Monday, 13 November 2017

SMOKE AND MIRRORS


The reason we don't answer calls to numbers we don't recognise or fail to answer the doors to curious strangers with clipboards is because we have no wish to engage with some unctuous, guileful character with a forced smile. When trying to picture and hear such a being, Corals mouthpiece Simon Clare could be used as a basis for a caricature.

Some months back a thread was started on the Betfair Forum inviting the posters to name the person they most disliked in racing. The name of Simon Clare littered the responses,though the general gist  was that all of the bookmakers reps are cut of the same cloth and disliked across the board by those with no vested interest in what they stand for.

If  the internet had existed in the 1970's and racing fans had then been asked the same question, it would be inconceivable that someone in the same role would get anywhere near the top of the list. Yarn spinners like  Ron Pollard of Ladbrokes ,and William Hill's Graham Sharpe were indeed 'personalities', but were colourful characters and not despised.

So when a post appeared on the Betfair Forum last Monday evening from a long standing poster by the name of Irish Whisper, announcing that he would be appearing on the televised ATR Sunday Forum with Clare and Paul Kealy of the Racing Post, and whether there were any questions forum members would like him to put to Clare, the response was predictably hot.

Irish Whisper is Kevin Blake. He has various journalistic roles in the industry, states he is a successful punter, and revealed that he also works as an advisor to Joseph O'Brien in the placing of his horses. He does not post on the Betfair Forum as frequently as he once did but appears to have retained his principles.

The ATR Sunday Forum rarely offers much to listen to. Most of us don't bother tuning in, too accustomed to the likes of combinations of John McCririck, Chris Cook, Peter Thomas and Gaye Kellaway going through the motions without rocking any boats.

This time we would be watching, without really knowing what to expect.

It got off to an underwhelming start with the announcement from presenter Sean Boyce that Paul Kealy was under the weather and would be leaving his seat empty. Moreover, the introductions by Boyce took far to long,wasting valuable time, though we did hear that Clare was from a middle class London family and the son of a head shrink.

Even before any awkward questions arose Clare looked visibly uneasy, lots of jestering with his arms, and already defensive in tone. And it was not as though he was in the pressure cooker straight away. There was no flow, issues began to be touched upon but it was not until over half an hour into the programme before Boyce read out a viewers question, apparently from a mysterious, well known journalist, who was getting knocked back with twenty quid bets.

Clare defended the practice by saying that it was wrong to look at the issue in the light of a single twenty quid bet being knocked back, rather we should consider that it could be a thousand punters all wanting individual bets at the top line price.

One very pertinent point raised by Blake here related to the wisdom in bookmakers closing down accounts early on, due to the patterns displayed by the punter predicted as unlikely to be profitable to the bookmaker in the long term.

He brought up the common scenario whereby punters can get in the mode of carefully finding some value wise shrewd bets, giving the impression of being in full control.That is until they hit a bad spell when the willpower quickly dissolves and the rule book goes out the window, and with it an inability to batten down the hatches.

The option of being patient and chipping away in a controlled manner until the tide turns seems less appealing than trying smash out of trouble which often ends up exhausting the whole betting bank and rendering fruitless all the good work previously achieved.

Ninety five per cent of us have all done this.

It can of course become worse for those who succumb to what is presently the most addictive and obtuse habit in gambling, the cancerous FOBTS, which as expected were attacked by Blake and defended by Clare.

These horrible, gaudy looking and gaudy sounding machines bring a new breed of desperadoes into LBO's. To observers the players appear under a spell. These machines offer no pauses to reflect and re-asses finances.

On the day Frankel won the Juddmonte, I left before the final race to catch a train. On the way to the station I popped into an LBO to watch the last race. There existed  two separate communities, a small group of punters, ready for the last event to get under away.A dying breed but visible enough on big race days.

Then there there was the other 'community', though these were made up of individuals who did not interact with one another. Seated, playing the FOBTS, press,press,press, oblivious to all else. I doubt they would have swiveled around for the few minuites it took to run Frankel's race.

The show's schedule was one and a quarter hours, but with it being slow to warm up and with the breaks, it soon approached the late stages and had not even got into full stride. It was regretful that Kiely had not shown, as Blake came out with a couple of late hooks.

He asked why it is left to journalists from outside the sport to report on issues in areas that the racing journalists themselves won't delve into, then suggested it's down to racing writers and broadcasters carrying out paid work for bookmakers, and not wishing to bite the hand that feeds.

In working for ATR Blake himself could be said in a roundabout way to be in paid employment by bookmakers, but his late rally left the viewer in no doubt what he was not frightened to ruffle some important feathers.

Putting him on a similar show alongside Bruce Millington ,Graham Cunningham, with Paul Haigh added to even numbers up, would be pay per view material. We could safely name the two who be most likely to pull sickies at the last moment.

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