Kevin Blake

Triple Crown mania takes America by storm and British Racing finds itself at a crucial crossroads over the future of Pool betting.

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Justify lights up American Racing

Waiting for a winner of the American Triple Crown was like waiting for a bus. Following its completion by Affirmed in 1978, the racing world had to suffer through a seemingly endless succession of failed attempts at it, including some agonising near misses, until American Pharoah brought the wait to an end in spectacular style in 2015. It would have natural to expect another long wait until the next completion, but here we are just three years later and Bob Baffert did it again by saddling Justify to secure his racing immortality in the Belmont Stakes last Saturday.

As is so often the case prior to a Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes, the primary fears were that Justify would not last home over the longer trip. Justify was considered especially vulnerable due to his go-forward style that some saw as being ripe to attract the attention of spoilers that would push him to do too much too soon.

As it transpired, the fears for his stamina proved to be unfounded and it turned out that Bob Baffert seemingly had a plan to reduce the risk of the latter fear via the clever use of his other runner Restoring Hope. The unconsidered outsider was ridden forwardly from stall five and almost played the role of bodyguard for Justify for much of the race, sitting outside his quarters to prevent anything inside him from getting to Justify’s outer to apply pressure to him as well as making everything else go three wide around him to make their challenge. Justify is likely to have been good enough to win without this assistance, but the tactics used on Restoring Hope were a fine example of big-race strategy that reduced the likelihood of Justify being pressured by a spoiler.

As great as American Pharoah was, Justify’s completion of the Triple Crown is perhaps even more remarkable given the circumstances surrounding it. The son of Scat Daddy only made his racecourse debut on February 18th, just 111 days prior to winning the Belmont Stakes. That makes him the only one of the 13 Triple Crown winners in history to have been unraced as a two-year-old. Just as remarkably, Justify is only the second undefeated Triple Crown winner in history, with Seattle Slew in 1977 being the only previous one.

As entertaining as Justify’s performance and overall feat was, what is likely to have really struck many looking in on proceedings from Europe is how remarkably and enthusiastically engaged the crowd were in what occurred on the racecourse. Big crowds are not unusual at big races in Europe, but it is very rare and possibly even unheard of to see such a response from a crowd at a Flat meeting. It makes one wonder what we can do as a sport to encourage our most passionate supporters to go racing and create such an electric on-course atmosphere. Though, with racecourses in this part of the world seemingly being more focused on just getting bodies through the gates regardless of whether they have any interest in the sport, it may be best not to hold ones breath.

Pool betting reaches crucial crossroads in the UK

The world of pool betting in British racing will change forever on July 13th when the Tote’s exclusive pool betting license runs out. As many will be aware, there has been a huge amount of action centring on what will happen when this occurs.

In a nutshell, 55 racecourses have joined forces to form Britbet, a new company which will run the on-track pools at all of the tracks that are involved. As well as that, the Alizeti consortium - made up of a group of powerful owners and breeders - has purchased a 25% share in the existing Tote with a view to buying the remaining 75% in the next three to five years.

Both organisations have spoken of what innovations and improvements they will bring to the table in an effort to make pool betting a meaningful player in an ultra-competitive betting market in which pool betting’s share has been shrinking. 

However, with that shrinking share of the betting pie in mind, the last thing pool betting in Great Britain needs is a splitting of pools. The strength of any pool betting lies in liquidity and for the on-course and off-course pools to be separate isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Currently, talks are ongoing between Britbet and the Alizeti consortium with a view to partnering up and the importance of this cannot be overstated.

All of this appeals as being a crucial crossroads for pool betting in Great Britain. While win and place pool betting is always likely struggle to compete with the fixed-odds offerings of the bookmakers unless there are significant reductions in take-out rates, there remains great untapped potential in the big pool bets such as the Scoop 6, the Placepot and other innovative exotic bets. 

Combining their resources, expertise and pools to present a united front to the betting public appeals as the best way for Britbet and the Alizeti-backed Tote to drive prosperity in pool betting in Great Britain. .

While common sense is not very common, one can only hope that the two parties involved can work out a deal in not only their own best interests, but in the best interests of the sport of horse racing.

Kevin Blake
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