The fatal imbalance that is damaging British racing
Racing Editor for bettingexpert. Always searching for winners "against the crowd" and trying to find the value.
Email : stephen at bettingexpert.com
In his regular racing editorial, Stephen shares his thoughts on the potential for corruption in British racing as prize money and public interest continues to diminish through the current economic climate.
British Racing is struggling through a long and painful recession, as so many sectors in the entertainment/leisure are, but it's diminishing prize money is having further side effects and increasing the potential for corruption. This has the disastrous outcome of punters losing interest in the sport and preferring to wager on other sports/lotteries etc where they feel they have a real chance of success and not merely playing into an "insiders game".
The problem of race-fixing and stopping horses is not a new one and whenever betting is involved the temptation is there. However the distortion between reward for winning and the possible gains for losing is now so wide that it is hard to believe that it is not occuring on a regular basis.
The all-weather racing has traditionally been very low grade and modest horses racing for prize money less than £1500 for winning. This has been a lethal combination, with at least £500,000 traded per race on the leading betting exchange the disparity of "reward" has not escaped everyone's attention.
In 2007 the highest profile duo so far were banned...
"Jockey Tony Culhane has been suspended for 12 months after an investigation into 37 races in 2003 and 2004."
Another rider, Dean Mernagh, received a nine-month ban, and two unlicensed individuals in Culhane's family were warned off - disqualified. Culhane was found to have breached a rule which forbids aiding or abetting individuals to lay or back horses with the benefit of inside information. Mernagh was found to have communicated inside information for reward.
Those members of Culhane's family punished were his brother-in-law and former jump jockey Gary Lyons, and father-in-law Dave Watkins. All four individuals were found guilty of misleading Jockey Club officers when they were questioned about events. Watkins was warned off for five years for using information received from the two jockeys for gain on betting exchanges, and also passing it on to Lyons.
And then in 2008...
"Jockey Dean McKeown and trainer Paul Blockley have appealed against bans imposed after a British Horseracing Authority corruption probe."
They were found guilty of conspiring with others to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice. McKeown was banned from the sport for four years while Blockley was given a 30-month suspension. The jockey later had his licence revoked after he was found guilty under the non-triers' rule.
Blockley was found guilty of failing to give proper instructions to McKeown to ride a horse on its merits. And a panel ruled the jockey did not ensure four mounts ran on their merits. The trainer's disqualification has been put on hold pending his appeal, which is scheduled to start on 15 December. If their bans are upheld, they will not be allowed to train, ride or own racehorses, work in stables, go racing or have dealings with other licensed people.
The pair, who denied the charges, were accused of being involved with the laying of horses to lose in races between March 2004 and December 2005. The bets in question risked a total of £182,541, but in fact, because every bet was a winner, the overall profit was £61,909. It is the first major BHA anti-corruption case since the Old Bailey race-fixing trial involving former champion jockey Kieren Fallon collapsed in December 2007.
Most recently in December 2011 arguably the biggest scandal to hit the sport...
"Jockeys Paul Doe and Greg Fairley have been banned from racing for 12 years for 'not riding a horse to its merits' after an investigation into corruption."
Two other jockeys are among 11 people barred from the sport following a British Horseracing Authority probe. Kirsty Milczarek has been banned for two years, while Jimmy Quinn has received a six-month punishment. Owners Maurice "Fred" Sines and James Crickmore have been banned for 14 years for betting on their own horse to lose.
Fairley and Doe had both quit racing earlier this year. Quinn and Milczarek were both found guilty of corruption, but the latter was also found to have breached a rule forbidding jockeys passing on information in return for reward. Quinn, who has ridden four winners for champion trainer Richard Hannon this year, does not intend to appeal while Milczarek does.
Five others - Nick Gold, Peter Gold, Shaun Harris, David Kendrick and Liam Vasey - were also found guilty of "corrupt or fraudulent practice". Vasey, Kendrick and Harris were banned for five, four and three years respectively while a decision on Nick and Peter Gold's penalties will be made after further written submissions.
"While it is the names of the jockeys that the racing public will recognise, people should be under no illusions that it is the lesser-known names who were the instigators of these serious breaches of the rules," said BHA director Paul Scotney.
"The investigation uncovered a network through which Sines and Crickmore engaged in betting activity, in particular with two riders, Paul Doe and Greg Fairley, that impacted on seven of the 10 races in question.
"In the BHA's history, the scale and complexity of this case is unprecedented."
So where do we stand?
Some may say that this illustrates that the corruption within racing is being stopped by vigorous investigation. The BHA has certainly upped its game in recent years and the co-operation with betfair has meant proving "guilt" in these cases has clearly become a lot easier. However, the penalties are not strict enough and no deterrant to wrongdoing. Until complete lifetime bans become the norm with severe financial consequences (as in Australia and the Far-east) then the temptation will still prove too strong.
There is little doubt still that some of the wild fluctuations on the exchanges pre-race are not merely down to opinionated punters putting their cash on the line through detailed form analysis. While steps have been implemented to cut down on so-called inside info (i.e the banning of mobile phones in the weighing room), it is still hard to explain some of the rides seen on a daily basis on our all-weather courses in particular. Unfortunately until the BHA actually catches anyone redhanded it is very hard for anyone in the racing media to comment, especially as they rely on the goodwill of riders and trainers to write copy each day. The recent scandal was big news for a few days but has been quietly forgotten about as it suits those in the sport not to highlight what was systematic theft of punters money (that they never saw returned) over a long period of time.
The problem lies in a number of areas. Principally racing is funded by the profits that bookmakers make, through a levy, and anything that is bad news for racing is sure to diminish the amount wagered on the sport itself. Therefore all concerned have a vested interest in burying bad news and ignoring corruption. This gravy train has rolled along for many years, with most of the mainstream media on board. The rapid rise of betting exchanges has made this impossible to ignore such is the scale of it (in financial terms) and prize money cuts, less owners in the sport, recession etc etc are all factors that have made the temptation/need to cheat grow. Although this latest BHA action in December is a step in the right direction, it is hard to believe that this is not just the tip of the iceberg.
1 - Lifetime bans and massive fines for all those found guilty.
2- Prize money must be increased to an agreed minimum level (as set out by the Horsemans Group). Raised by a super tax on profits made by F0BT's in betting shops and the restructuring of taxes paid by those firms based overseas but trading on British racing (they currently avoid huge sums by relocation to different countries).
3- Far more transparency in the betting exchanges. In the early days of Flutter (the first exchange pre-betfair) it was possible to see who was on the other side of every wager. This might have issues of privacy etc but the idea is a good one. At the moment it is a bit similar to ringing up your stockbroker to buy shares in a company only to buy them from the managing director who is offloading all of his shares because of impending bad news. If punters can see who is doing what and when it might increase confidence in the sport and certainly become harder for wrong-doing to go undetected.
The world of racing has a lot to be proud of and certainly has done well to weather the current financial storm. However, it is an industry based entirely on punter confidence and unless these integrity issues are dealt with severely and rapidly (some of the current enquiries have dragged on for many years) then the share of betting that racing commands will continue to fall. This spiralling vicious circle then in turn leads to lower and lower prize money and logically to a bigger need/incentive to cheat the system.
You can follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenh61
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I agree with the person who said that horse racing does not seem to have much of an identity beyond betting. Being a long time follower of the sport, I hope they somehow try to change this image of horse racing. On a related note, check out this amazing game called Horse Racing Fantasy which is available for a free download at www.horseracegame.com. It has been developed with paying great attention to detail and the finer nuances of horse racing.
Yes that is the heart of the problem Joachim....although having said that point to point racing (amateur races run over jumps at a number of courses around the country) is thriving. The heart of it is the sums don't add up at all for a lot of those involved in the sport, be they owners, trainers, riders etc etc and the temptation/need to flout the rules has never been greater or easier with the betting exchanges.
Possibly a big contribution the problem is that horse racing isn't much of a sport for its own sake, at least the way it exists currently in the UK and Ireland. It's the betting that justifies its existence, whereas other sports like football or basketball would still be played and hugely popular even if noone bet on it. But if you take away the betting from UK horse racing it would deflate big time.