Monday, 16 October 2017

A FRAGMENTED GAME




'Could Peter Grayson stop tomorrow being Sunday', was the curious title of a thread posted on a controversial horse racing forum, on a December Saturday back in 2010. It was alluding to the trainer's shocking run of form - in fact, for the calendar year 2010, he had a single winner from one hundred and fifty runs.

A poster, claiming to know details of how Grayson operated, quickly sprang to the suffering trainer's defence, praising his work ethic by revealing that he drove the horsebox and saddled up all the runners himself, as well as bringing up a young family.Basil Fawlty would probably have noted that it all sounds very tiring, but the gist of the defence was that you cannot be expected to perform well in your sphere without the material and means.

In 2006 and 2007, Grayson trained ten and seven winners respectively. Reasonable hope could have been held out for him to bed in and progress to what could be termed as the sustainable lower ranks.Yet,it was not to be.Just fourteen winners from his Formby yard for the remaining eight years over which he held a licence.

A cursory look at the present trainer's statistic table shows many to be struggling, and one wonders how they make ends meet.The fact that Grayson had to hand back his licence is testimony to him running an honest operation,but it would be hard to believe that all of these toiling souls are so pious as to not to be partial to stopping a fancied one and cashing in.

In this day of a bulging fixture list, with prize money on offer low for animals with winning ability at the lower ends, losers can be more profitable than winners, even allowing for the fact that liquidity on the exchanges at the smaller meetings is suffering.

Naturally, the horses chosen to collect off would have to have shown some ability to be close to the front end of the market,but when you note some of the low rating bands of races at the basement end of the game, even the stragglers in the training ranks will have a couple with a modicum of ability who will,now and again, have the odd winning opportunity.

Plenty of openings are available for dross, that even a horse rated in the 50's can find a race where there will be a realistic chance of success.The animal is therefore 'competitive' in its grade, so will occasionally open short enough in the market to make the opportunity of cashing in on defeat an attractive proposition.

Of the the seven upcoming races on the Newcastle card this coming Thursday, only one has prize money in excess of £5,000 to the winner.Three of the events have a mere £2,500 to the winner, two are 0-65's, the other a 0-60.

Some would say the plus side to this state of affairs that allows more garbage racing than ever before for more garbage animals than ever before, is that the safety net is widened for more animals who would otherwise disappear,fate unknown. However, one can argue that it is the increase in fixtures that has made room for so many horses to be produced in the first place. Anyway, that delicate expanse is a complex subject in itself

An unusual and unique aspect of supporting the little guy in horse racing,is that unlike in other sports, that underdog is more likely to see the average punter as a source of fruitful gains. Far more so than the silver spoon in the mouth, Charterhouse educated handler, who will be less likely to rely on resorting to laying non triers on the exchanges to help keep afloat.

It would  increase the integrity of the game if the bar was raised in the requirements set to be a fit and proper person to hold a trainers licence, with more emphasis placed on the financial position of the prospective trainer.

Indeed,while this sounds like the death knell for those who operate by cutting corners and costs, a tightening up would actually mean the punters, the great majority of who are rank and file members of society, would play on a fairer playing field. There would be no increase in the amount of winning punters, but the losing punters would lose on a fairer basis, and  if  realising this,would be likely to continue betting on horses, as opposed moving completely to other sports

While many of the corruption cases that have come to light in recent years concern racing on an artificial surface,it should not hide the fact that fraudulent practices continue as they always have done on turf, and in national hunt racing.

And who knows whether there is truth in the rumours that unofficial,unrecorded warnings have been  handed down. If indeed they are issued, what sort of secret procedure is followed for issuing them ? Is it a case of 'we are on to you,nudge,nudge,wink,wink'.

A very fine line exists between the racing authorities being seen to seek and rout out corruption, and unveiling too much of the damn thing as to turn the punters away.

A little bit of the smoke and mirrors stuff can heighten curiosity and interest in the sport, but if it is proven to be happening on a large scale, on a daily basis, it will turn people away. This is not the case of a 14/1 shot in a novice hurdle, where the jockey is instructed to 'keep swinging away in mid div'. This is right up at the very top end of the market.

Or even worse,when an actual race may have been fixed.Remember that Wetherby race a few years back, when the uncontested lead, lack of effort by pursuing jockeys, and the market pattern, all fitted together nicely.

And what is our opinion worth when you have had cases where the owner and trainer are in disagreement over the jockey's account of his intentions in a particular race.This happens.
In fact, it happened once after a major race in the last twenty years.

The animal concerned drifted suddenly in the market beforehand and never finished the race.On the outing after, the rider kept the mount. He won on that occasion, but the riders services were suddenly discontinued with from then on, after a change of opinion from connections on what had occurred in the first event.

There is a saying that goes, ' It's hard to see the good in people when you are only looking for the bad'. It's a very appropriate one for racing.

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