu­ally win­ning some money.) How much in­de­pen­dence will Ed Cham­ber­lain and his team have in cov­er­ing bet­ting once their cover­age is un­der­way?

With all that ad­ver­tis­ing com­ing in, can they dare coun­te­nance re­quest­ing the pres­ence of those book­maker reps not just for cliched con­ver­sa­tion, for yet an­other op­por­tu­nity to cash in a one-way ticket to free PR, but to be foren­si­cally ques­tioned about their di­vi­sive ap­proach to the game? Or is it too late?


Hills, mid-morn­ing. The ma­chines be­ing force-fed in all cor­ners. A mid­dle-aged male punter stares in a glazed man­ner at the screen close to where the pa­per sits un­read on its lectern, as if await­ing the ar­rival of a speech-maker ca­pa­ble of en­light­en­ing the as­sem­bled com­pany on the fol­lies of the thing.

The man turns away, takes three strides, be­fore turn­ing around again. Reaches into his wal­let for an­other twenty. An­other game – “Magic Cas­tle, fea­tur­ing Leonora” – is be­ing heav­ily pro­moted in-house. It’s pitched at the level of a Year 8 class­room. Maybe younger. Anx­ious arousal-jags. Un­cer­tainty. Im­ma­tu­rity. They only want pas­sive play­ers.

If you’ve got a spark about you, even one which fires at the level of com­mon sense, with the ca­pac­ity to recog­nise what a fool’s game this is, then you’ve no place here.

We won’t speak of a spark of skill, of shrewd­ness.

The old-time know-how. In the pa­per to­day the book­mak­ers are claim­ing the gam­bles landed by Charles Byrne at Roscom­mon on Tues­day are “bad for the im­age of the sport”.

As if Magic Cas­tle, Point­less Park and the rest are good for it. The auc­tion­eer is look­ing around the room.The ham­mer of the bet­ting game is trem­bling in his hand. Go­ing... go­ing...


Watch­ing the book­mak­ers’ ad­ver­tise­ments, a very dif­fi­cult thing to avoid if you have an in­ter­est in tele­vised sport, you could be for­given for be­liev­ing this is an ac­tiv­ity where no money ac­tu­ally changes hands, elec­tron­i­cally or oth­er­wise.

“A rub­bish day just got a bit less rub­bish,” sug­gests one firm, neatly over­look­ing the fact that rub­bish days have a habit of get­ting a whole lot worse af­ter you’ve done your money.

Mean­while, an­other lead­ing book­maker emails to dis­close its “com­mit­ment to re­spon­si­ble gam­bling” be­fore quickly

get­ting to the heart of the de­cep­tion: “Gam­bling should be en­ter­tain­ing and not seen as a way of mak­ing money.” Other than by the book­mak­ers them­selves, of course.

They are ped­dling a le­gal high. Or the prom­ise of such a high, which hasn’t yet been proved to ac­tu­ally ex­ist.

Gam­bling is a downer, in other than the most ca­pa­ble and ex­pe­ri­enced of hands (and even then, a week or two back, a punter friend of the tra­di­tional kind, who makes it pay at ground level, by read­ing be­tween the lines of things, hopes in a man­ner ap­proach­ing prayer that his teenage son won’t get gripped by the game. That he’ll al­ready have seen enough to be look­ing else­where and to other things).

As for the idea of gam­bling “re­spon­si­bly”, well, there are in­di­vid­u­als with suf­fi­cient in­ner still­ness to hook ven­omous snakes on the end of sticks, be­fore flick­ing them out of harm’s way into thick­clad can­vas sacks, but as for the rest of us...


The stan­dard of pun­ditry re­gard­ing race-rid­ing usu­ally leaves plenty to be de­sired – an­other jockey praised for a “great ride” af­ter he’s badly mis­judged the pace on a hard-rid­den favourite while the rider of the sec­ond gets no men­tion for help­ing his mount out-run its odds – so full marks to Rac­ing UK’s James Wil­loughby for his in­ci­sive and en­gag­ing anal­y­sis of Gavin Ler­ena’s win­ning ride on 25/1 shot Arch Vil­lain in the Stay­ers’ Hand­i­cap on Sher­gar Cup day at As­cot (1.45).

South African cham­pion Ler­ena later com­pleted a stylish dou­ble on Dane­hill Ko­diac (3.30).

Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate him if, as ex­pected, he picks up plenty of good rides dur­ing an ex­tended stay in Bri­tain this sum­mer.


To con­tinue last month’s anal­y­sis of course trainer form, here are some addi- tional nuggets to bear in mind on the Flat.

There won’t be an abun­dance of qual­i­fiers, but the fig­ures sug­gest the strike rate could be ex­cep­tional.

Roger Charl­ton – run­ners at Brighton Luca Cu­mani – run­ners at Brighton James Fan­shawe – run­ners at Ling­field (turf)

Wil­liam Hag­gas – run­ners at Carlisle and Mus­sel­burgh

David Sim­cock – run­ners in Scot­land, at Cat­t­er­ick and Thirsk

Sir Michael Stoute – run­ners at Chepstow and Ffos Las Saeed bin Suroor – run­ners at Bath It is too early to be draw­ing con­clu­sions re­gard­ing the new all-weather sur­face at New­cas­tle, but early re­sults in­di­cate New­mar­ket yards will profit here.

Cu­mani, Fan­shawe and Stoute al­ready have eye-catch­ing records from a hand­ful of run­ners.


Saeed Bin Suroor

Arch Vil­lain

Mark John­ston

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.