When it comes to betting, it pays to be observant.
In the years that followed the introduction of the photo finish camera, the legendary gambler Alex Bird made hay by standing adjacent to the winning post and betting on the outcome of close finishes. Closing one eye and watching to see which horse crossed the line first, he was afforded a few valuable minutes to strike bets while the photo-finish print was obtained by the Judge.
More recently, a small number of punters have exploited the short time-delay between the action on the track and the transmission of pictures away from the racecourse. Occasionally, a horse which makes a bad mistake at an obstacle drifts wildly on the in-running betting exchanges – before recovering and dramatically shortening in odds once more. Sometimes they even win.
Strange things can happen. Jockeys have been known to be hit on the head by other jockeys, golf balls and even seagulls. At Bogside, apparently, angry racegoers were known to throw cowpats. Stuff happens. And when it does, a punter needs to be philosophical; it is a case of ‘punter beware’.
Which makes the decision, this week, by the BHA team officiating at Nottingham very disappointing. Someone made a mistake – it happens, it wasn’t life threatening and apart from being embarrassing, it shouldn’t really have made anything more than a ‘Captain Cock-up’ sub-heading in the race report.
After number 17, Operative, sat down in the starting stall marked ‘9’, a miscommunication resulted in number 9, Magic Pulse, being withdrawn. Anyone watching the racing on a screen would have been able to see that it was number 17 that should have been withdrawn and, indeed, it wasn’t long before the initial announcement was queried in the Weighing Room. Magic Pulse was briefly reinstated.
But then (and here is where the bigger error was made), the officials decided not to allow Magic Pulse to race. Greg Pearson, the stipendiary steward at Nottingham, was quoted as saying that, “It just doesn’t seem right to reinstate the horse. Some punters may have refunded their money and placed it on other horses.”
A human error, no fault of the participants, had resulted in a temporary miscommunication from an important official source – not unlike the commentator calling the name of the wrong horse in a race. It was embarrassing but, crucially, not the only source of information available to punters – who could also have used their eyes to see what was going on down at the start.
While recognising the importance of the BHA officials as an official source of data, it’s not as if anyone ever believed in their infallibility – we all know that errors can be made. There would have been nothing to prevent a swift counter-announcement on the racecourse, “Correction, Correction! The Stewards can confirm that…”
The connections of Magic Pulse deserved to participate in the race; depriving them robbed racegoers of another runner – an important part of the sporting spectacle. Most of the punters that had backed the horse would have let their bet stand in any case, as a bet on a horse which doesn’t come under starters orders is usually refunded.
The BHA, of all organisations, should be putting the sport first and the (admittedly very important) interests of the betting industry second. On this occasion, the officials should have had the courage of their convictions and allowed the reinstatement of Magic Pulse. Instead, the decision was a classic example of the betting tail being allowed to wag the sporting dog.
Fortunately, when Simply Ned (our selection for the weekend) runs at Kelso on Sunday, there’ll be no starting stalls at all.