Marten’s Perspective: Cheating: Commonplace or under control? (part 2)

August 31st, 2012 | Marten's Perspective

Last week I concluded that cheating, as interpreted within the rules of racing, probably did happen but on relatively few occasions.

What does seem likely is that the temptation to cheat for somebody professionally involved with a horse is strong – perhaps, in some cases, too strong to resist.

I recently read Tony McCoy’s views on the subject in relation to the low levels of prize-money.

“I had five rides on an eight-race card at Uttoxeter one day last winter. I don’t mind riding through snow and sleet and getting mud kicked in my face, but I definitely do mind risking life and limb for almost nothing.

“Not one race met the Horsemen’s Group’s tariffs on prize money – the most valuable race was worth less than £3,000 to the winner – and I made more from my riding fees than I did from my prize money, which is a complete disgrace.

“It’s no wonder a handful of jockeys get tempted to break the rules. It’s harder than ever now to make a living from this sport and if you are struggling for rides and winners you really are in for a bleak time.”

I suspect that over a quiet pint late into the evening those close to the heart of racing could name the jockeys who have, on occasions, given them cause for concern. This may apply especially to those who ride on the all-weather circuit in the winter where, significantly, the prize money is generally very poor.

Jockeys have been disqualified over offences relating to associations with punters. Having said that, years ago it was acknowledged that every senior jockey would ‘have a punter.’

One former jumps jockey, in his prime about 30 years ago, told me that the only senior jockey he knew who didn’t have punters from his generation was Chris Grant. And he rode for Arthur (WA) Stephenson!

I was also told that the late Ryan Price always ensured that jockeys who rode for him had a punter who met with his approval. One story is that he asked the late Tony Murray when he was first linked to the yard whether he had a punter. Upon answering that he hadn’t, Price gave him the name and telephone number of a man who would ‘look after’ him.

In the old days one got to hear of names linked to top jockeys. I remember occasions when I would follow a known ‘face’ to the rails to try and spot which horse he had backed.

One extremely well-known name in racing had strong links to Lester Piggott and top Irish and French trainers. Commission agent was the term generally used in those days.

There was another top jockey who was rumoured to have close ties with a leading firm of bookmakers.

There have been rumours, and still are, of jockeys finding themselves in debt and accepting loans from disreputable sources. The problem then is that they have to “work it off’. That is, I believe, the way it is described.

One backer I knew years ago would only bet at top-class meetings, on the principle that there was no incentive or advantage to skulduggery when the rewards and benefits of success were so high.

Punting Yards

So what can the ordinary punter use to help him avoid the darker machinations of the business?

The obvious place to seek out guidance is the market, although as I illustrated in my first Perspective feature that can also prove misleading.

Certain stables have the reputation of being a ‘punting yard.’ There are probably fewer of these around than there were, but in my experience most stables will have an owner or two who likes a decent bet.

The problem some trainers face is that if they get a reputation for landing a touch, then they will attract other owners who like a bet. This may then discourage owners who do not have betting as a priority.

There is enough pressure on a trainer to get a horse fit and ready to win without the added burden of knowing the owner has risked a substantial sum of money on the race with, potentially, the risk of the relationship being terminated if the result does not go the right way.

As for trainers becoming ‘typecast’, so to speak, this can apply in different ways. Richard Lee, for example, has a well-founded reputation for doing well with horses which have had a history of leg problems. This probably started many years ago with Delius, who had shown plenty of ability with Michael Dickinson between lengthy periods of unsoundness. He joined Richard Lee and thrived, thereby doing much to establish his new handler’s reputation.

Richard, who trained for me for a while, told me at the time that because of his success in that area most of the horses he was sent were unsound.

The same thing happens with yards which are perceived to have a gambling angle. Barney Curley is the master in this respect. In fact he is a class apart, often waiting two years for a horse to drop to a mark off which he thinks it can win, but then he trains mostly for himself.

There are other trainers who ‘seem to know the time of day’, to coin a phrase. Market support for horses trained by Willie Musson, Michael Wigham, Brian Ellison and Stuart Williams is seldom misplaced. I should add that these trainers get winners at every level, many of which are not backed.

Market support for horses from some of the bigger yards may also be significant. William Haggas is one of the game’s shrewdest judges and strength behind one of his horses can be significant. The same applies to Luca Cumani, not that he would associate himself with betting. John Gosden is interesting. Support for one of his horses can be of less significance, although if there is money for one of his debutants then if it does not win it is probably worth keeping in mind for next time.

Jeremy Noseda’s horses can occasionally be backed down to a very short price, especially on the all-weather. There is always plenty of money floating around for horses trained by Mick Channon, Richard Hannon and Brian Meehan but then they have a large following.

Next week I will take a closer look at a few lower-profile yards and the clues which may guide us to finding a few winners.

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