Monthly Archives: June 2011

More than 3,800 answers in survey, but questions remain for Racing for Change

Below is the press release from Racing for Change, summarising the  responses to a recent online survey.  The words in italics are mine.

Over 3800 people representing racing’s main constituents – punters, racegoers, owners and trainers, breeders, stable staff, racecourse employees and industry professionals – have participated in an industry wide survey on the future of British Racing.

The research initiative, called Racing 2015, is a new and ongoing research programme being undertaken by Racing for Change in order to seek the views of stakeholders on important issues relating to the future of the sport. This new research will be used to build on the extensive consultation that was carried out over the last two years.

The majority of participants are core racing customers or work in the industry with close to 90 per cent stating that the sport is an important or very important part of their life. There is a good spread between jump and flat followers.

It would be very helpful to know what percentage of respondents are employed in racing and, ideally, the breakdown of those into groups – stable staff, owners etc.

The first of several surveys this year has asked for views on British Horseracing today and the opportunities for the future. The key findings were as follows:

* Existing racegoers consider the view from their enclosure, quality of facilities and racecourse atmosphere as being the most important factors in their enjoyment of a race day. Additional entertainment and experiences for children were not important to them.

* Many current racegoers already go as often as they wish. Time and then cost are the biggest barriers to the remainder, although only a third cited cost as a barrier to going racing more often.

Time is one of the most difficult barriers to breach: most people with disposable income have a job which prevents them from going racing Monday to Friday.

* Owners rate their love of the sport and horses as the most important reasons for ownership. Betting was not an important factor for nearly six out of ten owners. Whilst, a financial return was important to around half of owners.

More than 40% of owners therefore classify betting as important; this could have significant implications on the integrity front, not least because of the trust factor among punters.  There is also the prospect of increased ‘policing’ costs. Given the constant harping from the Horsemen’s Group about prize money levels, some will be surprised that only around 50% of owners say a financial return is important to them.

* The average punter bets £10 – £50 a week on British horseracing. Whilst, seven per cent bet £500 or more a week. Only 25 per cent of the panel used betting shops on a weekly basis and there was a clear shift towards Internet betting. Football was the only other major sport bet on by racing punters.

75% of respondents do not use betting shops ‘on a weekly basis’. It would be helpful to know how often, if ever, they did use them.  Once again, a demographic breakdown of respondents would have helped us interpret this statistic. It is self-evident that those with the facility to complete an online survey also have the facility to access online betting sites.  I wonder how many owners, trainers, stable staff, racecourse employees etc choose to bet online with companies who pay no levy?

* There is no evidence that current racing punters have reduced their betting levels on British Racing, indeed cumulatively it has increased for participants. The minority who did reduce spending did so due to changes in their personal financial position rather than as a consequence of betting on other sports.

In a survey completed by people who are ‘core racing customers’, I would not expect a reduction in betting levels on British Racing – it would be unwise to make any general assumptions that this loyalty applies across the general spectrum of those who bet.

* There is evidence to suggest that increased TV coverage, more competitive racing and more frequent runs by top horses would increase punter participation.

* More than 85 per cent of the panel watch racing on TV each week, 42 per cent watch it daily. Online viewing is growing in importance, especially amongst younger adults. TV coverage does encourage people to go racing.

These figures strongly suggest to me that the vast majority of respondents make their living from racing.

* The panel considered racing to be good value relative to other sports and there was a broad consensus that the sport needed to make itself more accessible to newcomers. A sizeable majority did not agree with the view that racing had too great an emphasis on betting.

* A majority felt that the sport had the ability to grow but would remain a minority sport.

* The Racing for Change initiatives that were most strongly endorsed were the free entry promotions, regular editorial features on jockeys and trainers, ‘meet the racehorse’ activities, televised stewards’ enquiries, betting guides for novice racegoers and improved photo-finish graphics on-course.

* Three clear priorities emerged for Racing for Change. First, improving the customer experience on racedays, promoting the sport to new audiences and increasing the presence of racing in the wider media.

Rod Street, CEO of Racing for Change, said: “This is only the first of a series of surveys, so was general in nature and designed to capture some basic data. None the less, it was insightful and will help us in our strategic planning.  To generate 3,800 responses from our internal audience was also very encouraging.

“A significant point to make is that this panel gives us a superb opportunity to research specific subjects in detail. First on our list is a more detailed study of betting behaviour , which is relevant in the current challenging environment regarding racing’s funding. We are of, course, undertaking detailed research of non-racing consumers to provide the balance required to help us to retain our existing customers whilst attracting new ones.”

A final point. I completed the survey online and deliberately answered that one of the factors that would prevent me from going racing was ‘welfare issues’. I would have expected then to see a follow-up set of questions to try to get more detail from me on those welfare concerns, but there was none.

It is impossible to satisfy everyone in racing. In their next survey, I believe RfC would benefit from a more careful construction of the questions, allowing a much deeper analysis of the outcome by learning as much as possible about the respondents, within the constraints, of course, of how much people are willing to reveal.

Joe McNally

£40k bets laid: do newspapers owe their readers a duty of care?

The headline story on RacingPost.com, as I write, reports a £40,000 bet laid by Coral on So You Think for Saturday’s Coral-Eclipse. There are several readers’ comments below the story suggesting the announcement of the bet is a PR stunt.  One said:

I don’t buy this 40 grand bet nonsense either. They knocked me back for a 20 quid bet on the golf yesterday

Racing Post editor Bruce Millington, in a Twitter  exchange with James Knight, Coral odds-compiler,  said that reports of such bets ‘wind up’ many Racing Post readers who’ve had their accounts ‘restricted’. James Knight suggested to Mr Millington that, as editor, he had the option not to publish such stories. Perhaps that is what the Racing Post should consider doing. Or maybe they should ask bookmakers’ PR reps the question I just asked James Knight – ‘was that £40,000 bet from a ‘profitable (for you) punter?’

Mr Knight, said:

I can’t comment on individual accounts, but this is a Group 1 race and a strong market, so we would be willing to take decent sized bets.

The reality, as most Racing Post readers will know, is that bookmakers do not take £40,000 bets from punters who damage their profits – nor should they.  They have a responsibility to shareholders no different from any other business.  Punters who cry ‘there are no real bookmakers anymore’ are as delusional as many others in racing. By ‘real bookmakers’ they actually mean fellow gamblers who are willing to take a risk based on personal judgement rather than in the interests of objective balancing of a book.

I have no sympathy for punters bewailing their ‘can’t get on’ lot. Were they running a bookmaking business, they’d do exactly the same and ‘restrict’ punters with a ‘winning profile’.

What does stick in the craw is the unquenchable appetite of sports editors for big fat cash figures – they make great headlines.  At least Racing Post readers, in general, have a chance of seeing through the PR. Punters relying on The Sun, The Mirror, (far and away the most popular purchases of the betting shop punter, who, in turn, is far and away the biggest contributor to the Levy) are, arguably, more likely to be misled.

If you hear of a Rolls-driving, multiple-home-owning, cuban-cigar-smoking, Krug-drinker who makes his living from betting and wants to have £40,000 on a horse, it is highly valuable information.  If the tip you have is that a man with all of the above ‘attributes’ who does NOT make his living from betting but is frequently the guest of major bookmakers at high-value sporting events (they might as well stamp the invitations MUG PUNTER), the information is much less valuable.

Bookmakers are free to take and refuse bets as they like. Sports Editors are entitled to ask the PR men if such bets have been laid to punters who contribute regularly to that bookmaker’s profits and, depending on the (inevitable) answer, decide whether or not to publish.

Twittergreyhound update

Well twitterhorse started it and although this is a horse racing blog, I’m happy to try and help Gary Tunnicliffe recruit members for his twitter greyhound syndicate.  Here’s Gary’s latest update:

A mixed week really for the findusontwitter syndicate our  Twittergreyhound travelled down to  Oxford on Monday & did a great trial recording a calculated time of  40.48  first time around after a long trip down & being slow away, ahead of the Pall Mall meeting next Tuesday on Sky. Unfortunately to our disappointment she failed to get into any of the Opens despite her efforts. But Oxford’s loss will hopefully be Sheffield’s  gain &  our Twittergreyhound is entered up for next week at Sheffield instead upped in tripped to 720M abw.

On a positive note the findusontwitter syndicate is very pleased to announce its latest member –  Daren “give a bit back” Johnson  has joined our twitter ranks & is most welcome in the syndicate.

Daren is best known for his greyhound derby winning exploits in 2009 with the Mark Wallis trained Kinda Ready & latterly his great work for retired greyhounds & help for hero’s with his “give a bit back” campaign where Daren successfully completed a month of marathons to raise funds for the two charities.

You can find us here

Are sectional times of any practical value?

Jockey Tom Queally’s apparent mid-race brainstorm on Frankel in Tuesday’s St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot had the sectional time fans flustered yet again.  Tom Queally launched Frankel in pursuit of his pacemaker from the 5 furlong pole resulting in the horse covering the middle part of the race quite a bit faster than the beginning or end.

Sectional timing would have allowed accurate measurement of the distance Frankel covered and the time it took him to do so. Simon Rowlands of Timeform and respected analyst James Willoughby are two very experienced journalists who believe sectional times should be available for, at the very least, all major Flat races in the UK.  But of what practical use would they be?

I accept that they’d help in analysing performances, but advocates tend to be racing boffins anyway – they have no problem carrying out a pretty sound analysis by eye.  For your everyday punter, sectionals mean little if anything when studying form.  Also, how many races are truly run – that is, paced at a good even gallop throughout? Very few, I suspect.

To my mind, possession of a bookful of past time-fractions on every animal running tomorrow will benefit you little if a horse needs a truly run race to produce its best, for there is no telling how each race will be run. Jockeys are more aware of the preferences of their rivals than most punters are, and jockeys will always try to exploit weaknesses in the opposition.  If the favourite needs to be held up off a true pace, rival riders will do what they can to ensure there is no true pace.

Racing’s funding is in dire straits and I believe the cost of a sectional timing structure at tracks would be considerable. Where is the return on investment for tracks when so few punters have an interest in time fractions?  One for the wish-list of a minority than a must-have, I think.

You can follow Simon Rowlands on twitter here, and James Willoughby here

Twittergreyhound tweets home at 5/1

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the dog earmarked to become the first twitter greyhound led all the way and won tonight at 5/1. Details on how to get a share here.

Mardle darts into twittergreyhound syndicate

Popular pro darts player Wayne Mardle has joined Gary Tunnicliffe’s growing twitter greyhound syndicate.

Mardle has been known as “Hawaii 5-0-1” since 2000, due to the Hawaiian shirts he started wearing in 1998 for a bet, and 501 being the start score of a leg of darts. The name is also a play on the title of the popular TV series Hawaii Five-O.  This dress sense coupled with his crowd-pleasing onstage activity (such as dancing to the interval music) has seen him become one of the most popular players on the circuit.

In 2006, Mardle had a book published (co-authored with Ian Spragg) entitled “Hawaii 501 – Life As A Darts Pro”. It chronicles the ups and downs of his life as a professional darts player during 2005.

If Wayne wasn’t playing darts, he says his profession of choice would be a TV prsenter, claiming, “I can talk crap like them all”.

Wayne is also a keen poker player and recently made the final table at Leg 6 of the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour – finishing in 7th place to win £14,100.

Gary Tunnicliffe who runs the syndicate and has been marketing it tirelessly on twitter said;

I am Delighted to announce we I have signed Wayne up the Findusontwitter syndicate.

Wayne is an avid daily tweeter and  greyhound owner already with dogs on Crayford and Monmore and is a welcome high profile addition to the growing syndicate. Characters like Wayne can only be good for the profile of the sport and is a welcome addition to our ranks.

I have registered the Findusontwitter Syndicate and the bitch will be named Twittering Debs. I’m now getting two or three solid enquiries a week. From the comments and questions I get the concept appears to be lost a little amongst existing Greyhound patrons and sceptics.

The concept and unique pledge is to take the dog(s) Open Racing to the members local tracks, making racing affordable and accessible to ALL social networkers and bloggers, all details available on our website 

Most our signed up members appear to be coming from the South or Midland’s and  have enrolled through Twitter so far.With that in mind I am actively seeking new members in the North East, Scotland & Ireland. If I can get a signed up member or preferably two from Northern Ireland within the next week or so we will aim to enter the bitch for the stayers event at  Drumbo Park On Bettor.Com NI Derby night later in the month.

The bitch, currently known as Debby’s Court has her 3rd race for us tonight at Sheffield, where she has an obvious chance. I’d be delighted to hear from potential new members.

London Racing Club Ascot preview evening – transcript courtesy of @rob_hayward

London Racing Club Ascot preview evening

6th June 2011

 

Panellists: Tony Calvin, Betfair (TC); Angus McNae, RUK (AN); Nick Smith, Ascot (NS); James Willoughby (JW)

 

Queen Anne

–          (TC) Surprised that Canford Cliffs is currently favourite (6/5), but ‘punters gravitate towards the unknown’.

–          (TC) Potential angle in taking on the market and laying the front two, effectively giving the field at 13/2; plenty of potential improvers in behind, with ~5lb to find on Timeform ratings.

–          (JW) CC ‘doesn’t really stay a mile, but Hughes rides him brilliantly’; Cape Blanco a live threat (Irish Champion Stakes a good formline) could be a back-to-lay play as he’ll have to go from the front.

–          (NS) Rio de la Plata as a potential Godolphin chance, ‘but can’t really see anything troubling the big three’; agree on Cape Blanco chance but believe CC is a worthy favourite as everything geared towards Breeders’ Cup for Goldikova.

 

King’s Stand

–          (JW) Star Witness twice ran Black Caviar to 4l in October/November; unsettled before the start last time out and ?forgiven that run, but some in Aus believe he’s trained off.

–          (NS) Holiday for Kitten a live chance for Wesley Ward: ‘could run well but may not be quite good enough’.

–          (JW) Bridgetown (Todd Fletcher) ‘blazingly fast’, could lead if good draw.

 

St James’s Palace

–          (NS) ‘The only thing that can beat Frankel is Frankel’.

–          (JW) ‘Frankel is one of the most fascinating horses to analyse in my lifetime’; ‘some trainers were convinced after the Guineas that he’s now a tearaway and cannot be restrained’, but if he can run even fractions to 142 ‘he’ll be 10l clear of everything’.

–          (JW) Excelebration ‘wildly impressive’ in German Guineas.

–          (NS) Temps Au Temps likely to be French representative (not Tin Horse)

 

Prince of Wales

–          (NS) Planteur is a ‘solid yardstick but absolutely beatable’; currently a question mark over plans for Workforce as Twice Over ‘will run’, ‘but Khalid Abdulla never afraid to have more than one runner in the race’.

–          (NS) Rewilding very impressive in Dubai but doubts over step down in trip.

–          (TC) So You Think is ‘the hype horse of the meeting’, currently trading at 4/7 but expects it to go off much shorter, perhaps 2/5; Planteur form from Prix Ganay worked out very well with Sarafina, Cape Blanco, Silver Pond in behind.

–          (JW) SYT ‘creates a very unusual impression, very heavy-topped but in running could be 15hh’; ‘very excited about this horse: he’s absolutely extraordinary on Aus form, and will likely end up rated even higher’.

–          (NS) Ballydoyle ‘cannot believe what they have’ in SYT; ‘I’d rather back him than Frankel’; Melbourne Cup 3rd ‘remarkable’ after pulling hard for ¾ of the race.

 

Gold Cup

–          (JW) Rite of Passage ‘a very strong stayer’; project horse in Geordieland, ‘waited on hand and foot’ by Jamie Osborne, trained well since March and could go well fresh at a big price [but TC, ‘he travels well but then doesn’t find anything’].

–          (TC) Duncan, question marks over attitude but on Prix Foy form, and win over Blue Bajan on reappearance should go close – maybe a doubt over stamina.

–          (NS) Interested in Duncan, Askar Tau, Kasbah Bliss (‘knocking on a bit but laid out for this race’)

 

Golden Jubilee

–          (TC) Delegator currently trading favourite at 5/1, but money for Hinchinbrook (16s from 25)

–          (NS) Very unlikely Star Witness will double up here, more likely to be aimed at July Cup

–          (TC) Live outsider in Hitchens, ‘there’s often not much between an improving handicapper and the best of these’, currently trading at 40s.

–          (JW) Elzaam, ‘very good last time out at Newbury, seemed to quicken clear and then find yet another gear’, ‘an exciting horse in a tricky and open race – a great race for punting’.

–          (JW) Also Kingsgate Native, ‘very good down the centre at Haydock’, won this in 2008; ‘Ascot form is a massive plus on the straight track’.

 

Coronation

–          (NS) ‘Misty for Me is the best horse in the race, but not sure she’ll go here’.

–          (TC/JW) Sharnberry a live chance for En Dunlop at a double-figure price.

–          (panel) Also chances for Maqaasid (if she gets a mile), Memory, Barefoot Lady, More Than Real (but Breeders’ Cup the probable target).

 

Coventry

–          (TC) Four of Timeform’s top 15 juveniles trained by Wesley Ward: Italo likely to go here, Gentlemans Code to the Windsor, Judy the Beauty to Queen Mary/Albany, Everyday Brave to Norfolk.

–          (JW) Crown Dependency a live chance here; also Gatepost.

 

Queen Mary

–          (AN) Pyman’s Theory (named after James Pyman’s theory that progeny of Exceed And Excel run well at Ascot) has a chance at 16/1.

–          (TC) Also Judy the Beauty (see above).

 

Handicaps

–          Hoof It in the Wokingham

–          Leviathan in the Hunt Cup

–          Havane Smoker in the Jersey

–          Zain Al Boldan in the Ribblesdale

 

Naps

–          Nick Smith – Star Witness

–          Tony Calvin – Planteur (e/w)

–          Angus McNae – Hoof It [later selected by the panel as their £50 charity bet]

–          James Willoughby – Sharnberry

 

I’m indebted to Rob Hayward for sending me the transcript. You can follow Rob on twitter here

 

Betfred short on Curleys – could they end up paying them twice?

The Racing Post reports that Betfred are refusing to pay out members of Barney Curley’s family for bets placed online:

BETFRED.COM, based in Gibraltar, will not pay out on the bets placed by Barney Curley’s relatives as part of the Newmarket trainer’s £4 million coup last May.

This comes despite the fact that Betfred’s UK betting shops have paid out and that, following an investigation, the BHA concluded that no rules of racing had been breached. Betfred, who on Friday were declared the new owners of the Tote, declined to comment, stating: “It is with our lawyers.”

On June 1, Betfred.com’s lawyers informed the five account holders, four of whom are related to Curley, that bets showing a profit of more than £823,000 would be voided under the company’s rule 10, which states: “Any person or group of persons acting in an attempt to defraud Betfred.com will have their bets voided.”

So, rules of racing not breached, precedent set by already paying out in their shops, what chance have Betfred of avoiding paying online bets?

Also, their case appears to suggest that the Curley people were involved in attempts to defraud -will they be pressing for criminal charges against these account holders?

If Betfred lose this, aren’t they then open to a substantial damages claim for libel as well as serious PR fallout?  Mr Done certainly likes a challenge.

How important is intuition in picking winners?

James Willoughby and I had a lengthy twitter exchange today on the subject of intuition.  I had suggested that Pour Moi might be an exceptional horse on the evidence of his performance in the Investec Derby. I was particularly impressed with the manner of his victory – last to first: a sustained run which looked to me to still be gathering speed as he past the post.

The fairly close grouping of the placed horses suggests the bare form might not be that great but, having read comments by various experts, including Richard Hughes, that Derby winners need to hold a prominent position turning in, and that the wider you come the tougher the camber is to handle, then putting it all together I believed this to be a top-notch performance.

James pointed out that Erhaab won the Derby having come from a long way back though I do not think that horse was quite so spectacular, visibly, at least. Anyway, I also cited intuition as one of my reasons for recommending Pour Moi as excellent Arc value at 6/1. James took issue with that on the basis that a convincing argument needs to be based on objectivity and facts.

But how do you objectivise intuition?  What is intuition? There are numerous definitions online – many mentioning sixth sense, spirituality etc, but I prefer this:

So a practical answer to the question ‘what is intuition?’ would be to say that it’s the ability to process information, not just information in the environment, but also information available internally from past experiences and knowledge.

From time to time, when driving, especially on motorways, I’ve found myself quelling an instinct to move lanes, accelerate or make other maneouvres to ‘run with the herd’; it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it almost always proves correct, resulting in smoother or safer progress.

Lord knows how many miles I’ve driven these past 35 years, but my intuitive driving decisions are, I believe, very likely to result from subconscious recall of past experiences. I think my brain is pulling together lots of information I didn’t know was there and conveying it by way of a ‘hold on, this just doesn’t quite feel right’ message.

I’ve been watching racing for much longer than I’ve been driving (was sneaking into betting shops from age 13) and I’ve no doubt at all that much of what I’ve seen, allied to a ‘retro-fit’ of the experience, has given me a strong intuition about the potential of some horses.  The key, of course, is for the intuition to kick in when facts are sparse and evidence hard to come by. I wish I could say it has always served me well – it hasn’t, but it has helped much more than hindered in finding value.

However, Mr Willoughby’s promptings sent me to the formbook where I found that a reasonable argument could be made that Pour Moi is some way better than his bare form suggests. On his debut he missed the break and met serious trouble two out from which he was unable to recover (he beat the winner next time out). In his only other defeat, on his seasonal debut this year, he failed to settle but was running on well at the end.  Hold up tactics were adopted next time in a perfect Derby rehearsal – last to first showing ‘exceptional acceleration’ (Racing Post).

My intuition tells me that there is quite a lot more to come from this horse. Also, he’s proven on ground from heavy to good to firm (heavy was Fabre’s description) and if there is any 6/1 still around for the Arc, I think it will prove very good value.

On a completely non-factual, unintuitive, just-for-the-hell-of-it front, I’d love to see young Barzalona high in his irons blowing kisses to the Longchamp crowd while still fourth with half a furlong to run and snatching the Arc by a nose.

You can follow James Willoughby on twitter here

2 winners at 50s and 10s yet Fancy5 winner just holds on:early results could scupper this new competition

Five selections – two winners at 50/1 and 10/1 earned £4,000 for this week’s winner of the Racing Post‘s new Fancy5 competition.  The idea is to pick 5 horses and come top of the table based on a notional £1 stake on each (£1 deducted for a loser). Simon Williams, this week’s winner might have been expected to have cruised home, but he won by just £3.50.

Last week’s victor had two winners – 17/2 and 16/1.

Andy Brown won the inaugural comp with a winner at 20/1 and another at 16s.  Before entering in week 2 he said,

“It’s a thinking man’s game. The beauty of the competition is that you can react to what is happening, both during racing and around you on the leaderboard.

“My tactic will again be to try to find two or three winners in that 10-1 to 16-1 bracket.”

My initial assumptions on the Fancy5 were that it would hold considerable appeal for many Saturday punters willing to stake £2.50 in the hope of stringing together three or four at around 9/2 or 5/1. Early results suggest you really cannot consider anything below 10/1 and I think that will be a challenge too far in the minds of many.

Still, credit to the Post for offering something new; I’d be interested in seeing turnover figures so far and how the graph looks as the weeks pass.  Perhaps regular tweeter, RP editor Bruce Millington will enlighten us though I suspect we will get a ‘commercially sensitive’ quote!