SECTIONAL TIMES ADVANCE THE CONVERSATION
Last week saw Royal Ascot produce sectional times and tracking data for all of their races. While there were some gremlins in the system early in the week, they were soon ironed out and the data that was produced very much added greater colour to the pictures.
Rather than having to guesstimate about how strong or otherwise the early pace was in each race, this information could be factually ascertained using the sectional times. The data also provided very interesting and useful numbers on the distance each horse covered, allowing the user to quantify just how much ground had been forfeited or gained during each race due to positioning or mid-race manoeuvres.
As well as better informing the end users, the data also served to enhance the ability of those journalists and broadcasters that embraced it to cover and analyse the action with greater certainty and insight. All told, it was a great success that promises to be built on in the future.
Detractors of sectional times are often heard to query just how much interest there is in them out there. However, this really is a case of “build it and they will come.” Anyone that studies form to any sort of depth has the potential to want to add sectional times into the mix of their study. However, for that to happen there needs to be accurate and reliable data published as widely as possible, as manually collecting sectional time data is too laborious for most.
Attheraces.com have led the way in doing this in conjunction with Total Performance Data and their website now carries a raft of sectional time data. Having their usefulness showcased on a platform such as Royal Ascot will hopefully bring both other racecourses and the racing authorities around to just how important they can be in advancing the standard of conversation and analysis around the sport.
British and Irish racing have been stuck in the dark ages in terms of in-depth racing analysis for too long. Sectional times should be embraced and funded on an official level.
WORLD POOL RESULTS ILLUSTRATE CO-MINGLING POTENTIAL
One of the more interesting non-racing stories of Royal Ascot was the success of the World Pool. Brought about by a deal between Ascot, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Totepool, the World Pool was created to combine all Tote bets struck on the majority of Royal Ascot races in 10 different countries (including betting behemoths Hong Kong) into one pool.
This resulted in Tote turnover growing from £17m last year to £92m this year. Considering it was the first year of the arrangement, that is a hugely-impressive increase that seems sure to be built on in the future, with other countries already being courted to join the party going forward. All concerned can be very proud of what they achieved thus far.
The success of the World Pool at Royal Ascot has given everyone in this part of the world a glimpse of what the financial future of British and Irish racing could look like. With domestic racing set to face severe challenges in the years ahead having financially joined itself at the hip to a bookmaking industry that is under attack from a anti-gambling movement in wider society, alternative revenue streams need to be found and expanded.
The potential for attracting foreign-based bettors to bet on world-class British and Irish racing via co-mingled Tote pools is not a new idea, but not every jurisdiction has been as proactive in embracing the potential of the concept.
Almost nine years ago to the day, I wrote an article in the Irish Field on the potential of co-mingled Tote pools to become a major future contributor to the finances of British and Irish racing that implored HRI to introduce 48-hour declarations for Irish Flat racing.
The reason put forward for this was that failing to do so would leave Irish racing at a disadvantage compared to Britain and France, both of which already had 48-hour declarations, in pursuit of foreign-based punters to bet into Irish pools, particularly those based in countries with significantly different time zones to our own. Here we are almost a decade later and Irish racing still stubbornly holds onto 24-hour declarations for all bar Group 1 races and Sunday racing.
It isn’t as if the Irish racing authorities are unaware of the potential benefits of co-mingling either. A deal that allowed Israeli-based punters to bet into British and Irish racing pools has helped patch over the falling domestic Tote turnover in Ireland in recent years, but the decision by the Israeli government to ban betting on horse racing at the end of 2017 led to turnover at Tote Ireland dropping by a staggering 33.3% to €69.2m in 2018.
That a third of Tote Ireland’s turnover was coming from a relative minnow in the betting world such as Israel says plenty about the current state of that operation domestically, but what it also should have showed HRI is the huge potential for co-mingled pools.
When it comes to Tote pools, liquidity breeds liquidity. The Tote only becomes a viable betting option for more serious punters when liquidity is strong and stable. If Irish Tote pools can be bolstered by foreign-based turnover, that will inevitably lead to it becoming a more popular betting medium for domestic punters, thus further increasing turnover and the consequent financial return to racing.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the potential for this, but HRI continue to make its product less attractive to foreign punters compared to British/French racing by using 24-hour declarations for the majority of their racing. What makes this long-term stubbornness so frustrating is that the move to 48-hour declarations in Ireland would be seamless.
They already work perfectly fine for Sunday racing and such is the small size of the Irish programme book, trainers rarely have the luxury of more than one option a week for their horses, thus declaring a day earlier rarely makes a meaningful difference to them.
They may well be over 10 years late to the party, but there is still time for HRI to belatedly do the right thing and introduce 48-hour declarations to Irish racing.
WHIP BANS HIGHLIGHT SHORTCOMINGS OF RULES
Over the course of the five days of Royal Ascot there were 11 bans dished out for misuse of the whip. Ten of those were for exceeding the permitted limit of seven strikes, while one other was for using it in the incorrect place. That three of those excessive use bans came on winners (Afaak, Biometric and Thanks Be) led to a reopening of the debate as to whether the punishments for whip offences are a sufficient deterrent against breaking them.
Long-term readers of this space are likely to be familiar with my view that the current whip rules in Britain are too harsh, with a seven-strike limit on the Flat being too restrictive. When one watches back each of the rides that attracted bans last week, it is very hard to say that any of them were in any way offensive to the eye. It seems fundamentally wrong that a rider should have to consider stop using their stick to stay within the limit on a horse that is gamely responding to pressure, but that is the conundrum that the current rules present to jockeys.
While there have been some calls for horses to be disqualified if their rider breaks the whip rules, such action would be akin to firing a shotgun at a pesky fly in a china shop. Unlike the interference rules, the whip rules are solely imposed on the rider, thus the rider is the only one that should suffer if they are broken.
Right now, the rules are too harsh and the punishments are too weak, so riders don’t think twice about breaking them when the stakes are high. My view would be that it would be much more appropriate to loosen the whip rules, be it by increasing the strike limit to 10 or even 12, but substantially increasing the punishments for breaking those rules.
The best way to ensure that rules are adhered to is to make sure the punishments for breaking them are a more than sufficient deterrent. That is not the case at present and the issue will continue to be dragged back into the spotlight on the sport’s biggest occasions until it is remedied.