Price Increases, Doping Scandals & More
As we near the Cheltenham Festival, we also approach another annual event, the price increases to the racing press. In Festival week the cost goes up of the Post, Weekender and Racing and Football Outlook. And so too does the Press Association owned Racing Plus, the Saturday paper covering the weekend’s racing, with its USP of presenting racecards in time order.
But this year the PA broke ranks, and put up the price of Racing Plus more than a month ago, from £1.80 to £2.10, closing the gap with the Post.
More recently one of its two bookmaker advertisers, William Hill, disappeared from its pages, leaving just Betfred buying space.
Racing Plus’s costs are relatively low as it uses data the PA already provides for other customers, but it has minimal online presence which nowadays is a vital source of revenue.
In a world where print sales are in serious decline, Racing Plus is probably not having an easy time.
Un De Sceaux’s victory in the Clarence House Chase for the third time certainly lifted the gloom at Ascot. On a grey, dank day the Berkshire track was lacking atmosphere as is it often does on quieter days.
Then along came the Willie Mullins French-bred gelding, already the winner of over £1m prize-money, to brighten thing up.
It also helped to compensate for Ascot’s decision to close a number of its bars where draught Guinness was on sale, but proudly introduce a pop-up bar where the Guinness on offer was by way of the device which pushes the black stuff up from the bottom of a plastic glass and then seals the glass.
It is not an acceptable alternative.
And there was also a customer who probably wished the device wasn’t in use when he demonstrated to his mates how the bottom of the glass was sealed, only to push it too hard and empty the contents down his trousers.
With the spotlight falling on bookmakers closing accounts or limiting customers’ stakes, there are those who complain that the punters’ plight is not championed by the Racing Post which, says it critics, is in the pockets of the bookmakers.
Certainly, the Post derives a substantial part of its income from bookmaker advertising and biting the hand that feeds it is not commercially attractive.
And it is fair to say that the Post has shown some timidity in criticising the layers.
But there have been views expressed in the Post recently that punters are not getting fair deal – when you have a parliamentary committee hearing evidence on the topic, including that from Post editor Bruce Millington, it’s a topic difficult to ignore.
What the Post’s critics don’t seem to offer is an alterative business model for a racing newspaper/website which is financially viable without bookmaker advertising or, if it is critical of bookmakers, is prepared to run the risk that they could withdraw their advertising.
The Post is the most prominent racing media organisation, but there are others sizeable concerns who are also pretty much silent on punter rights – indeed, one or two of them have very close ties to bookmakers.
One place noted for strident and coherent views is the Timeform annual – might the next edition be a vehicle for expressing an opinion regarding closed accounts or limited stakes? We shall see.
Like anyone else who loves racing, I don’t want it tainted by horse doping scandals. But at the same time, I don’t want the sport to have anti-doping regulations which could destroy the livelihoods of decent, honest people.
The recent hearings when Philip Hobbs and Hughie Morrison received far from punitive penalties raised a question mark over how that equated with the BHA’s strict liability policy. This has led to the BHA announcing a review of its anti-doping regulations. I don’t envy them.
No matter how well such regulations are drafted, not everything can be treated as black and white. Yes, Hobbs and Morrison are responsible for the prevention of their horses from being doped but it has to be taken into account that if they take every possible precaution should strict liability mean stringent fines and/or lengthy bans?
If the BHA says that’s how it’s got to be going forward, the National Trainers Federation are likely to resist such a proposal.
In criminal law there are sentencing guidelines which judges apply using their discretion, with an appeal process if the sentence is thought too severe or too lenient.
Whether the BHA likes it or not, that’s probably the best way forward for racing. Each case judged on its merits.
If the culprit is the trainer, or if the trainer’s negligence can be proved, then strict liability most certainly applies. If not, then common sense should prevail.