State of Randwick course threatens to embarrass Australian Turf Club as The Championships approach

The Randwick course proper, on Saturday, must have been a great disappointment to the ATC Board.

Racing NSW must also be concerned with the Championship less than two months away and the likelihood being embarrassed by a biased surface.

Randwick has had three weeks off racing and with only 6mls of rain last Thursday and prevailing hot weather, the fence was described as being like ‘quicksand’. Most jockeys steered away from the rail in the straight, those who stayed there were beaten many lengths. When $14 chance Heart Testa can race on a limb in the Southern Cross Stks and win, says it all. Favourites Lucia Valentia ($4.40), Driefontein ($2.60) and Snippets Land ($4.40) were all disadvantaged

Reportedly, there were only 8mls of irrigation at Randwick during last week. It is very confounding. And sad.

And there is no greater switch off for punters than bias, punters are our lifeblood.

The Randwick track has been problematical for at least a dozen years notwithstanding fortunes having being spent on it.

In contrast, Caulfield, which was closed after Caulfield Cup Day last Spring, has had its track totally redone. Saturday was opening day. It had to contend with 29mls of rain, most overnight and on race morning, and it was a perfect surface.

Fast times. Winners led, came from behind, were on the fence and out wide. Best Caulfield has ever been.

Jason Kerr was in charge of the Caulfield renewal, can he be engaged to redo Randwick, please?

Taxes a killer

With the increased betting taxes, there are many stories of large punters, who are long-term losers, having their accounts closed by the corporate bookmakers including the fixed-odds TABs.

One such punter came to my office last week and put to me: “Rob, I lost a total of $5M to the corporates last year alone. I always deposit the funds in advance, in full, before I bet. I’ve brought my accounts with them to show you. Now, I’ve had every account closed. I can’t believe it. I wish I were a bookie and had a mug like me. A shame that I just love punting!”

He wanted to bet with me, as he had in the past I explained, with the higher Races Fields tax, it wasn’t a proposition for me. This punter is a high-turnover, low-margin customer.

By contrast, the Asian betting exchanges, oblivious to these taxes, are thriving. Their mainstay is Hong Kong racing but operate in many jurisdictions, including Australia and New Zealand.

Their turnover, on Hong Kong is said to be several times that of the gigantic Hong Kong pools, which last year averaged $20m per race.

These exchanges are very different to the Betfair model. Rather than trading at particular odds, all business is done at local tote odds, but with a discount, which can be over 25%.

To explain, at a 25 per cent discount, a $100 bet cost $75. If the tote pays $6 (5/1), you receive $600 for your $75, which works out at 7/1.

But as the corporate bookmakers have discovered here, if you pay on the tote dividends, there is an incentive for the totes to be manipulated by smarties.

There is currently a big investigation in the US, involving these exchanges. At ThistleDown racecourse in Ohio recently, in a maiden event, a runner, Eye Look The Part was considered a certainty and was going to pay $1.20 for a dollar bet.

Just before the jump, someone placed $7,000 on each of Eye Look The Part’s competitors. Eye Look The Part won and paid, amazingly, $6.40 for a dollar, costing dearly its Asian exchange layers. Bets struck at tote odds can be dangerous!

Nonetheless, I think the tax-free exchanges will gain momentum in Australia here and it must worry administrators. The Federal Government has no appetite to stand in the way of free trade.

Tearaway leaders

Following on from the wins the previous week of Lightning Gail (11/1) at Warwick Farm and Loyalist (9/1) at Wyong the following day, it was refreshing to see more tearaway tactics adopted in both Sydney and Melbourne on Saturday.

Phantom Brew (11/1) in race 1 at Caulfield, led by up to 8 lengths and proved too strong. A wonderful spectacle.

Perhaps an over-inspiring Jason Collet on Koroibete, a 9/2 chance at Randwick, thought ‘I can do better’ and he, 15 minutes later, led with a 14-length-break on the field before staggering home, to finish last. Perhaps too big a task on this occasion, but a spectacle compared to the daily diet of speed-map-fixated running orders.

Initiative should be encouraged in racing and three out of four were winners is not a bad strike rate.

Field sizes

The big topic in the betting ring is the Sydney is field sizes. Statistics show Australia as a whole is not doing so bad. The foal crop peaked in 89/90, it has now dropped to 58% of that. But the number of race starts is much higher – 78% of the peak.

Comparisons are often made between Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan field sizes, with Melbourne having bigger fields.

There is a common but erroneous argument that: ‘we have a lot more trials in Sydney than they do in Melbourne, therefore trials are the problem’. But it is fallacious. Melbourne have lots of trials, but they call them ‘jump outs’ and don’t publish the results (webcasts are sometimes available).

Sydney Metropolitan racing should adopt some Melbourne practises which would increase the size of its fields:

  • Sydney Saturdays should aim to be ‘open class’ racing, as Melbourne is. We’ve ‘dumbed down’, claiming to match the horse population, but it doesn’t work.
  • Three-year-olds get closer to their w-f-a allowance in Melbourne than in Sydney. We need more young horses in fields. Makes for great betting.

Additionally:

  • The Provincial and Country meetings should revert back to their own class structures, as they always were. Having the same Bench Mark races allows everyone to choose easier provincial and country options.
  • The standard top-weight should be increased form 59kgs to at least 62kgs.

Dom Beirne

A cheerio call to my long-time bookmaking-competitor Dominic Beirne. He has just undergone some serious ‘repair and maintenance’ involving his heart. He was operated on by a school friend of mine, Dr. Greg Cranney, who described the operation as “an unqualified success”. Dom will be back better than ever.

I was reminded of my own mortality during the week by my 93-year-old father and ex-bookmaker, Bill. I was telling him he has to walk more and that we wanted him to make ‘the ton’. Dad replied: “I don’t like telling you, but statistically speaking, I’ve got more chance of the 100 than you!” Sad for me, but Dad is right again.

Food for thought

An explanation for the cheaper sandwich prices in the Randwick members than in the public, mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, is that it is deliberate.

The toffs need to be cut some slack while the battlers should pay the full tariff, evidently. At least, it wasn’t a mistake.

More importantly, those in the Randwick betting ring, once the life and soul of the racecourse, now realise we are losing our view of the track. An escalator is being constructed, blocking our outlook. There is a big grandstand frontage to choose from, sad they choose where the betting ring is.

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