Richard Hughes says punters are being misled by incorrect going descriptions: should the guilty be punished?
The Racing Post is flagging that its most interesting guest columnist in years, top jockey Richard Hughes, will be writing tomorrow about incorrect going descriptions and the effects of those on punters.
Corruption charges against jockeys and trainers will deter some from betting on racing, in reality a tiny percentage. To many, especially betting shop punters, part of the attraction of racing is that they see it as full of villains plotting frequent ‘jobs’. That’s why they fall for ‘tips’ and ‘inside info’.
I’m pretty sure serious punters are much more concerned about the effect on their betting of inaccurate going descriptions. Timeform make a going assessment for each meeting that is independent of the ‘official going’. Their current database does not allow for immediate analysis of their descriptions versus official ones but, for example, prior to this year’s Cheltenham festival they disagreed with Cheltenham’s Festival going on day one in four of the previous five years – full article here.
Of course corruption brings racing into disrepute. Inaccurate going descriptions do the same in my opinion, but the perpetrators go unpunished.
UPDATE: OFFICIAL GOING AS REPORTED BY TIMEFORM THIS MORNING IS GOOD TO SOFT, GOOD IN PLACES, SO BEST HOLD FOR JOCKEYS REPORTS
Seasonal form figures of 4FP are the type that give a horse a bad name and a big price coming into a Grade One race at the festival. Albertas Run, last year’s Ryanair winner, has had a poor season by his standards; he fell when under pressure against Master Minded at Ascot then pulled up in the King George next time (jockey thought AR had ‘gone wrong’ but the horse finished sound).
An RSA trophy alongside his Ryanair one didn’t prevent the ruthless boys at Timeform giving him the dreaded and thoroughly undeserved squiggle (all they needed to do was check his going requirements).
He has won seven of his nine races over jumps on good ground (Timeform going description used). In the other two he was 2nd to Kauto Star in the King George and 3rd to Madison Du Berlais at Aintree. Assuming good ground tomorrow as forecast, failure to make the first three would be a career first, yet he can be backed each way at around 6/1.
His Ascot fall was his first ever (he can hit the odd fence) and it might have left its mark mentally, but at 6/1 I am willing to take the chance that his favourite surface and track (won 3 of his 4 races over jumps at Cheltenham) will see him back to his best.
Cheltenham’s clerk of the course, Simon Claisse has very shaky form with his going descriptions for day one of the festival meeting. Good to soft has been his verdict in four of the past five years (soft in 2008).
Timeform, using race times as well as other information, has disagreed with that description four times in the same period. Simon Rowlands’, (head of research and handicapping at Timeform), article on this is here.
Many readers know that the going is the key factor for most form students. Millions will be bet on Cheltenham runners over the next four days but until we hear the verdict of the jockeys after the first race each day, no one who is serious about their betting can back a horse with any real confidence.
Accuracy advocates put plenty work into trying to get things changed.
A thread on the Betfair forum, faithfully noted official going descriptions and compared them with time-based ones, publishing the results, for two full seasons. One of the architects of that thread voted in my blog poll and left the following comment:
“His (Simon Claisse) stick readings defy belief , He has Champion Hurdle day (2010) as softer than when Grand Crus won the Cleeve!!!!! But until you dig around and find out when a lot of the readings were taken(up to FIVE days old!!) then you are not going to get a lot of sense out of them
Take them 2 hours before the first and an hour after the last if you want them to have ANY meaning”
So, who cares? It’s Cheltenham, the NH season’s X Factor now, with almost all other big races being treated as an extended equine ‘boot camp’ for contenders. Maybe many people don’t care. The ‘holiday’ atmosphere of the festival, tempts them to abandon discipline for the duration and treat their bank as spending money.
A week ago I opened a poll on this blog based on the question Do you agree with festival policy on producing easy ground for day one? I placed a link on my home page, inviting votes. The home page has over 2,000 views yet only 198 people chose to click through to the poll. Of those 198, just 70 voted. The top ‘answer’ with just over 31% was “I don’t mind, so long as the going description is accurate”
Only 10% opted for ‘Yes, it’s the best strategy for welfare and safety‘ (You can see all results by clicking here then clicking ‘View results’ on the bottom left of the panel)
I’m no pollster. I intended to be objective in compiling and wording the options though perhaps I missed in that aim thus discouraging people from voting. The result was as I expected – most of those experienced in betting on horseracing, don’t care what the going is so long as it is accurately described.
How much will be bet on the Supreme tomorrow and what percentage of that on Cue Card? He’s seen as a banker by many yet, based on Timeform’s going descriptions, his only hurdles defeat has come on good ground.
Just 70 voters would cut little ice with statisticians, I suspect, the sample size being considered too low. But isn’t it time Racing for Change started looking seriously at this subject? Much of RFC’s focus seems to be on attracting newcomers, yet every marketer will tell you that it is much cheaper to retain current customers than to recruit new ones.
Racing’s dilemma here: the more that people learn about horseracing, the less attractive it will seem as a betting medium compared with sports where full and accurate information is available. A description of the going, which punters can trust, at every track, is essential to the long-term financial health of the sport. It might not be an easy objective to achieve, but we must find a solution.
For a start, when racecourse execs sit down to compile their list of “stakeholders”, they ought to add, close to the top, “off-course punter”
Cheltenham’s declared policy of starting the Festival on ground no faster than good to soft has long been a matter of debate. The poll on this blog offers several options in answer to the question: “Do you agree with Festival policy on producing easy ground on day one?”
At the time of writing 34.78% believe that the policy penalises horses who prefer faster ground – a self-evident conclusion perhaps, but it drew five times the number of votes than those concerned about welfare and safety.
You can see the breakdown of percentages on the other answers, and add your own vote here.
All votes are, of course, anonymous.
You can see the current voting pattern by clicking View Results, below the Vote button.
It is a small sample at this stage, but I hope more people will add their opinion as the week progresses so that we have a robust set of figures to send to the Cheltenham management team.