Punters help fund Irish Horse Racing, without them it’s unlikely there would even be any racing. You would presume then, that the powers that be, would treat such an important group with the respect they deserve. You might even think that they would go out of their way to keep us happy. If the authorities were trying to recruit a sponsor for a big race, how would they go about it? Would they be wined and dined? Would their concerns be listened to? Would they be flexible in giving them what they want? Or would they do what they do to punters, which is basically ignore them?
In Horse Racing Ireland’s (HRI) annual report for 2011 it shows a contribution from the Horse and Greyhound fund of over €45 million. This figure includes a government subsidy on top of about €27 million, that came from a 1% turnover tax on Irish off course punters bets. Michael Noonan is quoted as saying the 2012 yield was a similar amount. The HRI accounts also show the contribution to prize money from owners and sponsors combined, was just over €16 million in 2011, some €11 million less than that provided by a tax on bets. If a sponsor doesn’t get value for money they’ll walk, if nobody listens to them they’ll walk, the authorities know this and treat them accordingly. Punters on the other hand have been treated poorly for generations, we still bet though, so why bother giving us anymore?
It’s not as if we’re asking for Champagne and Caviar either, proper going reports would be a start. That however seems to be an unnecessary impost on some, if the above twitter conversation between freelance journalist Kevin Blake, and the official Ballinrobe Races twitter feed is anything to go by. Kevin had asked for a going report a few hours before their evening meeting was due to start. The reason he needed to ask, was the going for that fixture hadn’t been updated on the HRI website since 8 am the previous day.
The reply was scarcely believable. You’d think he’d just asked them to go out and walk the track inch by inch, and give an accurate description of exactly where the best ground was. How exactly were punters expected to bet on that meeting when at midday they still had no idea what the ground was?
Unfortunately the problem is not just with Ballinrobe, the information on current ground conditions is regularly not updated first thing the morning of the race, and even when it is, the report is pretty sparse, the above shot was all Gowran Park felt like sharing with us for today’s meeting. This is a standard report for Irish Racing. The reports are totally lacking in whether any rail movements have taken place, I know I’ve had to go on twitter to try to find out was the Curragh straight track at its full configuration for the Derby Weekend meeting. Such information is vital, the stands rail often has a big bias when the track is at its full width, but not so much when there’s a false rail up.
Compare the Gowran update to what Lingfield provided on the BHA website on the same day. This is standard now for nearly all British tracks, and the rail movements are especially important. Lingfield is another track that has a pretty big stand rail bias, but it’s more obvious when the track is at its full configuration. It’s therefore very helpful when we’re studying the form last night or this morning, that we know that the rail is in 3 meters.
When the bend is out on UK racecourses it is the norm for the clerk to add this to their report, and include in it the extra yards this adds to each circuit. I can’t recall ever seeing similar provided for Irish Racing. Indeed it’s not provided after the race either, and I know of a few people who like to use time figures in their analysis, and they don’t trust the accuracy of many race distances in Ireland at all.
It was only in December 2012 that Irish Racecards showed what headgear a horse was wearing. Before that blinkers, visors and hoods were all listed as blinkers. It’s good that this has been changed, but it’s comical that such a situation could exist in 2012, trainers use blinkers to wind up a lazy horse, they normally try a hood to relax a puller. To have both listed as the same thing is stone age stuff.
What do we want? We want more, much more.
The above complaints are really basic stuff that we shouldn’t have to ask for, to not supply them is lazy, and strikes of why bother, when they’ll bet anyway. To bring racing into the century we live in, we need more, much more. Anytime the subject of weighting horses comes up the reason given against it is the cost. That’s laughable, racecourses get about €42,000 a meeting from media rights. How much does a weighting scales cost? As for who is going to man it, every horse has to enter the racecourse stables, which are already manned by security, how long would it take to stand the horse on the scales as they enter? 20 seconds a horse would be about right.
The reason it hasn’t happened is trainers would be dead against it, but the information to punters would be invaluable. For starters it would be easy to spot horses who are unfit, and by how much. Possibly even more valuable would be the research you could do. Do bigger horses run faster? Are they more likely to progress, and to what degree? Do some trainers like to get one ready by running it 20 kilos overweight on its previous start?
Wind Operations – Lets not confuse those simple punters eh?
If a horse has a wind operation it should be obligatory for the trainer to notify the authorities, and this info would be posted on the HRI website, papers like the Racing Post would then pass on the info to their readers. The argument against this one goes something like, ‘oh wind ops don’t always work, and there are so many different types of operation’. This is all true, but it’s not a reason to withhold the information. How many times have we seen a well backed runner win, only to find out afterwards the improvement was due to a successful wind op. Give us the info and let us decide what to do with it. We’re not kids, you have to be 18 to place a bet after all.
A Mare is in foal, do we want to know about it?
The same logic is applied to mares in foal. We never hear about it until after they run up a sequence of wins. The objection this time is that not all mares improve for being in foal, again this is true, but when betting we need to know if huge improvement is a possibility, and enough mares have improved hugely while in foal to make that extremely important to know. Not every Aidan O’Brien trained horse improves hugely from their first to second start, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore who trains it when evaluating its chance of doing so.
Sectional Times anyone?
Sectional Times are provided in nearly all big racing jurisdictions worldwide, and yet Irish and UK racing lags way behind, even though we are home to some of the best racehorses in the world. The additional dimension they would give to analyzing a race would make the sport far more interesting, and instead of guessing what happened and why, we could come to some firm conclusions about what each horse achieved on a given day. I write more about them in Sectional Times and their uses in Horse Racing Analysis. Suffice to say if we ever want to sell out sport to a more global audience, we would be laughed at until such data is accurately provided as the norm.
Is Irish Racing Straight? Prove it
People who have little interest in racing think its all bent. To punters who bet on racing the general perception seems to be that UK racing is straighter than Irish Racing. I know a few Irish punters whose opinion I respect would disagree. The problem is the perception though, it matters less if its true or not, than what people believe to be true. In recent times there has been many high profile corruption cases in the UK, as well as a few drug busts, this might not give off a great image, but what it does do is at least give the public the impression that the sport is being policed.
The 2011 HRI report shows a spend of over €5 million on integrity, so money is going somewhere, but where exactly? We often see big drifts on horses over here, the same as happens in the UK, but unlike over there, we never seem to have any big inquiries, or convictions. If the HRI are doing loads of work behind the scenes and think keeping it to themselves is best for racing, then I disagree, because to the uninformed among us, it looks like they are doing nothing. We also see many gambles brought off when a horse with no form suddenly bolts up. Each and every one of these needs to be investigated fully, and the public needs transparency too. To encourage outsiders to take an interest in the sport, we need to lose the tag of inside info being king.
Where does the money go?
In 2011 the HRI budget listed a total spend on Integrity, Race day Services, Marketing and Administration Costs of €16.1 million. This seems a lot when you compare it to the total BHA budget spend for the same year of £29.6 million, for roughly four times as many races. I’m not even sure if the figures quoted for the HRI include doping control, which the BHA spent over £3 on. I presume it probably falls under Integrity in Ireland, but regardless the figures are a lot more for each fixture than the UK equivalent, without any extra benefits for punters.
Part of HRI’s funding is based on the provisions of the Horse & Greyhound Racing Act 2001, under which the Minister allocates an amount to the overall fund equivalent to the excise duty on off-course betting in the preceding year. The Fund is split 80/20 between horse racing and greyhound racing. Since 2006, additional exchequer funding has been provided to make up the shortfall in returns from the off-course betting sector. Currently a new bill is being worked on with the intention of taxing online betting as well. If an off shore bookmaker wants to accept bets from Irish customers they will need a licence, and will have to pay the same tax on turnover that off course bookies are paying at the moment.
Why improve our product when we make most of our money off someone else’s?
This seems fair and if the government can get this bill done without loopholes then it can only help racing. HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh had this to say on the topic in 2010“
In 2001 the total betting in Ireland was approximately €1.3bn and it returned €68m to the Exchequer through betting duty. By 2009, betting had increased to €4.5bn and yet remarkably the return to the Exchequer had fallen to €31m. So a quadrupling of betting turnover was matched by a halving of the return to the Exchequer. While it is clearly unacceptable that the Exchequer should have to top up the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, it is extraordinary that this should happen against the background of significant growth in betting turnover”
While he makes a valid point and I think Irish Racing should get a cut from bets placed by customers on Irish racing, I don’t think they should get a cut from bets placed on UK racing, or a football match at Old Trafford. Yet that’s the situation at the moment, and the aim of the new bill. The turnover per race at the moment on Irish Racing, in an Irish betting shop, is only on a par with what’s bet on a UK race. When you consider they have 4 times the amount of races, and add in the amount bet on football, and other sports then Irish Racing probably only accounts for about 12% of total bet in of course shops. Yet Irish Racing gets a cut out of all of it. Isn’t it little wonder that they have no interest in improving the service they provide punters, when the UK product is what they make most of their money off?
Hong Kong Horse Racing – Now that’s the type of info I’d like to have
In Hong Kong they only have two meetings a week throughout the season, and about 85 meetings total in a year, yet the Jockey Club still managed to pay government taxes of around €1.1 billion from horse racing in 2011, and still have a net profit of €400 million. These figures are astronomical, and while the betting culture over there plays a part, so does the amount of information that the punters are given. Nothing is to much trouble. Sectional Times are a given, indeed despite Trackus being introduced at Sha Tin they are going to continue with their current system as a backup for the foreseeable future. Can you imagine such attention to detail over here?
Horse Weights are given for all declared horses, punters can watch track workouts for all horses, and the stewards stamp down on any hint of corruption with an iron fist. What would happen over there if they ran it like Irish Racing, would the betting levels stay the same? Would they heck, they’d drop off a cliff, and the locals would just bet on football instead. Irish Racing is somewhat similar to Hong Kong in that we don’t race everyday and the horse population, while not as closed as the HK one, is relatively manageable for people to follow it at a detailed level. Why can’t we stop worrying about trainers and owners throwing a hissy fit over some short term inconvenience, and look to the longer term solutions for funding the sport. Yes Hong Kong has a tote monopoly, but we have a tote too, and it could be opened up to a worldwide audience to bet into, if only we had a product that they would want to bet on.
We have a voice – Lets use it
To get new customers interested in racing we need to lose the ‘you need inside info to succeed philosophy’. To do that the authorities need to be seen to clamp down on anything that gives the impression that the sport isn’t clean. Yes there’ll be a few moaners but who cares about them, the ones that are creaming money off insider gambles, are taking out of the sport much more than they put in. Lets make this sport about owners who want to own a horse for the added enjoyment that gives them, and not because they think it will lead to them pulling off a stroke. Give the punters all the data they want, let them decide what to do with it, don’t treat us like morons who can only use information like a wind op, if it works 100% of the time. We bet in percentages every day, we know everything is not always black or white. Let us decide if its grey or not, and if some of us are colour blind, then let us make our own mistakes.