Mark reaches for the off switch af­ter a load of Dee Ex BS at York

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Mark laments the pass­ing of qual­ity broad­cast­ing


Switch on ITV Racing in good time for the Acomb Stakes at York (2.25).

First it is nec­es­sary to en­dure an ex­tended booze and fash­ion fea­ture, then Brough Scott is along­side pre­sen­ter Ed Cham­ber­lin to dis­cuss his Top Three In­ter­na­tional Stakes mem­o­ries.

Brough takes us back to a run­ning some­where in the mid-1990s when it seems a horse was disqual­i­fied for in­ter­fer­ence to the sec­ond horse, or was it the third? Brough doesn’t seem sure, but rules are rules, even if they have changed now (though not in France).

It seems the main rea­son he’s re­called this run­ning of the great race is be­cause it was such a great wheeze on the old Chan­nel 4 out­put, when no­body on the pro­gramme had a clue what was go­ing on ei­ther!

By now the direc­tor is surely in Ed’s ear, hop­ing for a wrap, be­cause he wants to get to Matt in one ring and Francesca in an­other (and maybe back to the booze and the fash­ion if there’s time).

Brough hur­ries through his other two mem­o­ries, which fea­ture Bri­gadier Ger­ard and Frankel.

Then it is Matt from the ring, his tie fit to choke, telling us the favourite, Dee Ex Bee, has been ‘smashed up’ for the Acomb, be­fore pro­ceed­ing to a lengthy and com­pletely ir­rel­e­vant aside on the horse’s sire, who once ran against Frankel!

Then it’s Francesca in the pad­dock. Be­ing a horse­woman she is sen­si­bly walk- ing ahead of the run­ner she wishes to fea­ture and not be­hind, be­cause that’s the surest way to get a good kick­ing.

The cam­era­man faces a sim­i­lar dilemma to the viewer. Does he fo­cus on Francesca, or the leggy, at­trac­tive in­di­vid­ual strid­ing along just be­hind her?

We leave this en­tirely con­trived set-up for some ex­pert anal­y­sis.

Dee Ex Bee’s trainer Mark Johnston, we are told, has a dis­tinctly mod­er­ate record at York over­all, though he has done well in the Acomb.

We would per­haps wish to be in­formed if he has won it with sim­i­lar types to the sup­pos­edly smashed-up favourite, that is a once-raced Good­wood maiden win­ner mak­ing a rel­a­tively quick reap­pear­ance, but ei­ther their re­search doesn’t reach this deep, or the direc­tor can’t be ar­sed about this sort of thing, so it’s back to Matt, then to Luke at the start.

They’re load­ing, but there is am­ple time for a run of re­dun­dan­cies, be­gin­ning with Luke telling us what a great time he’s hav­ing down at the start, and end­ing with Ed in­form­ing us how much he is look­ing for­ward to the com­ing race.

Trou­ble is, he looks for­ward to ev­ery race as if it might amount to a re-run of Grundy v Bustino. The smashed-up favourite gets beat. Reach for the red but­ton. Never this con­trivance again.


Re­cently fan­cied one at New­bury. An out­sider, not without hope if you stared deeply enough into the dark and for­got­ten re­cesses of its form, and al­lowed an in­jec­tion of faith.

Surely over-priced at around 25-1 and big­ger likely to be avail­able on the ex­changes. Some re­minders checked in. First, it is un­ac­cept­able to dab­ble at the big prices.You have a proper bet or you don’t bet at all. (And no saver silli­ness in the place only mar­ket.)

You back it to make a dif­fer­ence, as­sum­ing it is worth a bet. A proper bet. Not so con­fi­dent now? As in­vari­ably hap­pens these days, a point was reached where I could leave the horse alone with a mea­sure of equa­nim­ity.

It could win, as oth­ers have done in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions, re­turn­ing you to the back

al­ley of what might have been, but it would prob­a­bly lose, run well up to a point then fade, and any­way you’ve vis­ited that back al­ley of­ten enough to know you won’t be left stranded there, that there is a way out, if you keep walk­ing.

As a num­ber of feted and prom­i­nent tip­sters have dis­cov­ered this sea­son, you can back a shed-load of these horses and none will win.

Decades back, I once wrote about en­dur­ing a los­ing run of 48 bets in the sum­mer of 1990. The gen­eral re­sponse was one of in­credulity.

Surely the story had been made up for dra­matic ef­fect, or else I’d plumbed such depths of in­com­pe­tence as to ques­tion my en­tire role and sta­tus in the game.

Of course I ques­tioned that role and sta­tus (such as it was), given that I was bet­ting for real, hav­ing left the com­fort­ably up­hol­stered se­cu­rity of the news­pa­per tip­ster’s chair.

It wasn’t quite a tomb­stone plunge into pro­fes­sional punt­ing since there were other in­come op­tions, thank­fully enough once the fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions of that los­ing run had bit­ten in.

A news­pa­per tip­ster can re­cover quickly from a los­ing run like that.

The front page blurbs will drop away for a time, un­til it bot­toms out, as it will in the end, if you’re only play­ing at it, in that up­hol­stered world, but it isn’t so easy on the out­side, as I’d dis­cov­ered at a cost far more con­sid­er­able than the ex­tent of the red fig­ures en­tered in a long and seem­ingly un­end­ing list in the bet­ting book.


An ex­co­ri­at­ing in­quiry into ‘Bri­tain’s Gam­bling Ad­dic­tion’ by the BBC’s Newsnight of­fered a re­minder that for­mer Prime Min­ster Tony Blair had once re­joiced in the be­lief that Bri­tain’s in­ner cities could be re­gen­er­ated by open­ing a pha­lanx of ‘su­per casi­nos’.

Gordon Brown and oth­ers di­verted Blair from this evan­gel­i­cal id­iocy, but Labour’s over­all pol­icy of dereg­u­la­tion in the sec­tor pro­ceeded apace in the early part of the pre­vi­ous decade, with tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing and high stakes pro­vi­sion on fixed odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals among the op­por­tu­ni­ties en­thu­si­as­ti­cally pre­sented to a gam­bling in­dus­try which could scarcely pre­vent it­self from foam­ing at the mouth at the prospect of ex­ploit­ing them.

Labour’s Tom Wat­son was Newsnight’s stu­dio guest, ini­tially at­tempt­ing to con­vey the body lan­guage of a man hold­ing a full house, only for it to be quickly re­vealed that, as a mem­ber of the gov­ern­ment which in­tro­duced these dis­as­trous mea­sures, he was in fact hold­ing a pair of twos.

Wat­son was broadly cor­rect in stat­ing that no­body could then have fore­seen the pace of growth in the online gam­bling sec­tor, a tsunami to be added to the flash flood of ad­dic­tion and ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity un­leashed by the ear­lier dereg­u­la­tion, but had to of­fer a re­luc­tant mea culpa for his in­volve­ment in a reck­less and wholly un­nec­es­sary leg­isla­tive fi­asco.

(In the in­ter­ests of bal­ance, it was John Ma­jor’s Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment which first loos­ened the reg­u­la­tory grip on the gam­bling sec­tor in or­der to fa­cil­i­tate the in­tro­duc­tion of the Na­tional Lottery). So what is to be done? Labour has since floated the pos­si­bil­ity that foot­ball clubs ought to be pre­vented from dis­play­ing shirt spon­sor­ship en­dorse­ments of the gam­bling sec­tor, a

con­struc­tive enough sug­ges­tion in it­self but, un­less a wider re­solve can be gath­ered to tackle the ap­palling and unchecked ex­cesses of the in­dus­try, is likely to be as ef­fec­tive as dis­tribut­ing um­brel­las ahead of a hur­ri­cane.


Online gam­bling firm 888 has been fined a record £7.8m for out­ra­geous fail­ings in its cus­tomer care pro­vi­sions.

Broadly,in­stead of pro­tect­ing more than 7,000 cus­tomers who had asked to be ex­cluded from deal­ings with the firm,888 ac­tively pur­sued them to keep on gam­bling.

The fine, over­whelm­ingly the largest im­posed by the Gam­bling Com­mis­sion, which had hith­erto re­stricted it­self to slap-on-the-wrist im­po­si­tions, in­clud­ing on a num­ber of high street names,begs the ques­tion: what in­fringe­ments might be re­quired for a firm to have its li­cence with­drawn?


In his ar­ti­cle in today’s Racing Post Tom Kerr is highly critical of a ‘moral panic’ about gam­bling he be­lieves to be ac­tive in the minds of a de­luded Bri­tish pub­lic.

Nat­u­rally enough,no men­tion is made of the com­mer­cial panic run­ning riot in the of­fices of the firm he rep­re­sents at the prospect of the dam­age which might be vis­ited on its part­ners in the book­mak­ing sec­tor should the stake limit on fixed odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals be dras­ti­cally re­duced in the gov­ern­ment’s forth­com­ing re­view.

To judge by the book­mak­ers’ pro­pa­ganda, should the lim­its on these ma­chines re­duced from the cur­rent max­i­mum £100 per spin to a pos­si­ble £2, bet­ting shops will be forced to close at such a dra­matic rate they will be soon sighted as rarely as a red kite above the streets of Mar­ket Harborough.

They wouldn’t close at this rate, of course.

There might be some resid­ual losses, but the main rea­son the gam­bling in­dus­try is mak­ing these claims is be­cause its mem­bers do not wish to al­ter a busi­ness plan which is specif­i­cally de­signed to ex­ploit the ad­dic­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties of as many forms of gam­bling as pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing on the FOBTs.

Need­less to say, it does not re­flect well on the horse racing in­dus­try that it stands firmly be­hind the gam­bling sec­tor in en­dors­ing this strat­egy in the in­ter­ests of pro­tect­ing its own fi­nances.


The bookies,early yes­ter­day evening.Just one player glued to the ma­chines.

Chat to the man­ager about the fu­ture of horse race bet­ting (if in­deed it has one). Of the fu­ture of the sport in gen­eral. Hear the name ‘Con­naught Ranger’ on the tan­noy in the back­ground.

Turn to the screens, as­sum­ing it’s a ‘run­ner’ in a car­toon race but, no, it is due to com­pete in an ac­tual race at Kemp­ton Park (7.20).

Where is horse racing without a re­spect for the tra­di­tions which re­deem and sus­tain it? Con­naught Ranger won the Tri­umph Hur­dle in 1978 and a num­ber of other im­por­tant races for Fred and Mercy Rimell.

He was a highly-tal­ented, if un­pre­dictable, in­di­vid­ual, who tested to the full the skills of the great Mid­lands train­ing part­ner­ship and those of his reg­u­lar jockey, the gifted but sadly ill-fated Ir­ish­man John Burke.

Mem­o­ries re­turn, in­clud­ing of a mid­week New­bury meet­ing, when Con­naught Ranger was one of a num­ber of high-class horses de­clared by the sta­ble. It was Tom Masson Tro­phy Day. Gaye Chance won the fea­ture race,one of 18 wins un­der Na­tional Hunt rules.

Can­not re­mem­ber if Con­naught Ranger won the novices’ chase on the card.

Prob­a­bly he was favourite, but didn’t take to fences on this oc­ca­sion.

It was a bright,cold Novem­ber day,with your breath al­ready out in front of you,and a scarf and gloves ide­ally re­quired.

I’d bunked off lec­tures to be there, among the afi­ciona­dos. No­body bored nor booz­ing.

All ab­sorbed in the ac­tion on a day which can stand as an em­blem of the hap­pi­ness which racing can de­liver,or which it could do at least, be­fore the slip­page started.

Dee Ex Bee

Mark Johnston

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