Nicky Henderson situation not as broad as being portrayed
The gap between the Christmas racing and the Cheltenham Festival tends to be a windy one in the racing world with the obvious exception of the Dublin Racing Festival. The gaps need to be filled and any controversies that emerge in this window tend to be amplified for the simple reason that there generally isn’t much else to talk about in racing.
Last week it was Nicky Henderson, Unibet and Altior that found themselves at the centre of controversy. Most will be familiar with the most minute details of the case at this stage, so it isn’t worth repeating them. As well as the specific case having been done to death, the situation has also served to reopen the debate about the rights and wrongs of licenced individuals becoming ambassadors for bookmakers and betting exchanges.
Those wider debates are certainly worth having, but they all distract from what was the root cause and, in my opinion, the most concerning aspect of the Altior case and others like it from the recent past. The long and the short of it is that many hours before any details of Altior’s situation were made public, the betting markets told the story of what was set to unfold. That wasn’t caused by Unibet, their relationship with Henderson or as a result of the medium Henderson choose to communicate the relevant information to the public, that was caused by a leak of significant inside information from Henderson’s yard that led to the betting markets moving as they did.
If this was a one-off, it wouldn’t be as notable, but it is simply stating facts to say that we have seen multitudes of examples of the betting markets moving before significant news has been announced regarding horses trained by Nicky Henderson. To be clear, there is no suggestion that Henderson himself is responsible for this, but there is quite a clearly a long-standing issue in his yard with regard to sensitive inside information impacting on the betting markets before this information is made public.
Henderson has acknowledged that there is as issue of sorts and has reportedly spoken to his staff about it, but with respect to those efforts, this has been going on for a long time and a pep talk is unlikely to solve it. Indeed, it has been going on for so long that one can’t help but think that if the relevant authorities worked with the bookmakers and exchanges in an effort to find common accounts that have sought to profit from multiple situations such as the above, they might just be able to find the source of this issue.
This sort of exploitation of inside information is exactly the type of thing that the authorities should be coming down hard on. From a perception perspective, it is absolutely horrendous.
From Henderson’s perspective, there is clearly work to be done with regard to his staff and/or people closely associated with the yard. While the modern world of social media and instant communications might seem to make it difficult for any sensitive information to be kept under wraps, other trainers have shown that it can be done.
For example, John Gosden and his team managed to keep it under complete wraps that the extremely high-profile favourite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Enable had missed many days of work due to a temperature in the build-up to that race. Now, whether Gosden was right to keep this information a secret is a debate in itself, but the fact that he and his team were able to do so in Newmarket of all places where most horses can’t sneeze without it ending up in a WhatsApp group, then any trainer can do the same if the will is there to do so.
Nicky Henderson is surely sick of being dragged through the mud by situations such as last week. While some have wished to characterise the root cause of it being his commercial relationship with Unibet and his communication policies, those are quite clearly separate issues. If Henderson wants to stop being the focus of situations such as this, he needs to put a stop to the leaks out of his yard. One can only hope that the relevant authorities are working with the bookmakers and exchanges to try and get to the bottom of it too.