Saturday, 28 November 2009

Denman shows why jumps racing is king in the UK

Went to the races as a paying punter today for the first time in ages. UK racing isn't cheap at the best of times, flat racing doesn't have the excitement most of the year and it's rather cold during jumps season. TV coverage is decent enough if you can't get to the track as often as you'd like.

The two main races today at Newbury, the Long Distance Hurdle and the Hennessy showed just why National Hunt racing is miles ahead of flat racing in popularity in the UK & Ireland. Big Buck's is the best staying hurdler in training, he won the top races at Cheltenham and Aintree in his class, and is going around again to repeat the feat. He faced a small, but quality field at level weights and won very, very easily. Special thanks to the bookies who put up 1/2. It is very rare I bet at those odds, but this horse should have been 1/3 at best, so the value had to be taken.

The Hennessy is the best handicap chase of the season. Note that key word which some purists detest... 'handicap'. We saw a Gold Cup winner line up, carry 12lb more than any other horse in the field, and beat the lot of them to win this race for the second time in three years. And this was no bunch of hacks he beat, there were numerous Grade 1,2 and 3 winners in the field and Denman gave most of them at least a stone in weight. Punters backed him into 5/2 after as much as 9/2 was available in the morning, and the crowd went nuts when he fought off the challenge of What A Friend (who I'd backed) to win.

The champions of National Hunt racing come back year after year. They take on all-comers in handicaps and set weights events, not sticking rigidly to their own sex, age group or WFA races. They are prepared to take on the best to be the best. Flat racing is full of flash in the pans who have one outstanding season and then nick off to stud. Flat racing panders to the breeders - there are Group 1 races for every category and little incentive to leave their comfort zone - it might endanger the precious studbook records. And don't get me started about overly precious owners who pull their horses out if the ground isn't exactly right.

As much as I've bagged Aussie racing in the past for having handicaps as Group 1s, perhaps there is some merit in it. The 'big five' races in Australia are the Melbourne Cup (3200m handicap), Golden Slipper (1200m 2yo set weights), Cox Plate (2040m WFA), Doncaster Hcp (1600m handicap) and the Caulfield Cup (2400m handicap). Only one of those races can be won once. The truly great horses who win the other four races are those who come back and defend their crown. And each of those handicap races attracts the cream of the crop at that distance, they are quality fields.

Sea The Stars was an aberration. Next year we'll be back to a crop of good 3yos without a superstar capable of taking it to the older brigade in Britain, Ireland and Europe. But until a horse is prepared to take on allcomers, giving away weight, and coming back to defend a title once, twice or even more, then does that horse really deserve the title of champion? Roger Federer is not a champion because he won Wimbledon once. He's a champ because he came back and did it again. And again. And again.

Breeders are as responsible as anyone for flat racing's malaise. Too many horses being bred, too many inflated yearling prices and too little of that money going back into prizemoney. Racing For Change has a lot of work to do. If they want to build emotional attachment to flat horses like the jumpers, then break down the wall between set weight and handicap races, and the ridiculous separation of colts and geldings in the classics. Get some high class handicap races on the calendar and create incentives for the cream of the crop to get in there. The public loves a good handicap race - it gives the underdog a chance, the small budget owner and trainer rather than the mega-rich sheiks and super stables. Can you guess how many times Sea The Stars conceded weight to another horse? Even at the next level down, the 'mere mortals', it is extremely rare you ever see them compete in a handicap race. There's a huge class divide that never seems to be crossed, or at least crossed over and then back. Flat racing has to dissolve the class divides.

Championship races at level weights too often have small fields, or only a handful of runners capable of winning in a big field. You'll get a longshot winner like Mine That Bird (Kentucky Derby 2009) or Rebel Raider (Victoria Derby 2008), but usually they'll just be written off as a fluke or a poor crop of horses that year. Handicaps balance it up, and give the beaten contingent hope for another crack at it next year. But most of all, they give the public a chance to cheer for the underdog or give a rousing ovation to the champion who was prepared to give weight to all challengers and still greet the judge first.

Handicaps will never replace the championship races - but they do deserve their place at the top end of racing so we can see which 'champions' really are prepared to do it tough, not just competing when everything is in their favour. If racing wants the public to pay for the 'show' (as they must if bookmakers are to return more to the industry), then give them what they want and stop pandering to the breeders.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

how does WA racing justify a higher rate than Victoria?

Western Australia, after copping a caning from the courts over trying to ban Betfair, has now reluctantly agreed to include a gross revenue deal in their racefield fees legislation. Every state now has to introduce some form of fee legislation, as they get charged by every other state for it, with the breakdown of the old gentleman's agreement which let the TABs bet on each other's product in a free contra deal. WA are in the position if being a net importer of racing product, so they are going to have to cover the shortfall somehow.

Racing NSW are currently in court doing battle with Betfair and Sportsbet over their attempts at imposing a turnover-based fee, while Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania all went with fees on gross revenue. Victoria, the premier racing state in Australia, set their fee at 10% for the year rising to 15% during the prestige spring carnival. Sounds justified to me. South Aus went with 10% as well.

Western Australia to apply retrospective race field levy

The levy will be based on either 1.5% of turnover or the greater of 20% of gross revenues or 0.2% of turnover, which will be directed to the Western Australian racing industry. In addition the levy will be retrospectively applicable from September 1st 2008.

The Minister attempted to justify it with this:

Racing and Gaming Minister Terry Waldron said the Legislative Council had passed the legislation without amendment and that the industry would soon benefit from this important revenue flow.

"The Western Australian TAB is currently paying fees to interstate racing industries for the right to bet on their racing product and these fees amount to about $18million per year," said Waldron.

"This legislation will allow the Western Australian racing industry to charge similar fees to wagering operators across Australia and overseas for betting on WA racing and thereby claw back up to $15million of lost revenue."

(Note the WA TAB is one of the few still owned by the government and not by shareholders).

Just because you've got heavy debts because the other states supply most of the 'product' doesn't mean you can charge twice as much as Victoria for weaker quality racing. This screams 'we only want the TAB but we will at least make it look like we considered non-govt owned/protected wagering businesses'.

Expect the lawyers to get involved in this one too....

more on the Poland online betting bans

So now the Polish govt have decided to give exemptions on the online betting advertising in Poland to companies investing in sports sponsorship - but with a catch.

A rather confused situation this. I imagine a discussion something like this behind closed doors....

"Let's ban all forms of betting unless they have a Polish licence"

"Is that a good idea, that only leaves land-based casinos that rob our citizens blind?"

"But they pay us lots of taxes"

"Well, that's OK then.... What about the sports sponsorships? Unibet, Bwin and other companies pay a lot of money to sponsor sport in Poland, and have legal contracts as well..."

"Hmm, we don't want our football clubs to end up like ones in Albania and Latvia that are being investigated for match-fixing... I know, how about we give them an exemption, so they can still spend their money, but reap no benefits from it?"

"So you expect these companies to pay hundreds of thousands of euro for a sponsorship deal, and then not let them do any marketing apart from on the football field, they can't show their website address to show viewers where to go or even run promotions using the players they have paid a lot of money for?"

"Yes. Brilliant idea isn't it?"

"Yes Prime Minister"

OK, they have a President in Poland, but if you like classic comedies, you'll understand the reference.

Here's the story.

Bwin, Mangas brands, Unibet escape Poland sponsor ban

Expect some of these contracts to be renegotiated, or a legal battle to commence shortly.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Betfair v Racing NSW

This case has been running all week and will continue for a few days yet. Numerous articles about it in the Aus press with Racing NSW gaining some ground (they couldn't really lose much more) and legalese choking proceedings to a very slow grind. One quote from tomorrow's article in the Sydney Morning Herald I wanted to highlight though:

Racing NSW argues that the fee should be calculated by turnover because turnover is easier to assess and ''less susceptible to avoidance or manipulation'' than gross revenue.

It also argues that turnover is not influenced by the particular business model or business decisions made by the company.

Turnover is also preferable to gross revenue because it cannot be manipulated by inducements, rebates or benefits given to valuable customers, Racing NSW argues.

Rubbish, there is not one system in the world which is manipulation-proof. On-course bookmakers in Aus have been caught over the years taking bets on a second set of books - specifically to avoid turnover tax. Certain corporate bookies have added zeros to significant bets to make them into sexy press releases to send around to all the nation's journos. Turnover is very easy to influence by business model - accept bet, reject bet, tighten margins. If the TABs moved to a 4% margin (instead of 16+) tomorrow, do you think their turnover wouldn't see an enormous increase??

Turnover is only an important performance indicator for the totes, bookies have little interest in turnover, it's the bottom line which counts. And since profits of these companies have to be reported to the government and to the stock exchange for some, then there should be more checks and balances in the gross profits model.

Totes have a place in the betting market, and so do corporate bookmakers and betting exchanges. Trying to protect one will just kill interest across the board and allow the TABs, which one has to remember are not government-owned anymore they have shareholders too, to increase their margins as they see fit as regulations change and more matey agreements are struck behind closed doors....

Ever been to a racecourse in a country with only totes? If you're a punter, it's like watching paint dry (with the exception of rare feature days and Hong Kong which is an isolated case because they understand the balance of quality v quantity).

Monday, 23 November 2009

ice hockey up close

Have been flat out with work and baby-minding over the past week, but managed to slip in a brief trip to Sweden on business. Got to see my first ice hockey game live, it was brilliant!

In the red is the home team, Djurgarden, and the visitors, Vastra Frolanda, are in the white. On TV watching the NHL you don't get to appreciate the speed, the stick skills and the quality of the skating. And the home crowd supporters didn't stop singing the whole way through. Great spectacle.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Polish sports clubs and leagues concerned about advertising bans

There have been several stories around in recent weeks about the threat of gambling bans being introduced in Poland, mostly a lot of speculation about what might happen and panicking about complete bans. This latest report centres on advertising and marketing bans which will strip Polish football clubs and the second division of millions of euro.

Exclusive: Bwin, Mangas, Unibet sports sponsorship threat

Current deals between egaming companies under threat from the law include Expekt’s sponsorship of the Polish national team; BetAtHome’s shirt sponsorship of Wisla Krakow, champions of last year’s Ekstraklasa top league in Polish football; Betclick’s shirt sponsorship of Ekstraklasa team Lech Poznan and Bwin’s role as a principal sponsor of Ekstraklasa team Legia Warszawa.

The loss of Unibet’s title sponsorship of the second tier of Polish football, Unibet 1.Liga, could alone cost the Polish National 2nd League €4m a season.

The Polish prime minister announced a clampdown on all forms of gambling in the wake of four senior Polish officials being forced to resign on suspicion of their decisions being unduly influenced by gaming industry lobbyists, including sports minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki.

The attempt to ban online betting in the country would strike problems with the EU, I'd expect all companies to ignore it, but a ban on advertising is another matter. Expect plenty of lobbying from major firms and sporting organisations in the next few weeks before legislation is introduced to parliament.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Biathlon season is coming, and the Russian drug cheats lose appeal

Just three weeks left until boathlon season starts and long-time readers of my blog will know my fascination with the sport. It really is a brilliant sport for betting in-running, especially the sprint and individual disciplines (there are five different types of races). Once the season gets underway, I'll get into explaining more about it. Feel free to go back into my archives from last winter to read about it. The Winter Olympics are in February, so it's worth learning about it.

The two female Russian drug cheats from last season, Albina Akhatova and Yekaterina Iourieva, have lost their appeal against two-year doping bans.

CAS dismisses Russian biathletes' doping appeals

And so they should have to.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Daily Mail gets excited about some dodgy tennis matches

Wow, big shock here. Where have they been all year? Oh that's right, the big names are coming to town next week, time to drag them all through the mud...

Ten more suspect matches

At least 10 matches on the men's ATP tour are being investigated by the tennis anti-corruption unit, Sportsmail can today reveal.


THE security unit at online betting exchange Betfair alone were so alarmed by gambling patterns on at least 10 occasions in 2009 that they referred the matches straight to the sport's authorities.

Well the Mail says they can't name them, but I'm prepared to have a guess at the ten. No accusations of guilt here, just stating the fact that the betting patterns on these matches were in desperate need of further attention.

Canas v Veic 2/2/09
Istomin v Kim 21/7/09
Crivoi v Istomin 13/7/09
Koellerer v Hernandez 15/6/09

any others to add to the list?

Paddy Power teams up with PMU

Irish betting giant Paddy Power has struck gold with a five-year partnership with French sports betting duopoly PMU.

New Paddy Power B2B arm signs landmark deal with France's PMU

PADDY POWER HAS MADE a major play for the French market, signing a five-year deal with French duopoly operator Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU), the largest single operator in Europe, via a new Paddy Power business-to-business (B2B) division.


PMU chief executive and chairman Philippe Germond today said: "This partnership is going to enable PMU to offer sporting bets online under its own brand and retain direct management of its client database. Paddy Power will provide us with its expertise in sports betting. Through this partnership PMU is given the means to be ready for the opening of the online betting market in France next year."

Paddy Power's traders will set PMU odds, set risk parameters for each event, bet type and customer and manage PMU’s online promotions from Dublin.

Chances are they won't look much like Paddy Power odds by the time the French government taxes and levies get involved, but even still, this is a huge deal for Paddy Power, who have also expanded into Australia this year.

Meanwhile, the dominant players in the UK market, Coral, Hills and Ladbrokes, prefer to stick to the British market, hampered by heavy debt burdens which restrict their expansion options. And the latter two nicked off to Gibraltar to save a few pennies as well...

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Media giant to buy Bwin?

Found this snippet in my news feed earlier, can't find any more details as C21Media is a subscription site.

M6 puts its money on web gambling
- 10 Nov 2009
- 57 minutes ago
French broadcaster M6 Group aims to move into online gambling, and is negotiating to acquire poker website Bwin.

Never heard of M6 Group before not being French, but it appears they are very big and keen to get involved in the new online gambling regulations to be introduced in France...

This article (in French) seems to back it up.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Aus states now competing to license bookmakers

In Australia, the three main zones for corporate bookmakers are the Northern Territory (home of Centrebet, Sportsbet, Sportingbet, IASBet and numerous others), Tasmania (home of Betfair Aus) and the ACT (home of Sportsalive). When I say home, it's at least where their servers are based and a handful of staff - most have marketing and other departments based in Melbourne or Sydney. These three regions, two territories and Australia's smallest state, have little industry to speak of and need businesses in their region for employment, taxes etc. And they also have no deep-seated allegiance to TABs like the bigger states such as Victoria and New South Wales.

Internet bookmakers in NT welcome tax change

Tasmania recently threw the cat amongst the pigeons by scrapping the local tax on corporate bookmakers and adopting a $250k annual flat fee, a very attractive prospect for major firms turning over hundreds of millions per year. This was brought on by Betfair's five-year licence being up for renewal in early 2011, and the prospect of Victoria offering a carrot to move the exchange to the mainland. Thus Tasmania wanted to keep creating jobs for locals rather than seeing them disappear. Not to be outdone, the Northern Territory has now matched the Tasmanian offer, adopting a Gross Profits tax of 10%, capped at $250k. For the likes of Centrebet and Sportsbet, this is believed to save them up to $1m per year. The ACT is unlikely to follow suit as they would need to relax several other rules, such as the restriction of bookmakers offering tote odds.

Part of this radical change is to accommodate for the additional fees that bookmakers will be levied for from sports authorities, particularly horse racing, for the right to field on their events. After the recent movement of major UK bookies to Gibraltar again, perhaps we could see some more UK/European firms setting up in Australia to take advantage of these offers while the Aus industry is in state of rapid transition.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

maybe the greatest trading match ever

Lyon 5 - 5 Marseille

Not quick enough to get the Betfair graphs, but these were the prices and amounts.

Lyon - matched for £170k at 1.10 and below

Marseille - matched for over £40k at 1.06 and below

Draw - matched for over £50k at 1.07 and below

Wow! And if it wasn't for Twitter, I wouldn't have even noticed all the excitement. Managed to get in late and get a nice three-figure green book :)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

blunder at Bwin?

Of all the tennis players you could choose to promote betting on the sport, surely Nikolay Davydenko comes at the very bottom??

Black book this horse!

Watch the horse drawn the very outside, Guderian, in the yellow, with black sash and cap.

Drew the car park, tries to go forward early, no joy, so gets caught wide the entire trip, looked gone in the straight, and then powered home to get beaten by a lip.

The embedded video is too wide for the blog page unfortunately, so you'll have to click here for the video.

There must be a decent win in store for this fellow soon.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Cup Day guide

Short comments on the Cup field:

# Viewed – flying, don't see any problem with being top weight.
# C’est La Guerre – is it 100% fit? Chance if it is.
# Fiumicino – big run at Caulfield, bolter chance for the place.
# Master O’Reilly – never a fan, will no doubt look like it was unlucky at some stage and fly home
# Mourilyan – best of the imports, not keen on the 'needs to be ridden cold' comment from trainer. You don't get that luxury in the Cup.
# Roman Emperor – he goes well, price a bit silly over the weekend, should be around 10
# Ista Kareem – will run the distance, slowly.
# Crime Scene – UK form not flash, and did little at Geelong.
# Munsef – no, has been winning ordinary races in the UK
# Zavite – might get the sit from gate 3, if can sit close then could be pushing for third.
# Alcopop – great form, on the up etc. But can a bloke who has never ridden at Flemington before and a novice trainer win the big one? Huge story if they do, and I know one of the owners.
# Harris Tweed – only fifth run this campaign, and his best runs in the autumn were 5,6,7,8,9 in. Trainer not to be underestimated.
# Kibbutz – had done nothing until the MV Cup. Have to look at the replay again but think I'll have him in for the place.
# Newport – running on late in recent runs, chance for a place.
# Warringah – trainer said happy with finish in the front half. Ebor form this year is rubbish.
# Gallion’s Reach – was going well this time last year in NZ, fluke 2nd at huge odds in Auckland Cup 08 got him into field.
# Spin Around – 9yo, 3rd up into this. No.
# Basaltico – don't think he is good enough, mind you, I thought the same about Bauer. Have to watch Geelong Cup run again. Wasn't beating much in the UK.

** just watched Geelong Cup again, was given a horrible ride, must go into the trifectas at least.

# Cape Cover – not good enough
# Daffodil – a few doubts on her running the distance, suppose you never know until they do. Needs luck from gate, and somehow Munce managed to get boxed in in a four-horse race on Saturday...
# Shocking – rate him higher than Alcopop because of the trainer & jockey experience. Gate makes it tough but has the class. Kav could do with a turn of luck after terrible run of luck.
# Allez Wonder – ran 3rd in VRC Oaks but hasn't stayed her last two at 2400. Don't think so.
# Changingoftheguard – had issues, is immature and form from Ebor Hcp is poor. If it was a real chance, Aidan O'Brien wouldn't have given him up.
# Leica Ding – Weir is flying at present, she's a chance for 2nd/3rd.

I'm already on Viewed, like Shocking and Leica Ding for place chances. Included in my trifectas will be Fiumicino, Mourilyan, Roman Emperor, Zavite, Alcopop, Harris Tweed, Kibbutz and Daffodil. The pool size for the Cup and the amount of mug bets (lucky numbers, mystery bets etc) put so much extra value into the pool if something gets into the frame at a big price.

On the rest of the card:

Be wary of Indulgent in the 2yo race, R1. Smerdon knows how to land a plunge, but very tough when most of the juveniles are unraced and they have to go in front of a huge crowd (or at least those who have got there by 10.20am!!)

R2 Holy Guacaoley each-way

R3 very keen on Oak Heart, huge run last start, unlucky.

R4 Ortensia has way too much class for these

R5 Definitely Ready will go around very short, for good reason. Give it a miss.

R6 Majestic Music and Starry Eyed could be over the odds.

R7 The Cup, see above. Beware, if betting on h2h with Betfair, the first runner must finish in the prizemoney (first 10) for bets to stand. Silly local rule, part of them getting approval from racing authorities...

R8-10 - haven't bothered to look.

The Melbourne Cup 2009

Just over 24hrs to go until the race that stops the nation, the Melbourne Cup. I'm busy doing the form and will have something late in the day (Monday UK time) if anyone wants to follow my tips. It will be broadast all night on ATR, and Betfair Live Video. The Cup is a great race, but remember, for punters, you can win or lose just as much on any other race of the year (unless you bet in tens of thousands), so don't go overboard. The support card is quite handy for a change, hoping to locate some winners earlier in the programme too.

For the best formguides, try these:

Herald Sun newspaper guide

Racenet Racebook

and my preference, the Best Bets guide which will cost you $4.40 (click Future Racing, Flemington,Racebook to get it)