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Racing’s ‘deep-rooted problem with integrity’

Integrity

WILL HOFFMANN is back with his latest BetConnect Friday column, and explores the theme of horses being ridden on their merits, or otherwise.

These pieces have been getting longer and longer but, thankfully for you dear reader, I’m suffering from what can only be described as an election hangover. So, I’m going to be a little more succinct. The subject: integrity.

We’ve already touched on integrity in these articles – Danny Brock was on the receiving end – but it feels like the issue has reared its ugly head again over the last 10 days, this time over jumps. The first of those, Little Rory Mac, forced its way into the public consciousness and, unusually, was well covered in the racing media.

I highlighted a second runner from that stable on Twitter earlier this week. Sastruga drifted from 6/1 early out to 12/1 in a Uttoxeter handicap hurdle. Ridden by Jeremiah McGrath, he was given a ride that can best be described as tender. He got close into his hurdles, whether that was by design we don’t know, but McGrath never got serious with him until after the last when the race was over.

A clear case of not trying

To anybody who follows racing, it was a clear example of horse not being ridden to obtain the best possible finishing position. A stewards enquiry was held, and the views of the rider and the trainer were merely noted as is often the case.

The Twitterati took this case to heart, and my phone was buzzing with notifications all day. This was, not just according to me, as clear a case of a non-trier as was possible to see. It got traction, likes, retweets although – as last night’s election aptly proved – Twitter isn’t real life and it didn’t get picked up by anybody in the racing media nor, as mentioned above, was action taken by the appropriate authorities. 

This is really the crux of what I’m saying. Of course, there are things we as an industry need to do address this integrity problem – better prize money, more robust stewarding – and that’s a topic for another day. What I really wanted to highlight is how unsatisfactory it is that few are even willing to stick their head out and acknowledge the problem even exists.

Sports punditry often suffers from the nepotism of the sportsmen of previous generation making up large swathes of the analysts, and that’s particularly prevalent in racing. But that’s not an excuse in itself, and I genuinely can’t remember any serious journalist coming out and acknowledging that the industry has a deep-rooted problem with integrity.

A ‘precarious ledge’

Everybody knows it goes on, and people will mention it off the record, but it reminds me a little of The Big Short and sub-prime mortgages in the late 2000s. We all know the precarious ledge on which our sport sits and, if the BHA or sporting media acknowledge that it’s built on shit, their view is clearly that the whole house of cards will be in danger of collapsing.

That’s not to say that it’s as easy as calling people cheats or liars. Racing is a sport of subtleties and nuances, and there’s seldom objective truths when it comes to things like what constitutes an unsatisfactory ride. As somebody with a legal background, I also know Britain also has quite stringent libel laws and the media are, correctly, wary of falling foul of a lawsuit.

That being said, it’s not sustainable to be attempting to bring a new generation into the sport when there is no attempt to be more robust in tackling integrity problems that everybody knows exist. Nobody wants to bet on a sport where, when they have bet, they think they won’t necessarily even be guaranteed a fair crack of the whip. Work to be done.

SATURDAY’S SELECTIONS

Good Boy Bobby caught my eye as one who’d benefit from a step up in trip, tomorrow. He was a very good second on his chasing debut and, ironically enough, somewhat less impressive when a winner at Doncaster on his most recent start. I don’t think the slow-quick nature of that race would have suited his run style. He’s a slow striding, galloping type who isn’t really able to quicken as much as he’s able to sustain. The step up to the intermediate trip will suit well, and this is a patchy race.

At a shorter price, Windsor Avenue looks to have a very strong chance in the 2.10 at Doncaster. He’s looked a chasing natural on both starts, smashing Ballymoy in some notably quick closing sectionals at Carlisle. Main market rival Sam Spinner has a massive engine, probably one that surpasses Windsor Avenue, but he’s been an awkward conveyance over a fence and isn’t best equipped to deal with a tactically run affair.

Windsor Avenue has been very well backed, but I thought he’d be a good bit shorter than evens so the 10/11 currently on offer remains a good price.

Advised bets:

12.45 Cheltenham. Back Good Boy Bobby at 11/4 or bigger.
2.10 Doncaster. Back Windsor Avenue at 4/6 or bigger.

Will Hoffmann writes regular racing previews on a Friday evening for BetConnect. With just 2% commission to pay on stakes once matched, BetConnect is the ideal platform for professional racing punters.

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