MARK CO­TON

Mark Co­ton be­moans the shunt­ing of the July Cup into an ab­surdly late slot on a busy day of rac­ing

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Mark says the July Cup has been moved to a ridicu­lous slot

15 JULY

THERE are many ep­i­thets some­what less up­beat than‘Su­per’which can be ap­plied to to­day’s in­di­gestible rac­ing of­fer.

It’s the sort of day on which you dis­cover a dark one you’ve been wait­ing for across a pe­riod of months has just gone in un­backed at 14-1 at the meet­ing you never got around to look­ing at.

And here’s the July Cup,high­light of the once-iconic mid­week summer New­mar­ket meet­ing,slated to start at half past four on a Satur­day, when you’ve just about fin­ished with the whole thing and are look­ing for­ward to a stroll in the fresh air.

Ridicu­lous.

20 JULY

Bruce Spring­steen’s At­lantic City is ar­guably one of the great­est songs ever writ­ten about gam­bling (maybe topped in his own oeu­vre by The Prom­ise), though the only di­rect men­tion of the sub­ject is to a Gam­bling Com­mis­sion said to be “hang­ing on by the skin of its teeth”.

Our UK equiv­a­lent is much more com­fort­ably en­sconced,show­ing no ef­fec­tive signs of want­ing to frighten the wild and dan­ger­ous horses of the gam­bling busi­ness.

It re­mains to be seen whether the new fo­cus on cus­tomer rights and ser­vice promised by chief ex­ec­u­tive Sarah Har­ri­son adds bite, though you wouldn’t want to be a buyer on the in­dexes.

Here are three ar­eas into which the Com­mis­sion might want to cast a hope­fully sharp­ened beam:

1) The “pal­pa­ble er­ror” rule used by book­mak­ers to ab­solve them­selves from re­spon­si­bil­i­ties when a punter ap­pears to have sig­nif­i­cantly and suc­cess­fully bucked the odds.

No such equiv­a­lent lux­ury is granted to the backer and nor are re­pay­ments made when such bets lose,thus vi­o­lat­ing one of the core rules of bet­ting that if a cus­tomer has no chance of win­ning,a bet should be void.

2) To gam­ble is ar­guably a pal­pa­ble er­ror in it­self,yet Har­ri­son doesn’t seem to rec­og­nize this,speak­ing in a re­cent in­ter­view with the The Guardian about “want­ing peo­ple to en­joy gam­bling”. You can en­joy a flut­ter. You can en­joy a bet on the horses. But if you’re gam­bling you’re al­ready in trou­ble. Per­haps deep trou­ble.

(And there is no such thing as “re­spon­si­ble gam­bling”, an oxy­moron the wide use of which should be a pro­found em­bar­rass­ment to ev­ery­body work­ing in the busi­ness, but ac­tu­ally seems to bother no­body at all).

3) The on­go­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies of the big book­mak­ers whose murky rules al­low them to ac­cept a bet from one cus­tomer but to refuse it to another with­out ad­e­quate rea­sons be­ing given.

In no other walk of busi­ness life, online or oth­er­wise, is the cus­tomer who shops around for the best deal treated in this man­ner. Why should it be any dif­fer­ent for bet­ting?

23 JULY

The man­ner in which Jor­dan Spieth gath­ered him­self and his game to­gether to win The Open at Royal Birk­dale was one of the most im­pres­sive sights wit­nessed in a sport­ing arena.

The overnight leader en­ter­ing the fi­nal round, Spieth soon had any­thing but the look of a win­ner,record­ing three bogeys in the first four holes,then scram­bling to stay in con­tention against oth­ers whose games ap­peared to be hold­ing up more se­curely.

Were the nerves get­ting to him, as it seemed they had at the Mas­ters in 2016, when he lost a five-shot lead in the space of three holes, in­clud­ing an in­fa­mous seven on the par three 12th when he drove into the wa­ter,ex­actly as he had done in 2014?

So it seemed on the 13th tee at Royal Birk­dale,when his drive flew not so much out of bounds as be­yond bounds, some­where out to­wards a dis­tant grand­stand on another part of the course.

At this stage, al­most any other golfer would have re­treated into their shell, slashed one away to count three off the tee, be­fore scowl­ing at the cad­die and be­gin­ning to cal­cu­late the prize money due to those fin­ish­ing in joint 37th place.

You never pull it back when a round of golf is go­ing this badly,just as it never sud­denly turns dur­ing a bad los­ing run in bet­ting, as if you are trapped in some ex­te­ri­or­ized night­mare, with­out the knowl­edge to pinch your­self awake. Not Spieth. As oth­ers around him were fret­ting

about the lie and the rules and all man­ner of petty cal­cu­la­tions, he took as long as was re­quired to plan an exit strat­egy from his way­ward drive, ac­cept­ing a penalty drop be­fore hit­ting a stu­pen­dous long iron up to­wards the green.

Soon he’d got it up and down for a 5 when an 8 or 9 was ini­tially favourite.

This trig­gered an as­ton­ish­ing se­quence of birdie, ea­gle, birdie, birdie over the next four holes, leav­ing him with an al­most unas­sail­able lead ap­proach­ing the last.

So much to re­flect on, not least the fact that a men­tal “choke” is of­ten noth­ing of the kind.

Ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts, there are many oth­ers in golf’s up­per ech­e­lons who have a stronger game than Spieth, but none is as in­wardly fo­cused and de­ter­mined.

Con­trary to ap­pear­ances,it was fail­ings in his game, rather than any men­tal melt­down which led to his early tra­vails in that fi­nal round in The Open, and to that an­guish in Au­gusta.

When the go­ing gets tough, the tough get go­ing,sel­dom more im­pres­sively than this.

26 JULY

You’re watch­ing a race,with­out a fi­nan­cial in­ter­est, with­out the eyes be­ing drawn, or skewed, to­wards a par­tic­u­lar run­ner, and you won­der “who’s rid­ing this?”.

On the pos­i­tive side, across the last few weeks, it’s of­ten been Kieran Shoe­mark, on this oc­ca­sion giv­ing Pacha­rana a par­tic­u­larly well-judged ride at Bath (3.40).

28 JULY

When John Banks made his no­to­ri­ous ob­ser­va­tion that a bet­ting shop was “a li­cence to print money”,he had in mind a traditional busi­ness model, largely built around bet­ting on horse rac­ing (the sort of busi­ness which scares the wits out of those cur­rent op­er­a­tors schooled in less de­mand­ing cir­cles).

Even Banks might have balked at the chasms of ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity opened up by the de­ci­sion to in­tro­duce fixed odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals, with their eye-wa­ter­ing stak­ing op­tions,suf­fi­cient to have al­lowed the given op­er­a­tors to have col­lec­tively helped them­selves to £1.8bil­lion in prof­its in the year to Septem­ber 2016,ac­cord­ing to fig­ures re­cently re­leased by the Gam­bling Com­mis­sion.

No ac­com­pa­ny­ing fig­ures were on hand re­gard­ing the num­ber of lives un­der­mined by un­reg­u­lated “play” on th­ese so­cially worth­less ma­chines, but the on­go­ing gov­ern­ment in­quiry into the mat­ter,tem­po­rar­ily post­poned due to the gen­eral elec­tion and now due to re­port in Oc­to­ber, might shed some light on the mat­ter. Ex­pect a fudge. A lack of creative think­ing, such as a re­duc­tion to £2 as the gen­eral stak­ing limit, in line with book­maker rhetoric

about gam­bling as fun, with those cus­tomers wish­ing to stake at a higher level able to opt in af­ter a given cool­ing off pe­riod (maybe one as lit­tle as five min­utes be­ing suf­fi­cient to bring many to their fi­nan­cial senses).

Broadly speak­ing,if it wasn’t for the jobs which would be lost,a high per­cent­age of bet­ting shops could close with­out any neg­a­tive im­pact on the given neigh­bour­hood, espe­cially those found in clus­ters in de­prived ar­eas, opened solely with a view to leech­ing money on the FOBTS.

The big book­mak­ers’lob­by­ing groups, still con­sid­ered to be among the most pow­er­ful in Par­lia­ment, will be press­ing hard on the jobs is­sue,con­ve­niently fail­ing to dis­close long-term busi­ness mod­els which will be work­ing to­wards largely staff-free out­lets, with bet­ting con­ducted solely through ma­chines,in­clud­ing what’s left of that struck on horse rac­ing.

Mean­while, we are left with the pre­dictable yet uned­i­fy­ing sight of the main in­ter­est groups in rac­ing, from the BHA through the Par­lia­men­tary Rac­ing and Blood­stock Group to the Rac­ing Post, scur­ry­ing around like poo­dles in sup­port of the book­mak­ers and the sta­tus quo.

29 JULY

Un­der­tak­ing re­search on a well-known, if dumbed-down rac­ing web­site,there is an in­tru­sive pop-up from a well-known book­maker ex­citably of­fer­ing a free £25 bet.

It’s “for new cus­tomers only. T & C’s ap­ply”.

Given that this par­tic­u­lar book­maker’s terms and con­di­tions pre­vent me from stak­ing more than £3.87 online with­out an in­ner fire alarm sound­ing,the only thing to do is to delete the wretched in­tru­sion,and pro­ceed with the task in hand.

Is there a near-end­less line of th­ese new cus­tomers,ea­gerly await­ing the op­por­tu­nity to be taken for a ride?

The big book­mak­ers’ busi­ness model seems to be pred­i­cated on a pos­i­tive re­ply,con­tin­u­ously stoked by ir­re­spon­si­ble and disin­gen­u­ous claims that bet­ting amounts to noth­ing more than an in­con­se­quen­tial lark, a kind of happy-go-lucky free-for-all in which an un­for­tu­nate few get into trou­ble at the mar­gins of things but,hey,wasn’t that al­ways true even when the odds in shop were marked on a board which you couldn’t see for the smoke come the third or fourth race?

Yes, it was true that an un­for­tu­nate few al­ways got into trou­ble, even in the days when the gam­bling in­dus­try was pre­vented by law from any kind of ad­ver­tis­ing in­duce­ment to en­ter its murky waters,yet the fact that the pro­pri­etors them­selves are now al­lowed to pitch their soiled prod­uct to the un­wary and the un­pro­tected, sug­gests far more will be suf­fer­ing, and in si­lence,un­til the truth breaks out,some­where down the line, and yet another of those cum­ber­some public in­quiries will be re­quired to try to get to the bot­tom of it.

8 AU­GUST

James at the gym is a staunch Man Utd fan (wher­ever you are in the world you can’t get away from them) but he also has an eye for a bet and reck­ons Real Madrid are the busi­ness around 2.15 for tonight’s Su­per Cup match against his team.

He’d be the type to put his money where his mouth is,too;in other words a player in the true tra­di­tions of the game, who can sep­a­rate his emo­tions from his in­ten­tions, and who knows what a bet looks like when it comes along – the race­course more than the bet­ting shop, along per­haps with a spieler above the lo­cal mini-cab of­fice – though one won­ders what is left of th­ese tra­di­tions now the book­mak­ers’ bas­tardized busi­ness model has be­gun to worm its way into the soul and source of it all,al­lied to an online in­va­sion which ped­dles gam­bling as a dif­fer­ent kind of game to the one which used to be played for real and not on tiny screens in dark­ened rooms, though there were a few of the lat­ter to be en­coun­tered along the way, abid­ing in the mem­ory like the grip of smoke and sleep worked into the cor­ner of an aching eye.

Kieran Shoe­mark

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