Activist punter accuses sport of misleading public
It is part of the fascination of racing that so many different
factors can affect a horse's performance in a race. The state of the ground,
though, may very well be the most important factor of all and one dissatisfied
punter is mounting a successful campaign to highlight what he feels is the
inaccuracy of many going reports.
Mike Maher of TurfTrax and Seamus Buckley from Goodwood Racecourse
compare the GoingStick to the traditional method.
On April 8, Nick Davis
started a thread on Betfair's internet forum - surely the largest aggregation
of punters anywhere on the web - inviting fellow punters to "put all
observations [about going reports] for Flat racing this season on one thread so
we can send it to the Gambling Commission in October under the file 'giving
misleading information to the public'".
Most threads on the Betfair
forum last a day or two at most before dropping into internet oblivion, but
Davis's effort clearly struck a chord. Four months and nearly 700 individual
posts later, it is still going strong, providing what he believes is an ongoing
record of serious discrepancies between the reported going and the true
condition of the ground.
It is a
broad subject and contributors' complaints fall into several distinct
categories. These include apparent contradictions between GoingStick readings
and going reports, possible attempts by course officials to even out draw
biases by targeted watering and tracks' watering policies in general in pursuit
of "safe" ground. But it all comes down to trust. If the going is described as
good to firm, punters will place bets on that basis and have a right to expect
that information to be as accurate as humanly possible.
Davis, who is
49, has been betting all his life and is not surprised that his internet
campaign has attracted so much support. "It seems to be something that no-one
in authority wants to talk about," he said yesterday. "The British Horseracing
Authority's directive for Flat ground is that clerks should aim to provide good
to firm going, but many clerks seem to go beyond that and keep watering so that
it ends up good or even good to soft.
"Also, there is no way to
correlate what GoingStick readings actually mean when you compare between
different courses. A reading of 8.6 at Ayr could mean the same thing as 9.4 at
Goodwood. Until tables have been compiled that compare the readings given at
different courses with the actual race times, there is just no way for anyone
Davis cites the watering at Glorious Goodwood last week as an
example. "I was there on Friday," he says, "and as I was leaving the course,
the taps had already been switched on, despite the fact that on one of the most
competitive afternoons of racing in the calendar, there wasn't a single winner
that managed a time below the Racing Post standard.
"To me, that
suggests it was good ground already, rather than the good to firm that was
advertised, and then they went and watered even more when there was rain
forecast. To me, that's altering the going, not maintaining it at good to firm
according to the BHA's directive, but on Saturday morning it was still being
described as good to firm."
Seamus Buckley, Goodwood's clerk of the
course, said yesterday that watering had taken place to ensure the safety of
jockeys and horses. "We had some horses that slipped on Friday, and I wanted to
get some water into the ground so that any rainfall on Saturday would not lie
on top and make it dangerous and slippery," Buckley said.
"I have no
doubt at all that I did the right thing. The jockeys and horses are our number
one actors, as it were, and we have to look after them. I wouldn't want to be
the person responsible for ending Frankie Dettori's career because there was
not enough water on the track and he slipped up coming down the hill.
"If what I did upset some punters and owners, then I will just have to
take that on the chin, but we had over 500 runners last week and I did not have
a single complaint from a jockey about the ground."
determined to highlight the issue. "Who benefits when courses give out
inaccurate going reports?", he asked yesterday.
"Clearly, it's the
bookmakers, but it is also the racing authorities, because the Levy is based on
bookmakers' profits. I think it's a relationship that needs looking into and,
at the end of the season, I will be sending the whole thread from the forum to
the Gambling Commission and asking them to do so."
progress may already be on the horizon. "This is very much an issue that is
being looked at," Paul Struthers, of the BHA, said yesterday. "The problem is
that to be able to make realistic comparisons between GoingStick readings at
different tracks, we need to compile sufficient data. At the end of this year,
we will have two full years' of readings, which should enable us to do just
"Use of the GoingStick will be required at all tracks from
January 1, when we would also hope to encourage clerks to take readings much
closer to racing, which could be published on our website." For the keyboard
warriors on Betfair's forum, it would not be a moment too soon.