There were some inflammatory remarks made on social media after a very innocuous interview on Luck On Sunday between Nick Luck and trainer Kayleigh Woollacott (pictured). Her ‘crime’ was to wear her sponsor ‘Betway’s branded clothing. Some commentators suggested that the trainer’s association via sponsorship by a bookmaker brings the ‘integrity’ into question. The additional concern from some quarters, the ‘public perception’ of the sport when bookmakers are funding trainers and jockeys.
I’d like to bring a counter argument that racing has never been straighter, and the general public perception of racing will reflect that.
I’d like to add the caveat that there do seem to be far too many cases, generally in low-class all-weather races, where horses that appear to have everything going for them then drift late on and experience all sorts of bad luck before losing. Most noticeably missing the break. I have no figures, so it may just be selective memory on my part. Adding a caveat to a caveat these races usually feature low-class horses, most form students will tell you the lower the grade the less likely for consistency. That said, the public perception of all-weather racing is very poor and high-profile published investigations of highlighted ‘drifters which run badly’ would be a start.
Given the previous paragraph, how can I describe racing as straighter than ever before? For starters, everyone is a steward. There are thousands of people watching every race in high-definition. There are hundreds of people betting in running, a fair proportion doing it for a living. Many of these would be better race-readers that any steward, though possibly not quite as impartial. Add to that the presenters on the specialised racing channels bombarded by emails and social media the minute there’s the suspicion of a ‘non-jigger’. James Moore, the ‘Principal Betting Investigator at the BHA’ is on twitter @Jamesracing1 and invites punters to draw to his attention any races they may have concerns about, BHA stewards and Press office are both active on twitter too. How many that are suspected of wrong-doing are currently brought to book is a different matter.
One thing that really convinces me that racing has never been straighter are the number of punters that now make it pay. I personally know several professional punters who win using their own judgement and interpretation of the form book, including the all-weather. It wouldn’t be possible to win in the long-term if the level of ‘crookedness’ people would have you believe infests the sport was accurate.
There’s no doubt that the age-old methods of getting one ready, running when unfit and over a distance that wouldn’t suit, still go on. Part of the fun for form students is spotting those but jockeys strangling a jolly out of a race or sitting out the back with a double handful are a rarity these days for the reasons given above, the risks are too great.
When a public-listed bookmaking company sponsor a high-profile trainer or jockey, everything is transparent. Neither party would be foolish enough to embark in anything underhand. Rather than putting the integrity of the sport in doubt, I’d champion the opposite opinion. The only people that could think that way are the ones that are convinced that the game is still corrupt. Racing’s ruling body, who I respectfully suggest are better informed, does not consider that bookmaker sponsorship of trainers and jockeys to be detrimental to the sport’s image. To me that speaks volumes for the integrity horse racing now enjoys.
Bookmaker’s sponsorship of jockeys and trainers in the present climate is the opposite of the skulduggery that went on in the bad old days. You only need a rudimentary racing library to be aware of the claims of jockeys betting and being met by sinister bookmakers in racecourse car parks proffering brown envelopes to not win. It’s only the continued peddling of that old image that keeps it alive to the detriment of racing. It has never been in ruder health as far as integrity issues are concerned. It’s the public perception that needs changing. Transparent sponsorship deals between the industry that already funds most of racing and its professional participants surely can only aid not hinder that?
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring