Thursday, 23 April 2015

Inspired by McCoy

Some weeks I sit down to write this blog and wonder whether I've got anything interesting to say. I know... after all this time, you're probably wondering too.

This week, however, the racing universe has gone into overdrive and I'm struggling to choose from a rich vein of news stories. There’s the conclusion of the 2014/15 jumps season, the conclusion of Tony McCoy’s riding career, the conclusions being drawn by shareholders of our major betting operators and the conclusions reported by the BHA at their recent strategy update meeting. 

For this week's selection I’m temped to put forward Vosne Romanee (again), in the first race on the final card of the official jumps season - which takes place at Sandown on Saturday. A winner at Cartmel, back in August last year, he’ll enjoy the sunshine on his back. 

But I can't ignore our old friend, Sgt Reckless. Ridden over hurdles twelve months ago by someone called AP McCoy, he was placed at the Aintree and Punchestown Festivals behind the likes of Josses Hill and Faugheen. He’s obviously talented but has been frustrating (Sgt Reckless – not Tony McCoy) and clearly needs fast ground. 

Tony McCoy might be frustrating too – I guess it depends which side of the fence you sit on. His retirement will herald the end of a steady drum-beat of winners which has resonated through the sport for the last twenty years. To think – there is a whole generation of people, old enough to place a bet, who have never known another champion jockey. 

Apparently William Hill lost £14 million in one week earlier this year, following a run of unfavourable results (again, the word “unfavourable” probably depends which side of the fence you were on). Finding winners will be so much more difficult now that Tony McCoy is retiring – instilling renewed hope for shareholders in the betting sector that they may soon get a return on their investment.

But shareholders aren’t the only ones seeking a return from bookmakers. The future introduction of the Racing Right should ensure that off-shore betting operators, accepting bets by phone and digital apps, pay an appropriate amount to the sport.

At the moment, bookmakers with a high-street presence pay proportionately more (too much even) for their betting shop activities while underpaying for their growing digital enterprises. Some companies, with purely digital operations, are getting an entirely free ride - the system has to change. 

This week the BHA outlined their strategy for the sport and, while this inevitably included talk of the Racing Right, Nick Rust (Chief Executive of the BHA) also outlined creative ideas to achieve some ambitious targets including: a 20% increase in annual attendance, plus an additional 1,000 horses in training. 

Well… No one ever thought a jockey could ride 2,000 winners – so if AP can ride 4,348 (all on his own), the collective efforts of the racing industry can surely achieve anything.

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