Many years ago, Brough Scott, the late great Tony Fairbairn and I went to see Woodrow Wyatt the late and not very great chairman of The Tote.
The meeting was to discuss one of my rarely brilliant ideas, which I had discussed with Brough and Tony. We had agreed on a partnership in principle but needed the Tote to be a player. In the days before the Internet and Smartphones, the Brilliant Idea would allow people to dial a number, owned by Tony, key in a pin on the telephone and hear how their Tote Ten To Follow list was doing. The Tote Ten To Follow was jointly owned by The Racing Post (then run by Brough) and The Tote. We explained to Woodrow, through a haze of Cohiba fumes, that based on Tony and Brough’s personal and commercial experience, there were tens of thousands of players who, over a six month period, would spend a shed-load of wonga, which would be divided up between the big 3 and with The Kneesup charitable foundation taking a 10% licence fee. The fact that I am still penniless will tell you how the conversation went and I can only say that as we walked back out into the Putney sunshine, the three of us agreed that racing was the poorer as a result of people like Wyatt.
There was a sense of the wild frontier in the racing business in those days. The technologies that were becoming available, the sense that changes should and would come. It didn’t matter if the changes resulted in more changes, that was the process of development. The changes involved everything from All-Weather racing, the disappearance of the betting tax, and the ill-considered attempt to introduce Le Trotting; to the concept that bookies could get a licence to trade off-shore and the introduction of floodlights – a thousand other big and little changes, developments and advancements, Sometimes two-steps-forward and one-step-back, but it at least appeared, (Wyatt aside), that there were people who wanted to see the sport grow and to be better.
But you’d struggle to say that is the case anymore. One gets the impression that there are 200+ board members from 30+ companies who are desperately filling sandbags, hoping to prevent the flood of vital changes the sport needs. These changes aren’t about whether we welcome some former chap now called Doris into the yard or the course, which I do, or the 21st-century moral dilemmas of asking someone to do their job properly, which I can’t. Nor are they the moral and puritanical changes demanded by the Holier-Than-Thous, desperate to save Tommy Tucker from gambling, because Tommy confused the scientific art of handicapping which I practice, (Ed: Practice being the operative word) with the one-arm bandit on every bookies’ mobile app. Yes, we DO have too much advertising for betting, but the focus is on games of chance, and it is everywhere and masquerading as “Gaming”. Play Microsoft Solitaire just once on your Windows-powered machine and watch the ads – every ad aimed specifically at kids – teaching them the excitement of the spinning wheels, flashing lights and sound storms of noise. But I digress.
I’m talking about the changes that will affect the chances of our sport’s survival. We know all the things that are wrong. We know we have too much racing. The National Hunt “Pattern” is completely out of kilter with the actual competitive needs of the better quality horses. The IFHA needs to examine the Flat Pattern. Sort out the whip. In much the same way as Social Media, the old BHB gave everyone a seat at the table, and now each seat thinks its’ voice and self-interest should take precedence. As a result, we’re failing to sell racing and worst of all – we’re failing to unite.
Counterintuitively, however, let us consider introducing now a proper racing bet. Pick a winner in each of ten races every Saturday. £1 a line. Guaranteed Jackpots! Rollover every week. Consolation prizes. £100 if your winning racecard numbers add up to more than 85 or whatever. Anything to make people read the racecard online or in their newspaper. Anything to make people familiar with the faces and the horses. Make it compete with the National Lottery. Make it the focus of ITV. Have a Free To View tipping show on Racing TV or ATR. Make racing fun – while behind the scenes, we correct the mistakes of the past and develop a stronger future.
Talking of having fun, it’s Chester. Everyone knows or thinks they know, that Low Draws at Chester are the golden paving stones to Nirvana. But be careful….
1:30 ICM Stellar Sports Lily Agnes Conditions Stks Cl2 (2yo) 5f 7 run
Every bookie knows about the draw – and thus the market is adjusted. So be wary please – there is a low-draw advantage, but it is reflected in the price. Thus for example in the 7-runner, 5f race at 1:30 pm, the last 27 races over the distance, were won by horses who led 41.03% of the time. The three likely front runners are horses 4-5-6. They are drawn 7-4-2. In the last ten years, 70% of the winners were drawn from stalls 1-5. The horse with the highest speed figure is Star of Lady M. The two most likely to win are 5 and 6, who are priced at 7/2 and 13/8 at the time of writing. Star of Lady M won LTO on Soft ground, therefore the probable value is with Gay Kelleway’s Ocean Cloud.
OCEAN CLOUD 2 pts win
1:50 NEWTON ABBOT Racing Partnership Trp Hcap Chs Cl2 (5yo+) 2m5f 4 runners
What can I say… This race epitomises my earlier comments. This race has been run for 5 years with a Median entry of 8 runners and an average of 7.33 – and this year we have 4 runners. I think ERITAGE will win it – but the race is going to be so tactical anything could happen. What is certain is that the best horse might not actually win it.
2:05 tote.co.uk Free Placepot Every Day Hcap Cl2 (3yo 0-105) 5f 7 run
I think this is only the second time after his debut, that RESILIENCE has run on grass, and I only mention him, because he has the second-highest Timeform rating in the field. In the last nine runnings, no horse has won from stalls 1 or 2, with stalls 3 and 4 providing 6 of the winners. LIVE IN THE DREAM is drawn in stall 2 and is the favourite, having won at Sandown LTO under a 5lb claimer, who has been swapped for Ryan Moore. Perhaps there is a message there. He is also a horse who likes to lead and given his speed figures, it’s easy to make the case for his victory. However, I think there might be better value in Stall 5, where SHAMLAAN will come from and who benefits from Jack Mitchell who, (I think I might have mentioned this before), has one of the best racing clocks mentally and a really good pair of hands. SHAAMLAAN has won five of his last eight and is a gutsy little horse who’ll take a small gap with no ducking the issue. Jack gets better every year and at a current 5/1, he’s e/w value.
SHAMLAAN 2 pts e/w
2:40 Weatherbys Bloodstock Pro Cheshire Oaks Cl1 (3yo) 1m3½f 10 run
I am staggered that JO’B has bought ABOVE THE CURVE here as she is a huge horse and I had heard whispers that there were concerns as to how she would handle Epsom. The Queen has IMPROVISE here who is very progressive judging by the improvement made between her Newmarket debut, and her Haydock win LTO. I am concerned at the length of time she has been off, but her breeding suggests she is capable. The one I am interested in is NIGHT BATTLE who looked to have won a shade cosily LTO despite running green and showed a very willing attitude.
NIGHT BATTLE 3 pts win – IMPROVISE 1 pt e/w
3:10 Boodles Vase Stks (G3) Cl1 (3yo) 1m4½f 5 run
This is a straight choice between the front two in the market. CHANGINGOFTHEGUARD and NEW LONDON. The former is from Aiden O’Brien whose ten-year trends for this race are 3W – 3P – 10R. The latter is well fancied for The Derby and is unbeaten in two starts. I’m going for value and race record!
CHANGINGOFTHEGUARD 2 pts win
3:40 Deepbridge Hcap Cl3 (3yo 0-95) 6f 9 run
BUCKSHAW VILLAGE now has a 13lb advantage over POCKET THE PROFIT who beat him on seasonal debut, but I’m going for an old favourite who has a nice draw, and runs from the front and has a decent turn of foot.
TOLSTOY 2 pts e/w