Who laid you that bet? Exchanged for the Room At The Corner?

Who laid you that?

Anyone who has read my blog on the tale of Weediniron, a horse name Grimace and a fortune lost at Tiverton Races The Wager & Weediniron will guess I have an interest in the history of horseracing, to be more accurate, bookmaking. I recently tracked down and read C Sidney’s ‘The Art Of Legging’. It’s the third edition published in 2003, it was updated just as the exchanges were coming into prominence in betting rings. The historical part of the book ends with a quote from an unnamed scribe of 1843 who wrote the following about ‘The Room At The Corner’ a place where ‘The largest amount of sharp practise is to be found perhaps beneath the Sun’ and suggests the more things change the more it’s the same and it got me thinking.

So here were are in 2017 and those fledgling exchanges have eviscerated betting rings. Sadly it was a slow suicide from bookmakers who should have gone to Specsavers not having the foresight to see that they were being led to a mass cull. They knew not what they did when they greedily accepted cheap umbrellas advertising what was to strangle most of them out of business. Even less so when they started chasing bookies reps, whose hitherto just appearance in the ring would have seen their prices vanish into chalk dust, to ask ‘if they wanted any more’.

We all know what’s happened to the ring since, but what about the integrity of racing? Have the betting exchanges become the unaccountable and untouchable modern version of ‘The Room On The Corner’? At least those ‘legs’ had to show their identities when they plotted and schemed to relieve those racing gentlemen of their cash.

It would be naive to believe that some bookmakers didn’t have the luxury of ‘laying dead ‘uns’ for trainers and owners in the past. I remember one particular time when working for a now deceased bookie we gave a lift home to a young lad working for another layer. When asked if his firm had enjoyed a good day the lad replied ‘The boss was gutted, he was supposed to have taken a monkey out of one for the trainer but forgot’. Eyes rolled in the car but at least his books could be checked for unusual betting patterns in the unlikely event of an investigation.

So what these days? How many times have you seen a horse well-backed in the morning only to watch it drift alarmingly near the off. Form horses that all the experts have tipped up with thousands available to lay once the race goes live. Of course there are always legitimate excuses, the horse was sweating up, people laying off and taking profits, but they would account for only some.

Of those, how many ‘miss the break’, were ‘slowly away’ ‘mid-division never placed to challenge’ ‘In rear nearest finish’, ‘never troubled leaders’? I haven’t a database but it seems quite often. Does anyone ever look into it? I doesn’t seem they do, at least not to the general public.

Who are the people laying these horses and earning out of them? They must be super-judges who are the shrewdest of the shrewd and back their opinions with hard exchange balance and rarely get it wrong. I expect if you look hard enough at the form book you’ll find that the beast in question has the propensity to snooze in the stalls just on certain nights, unlike last time when it was out like a bullet landing a touch in the process. I’m sure customer confidentiality prohibits the exchanges divulging who is laying them? Surely the person they are laying to should have the right know the identity of his layer?

Maybe it’s just sour grapes, I’m like all those other losing punters, if the horse is slowly away, missed the break and the like I’m just trying to find excuses for why my judgement or rather that of my tipster mate was so badly wrong. The trouble is even if it’s not bent if that’s what it looks like and nothing is seen to be done it leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths. Nobody likes their pockets metaphorically picked any more now that they did back in 1843. It’s bad for racing and puts people off having a punt on it.

I have a mate who has tipped horses for years and shown a consistent profit, his tips purely based on his skill interpreting the form. For that reason alone, the form works out enough for him to make it pay, I’m convinced that UK is for the very most part genuine and straight which has always cheered me.

Sadly it’s not those fairly run races that are remembered by the punters. In the past I’ve been of the opinion that if a horse is a bad drifter for no apparent reason prior to a race the starter should be told to have a word in the ear of the jockey on the beast and informed he’s being watched. The problem there is that the poor pilot would probably be so nervous that the ‘solution’ would be responsible for doubling the ‘slowly aways’, even on the bang off!

So what is the answer? Is it just bad losers that imagine foul play or are these odd iffy events just cast a blind eye to for the good of racing? It would touchingly trusting to think that some sort of skulduggery doesn’t go on and that some jockeys aren’t told ‘not today’ on the odd occasion. It’s often been suggested that layers on the exchanges should be licensed bookmakers. However if that were brought in I fear there’d be very few layers because all bookmakers know that you need a margin to win laying horses.

One old bookmaker also sadly no longer with us explained it very simply one day. He pointed to himself and another bookmaker and said ‘If we start with £100 and bet with each other but have to give him’ pointing to me ‘five percent each time, who eventually ends up with our £100, he f**king well does!’ He was right wasn’t he, the exchanges and of course those with an unfair edge end up with the majority of the money so the liquidity dries up.

One solution to people being able to earn out of non-jiggers could be is that layers though not licensed as bookmakers must make themselves public. After all if you bet with Honest Joe on course Honest Joe has laid you the bet. Maybe if you back a horse on the exchanges you should get a ‘Thank you, you have been laid by Joe Blogs account number 12345’. If it then transpires that Joe Blogs took £10k at 3/1 out of a horse that had been 5/2 at the time and the horse runs very badly, questions could be asked.

That is if anyone is out there with any intention of asking the question……

Simon Nott

The BHA replied via twitter the following in response to this blog ‘Please contact RaceStraight if you have any info or concerns you would like to make us aware of http://www.britishhorseracing.com/racestraight/ RaceStraight is the BHA’s anonymous intelligence reporting line – 0800 0852580 

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