The Charles Byrnes case has been the big news in racing circles over the last 24 hours. Anyone who reads the full report of the case will realise how serious it is and the implications it will have for racing going forward. First and foremost, a jockey’s job is dangerous enough without going out on a partially sedated horse, secondly it’s a major animal welfare issue. More fodder for the anti – racing brigade is not what racing needs. The horse in question, Viking Hoard was ‘nobbled’ by somebody who administered the sedative to the animal on the race day. Nobody will ever know who the culprit was. One would have to imagine the unidentified person who laid a significant bet with a liability of almost 35,000 euro on the horse had some idea of what was going on. The bet represented 50% of the relevant exchange market. It’s not the first time a significant amount was staked on the horse to lose on the Betfair exchange website. A similar bet was laid when he ran in Sedgefield in 2018 and in Galway in July 2018 there was a bet placed on the horse to be beaten which carried a liability of 55,000 euro. The IHRB have identified an individual identified with the account. He is ‘based in a distant part of the world and was said to be associated with match fixing and associated betting in connection with other sports’. There was no evidence to connect the horse’s trainer with the betting patterns. Now we have a very successful trainer facing a six month ban, who denies any wrongdoing and a whole load of questions that one suspects there will never be answers to. There will be no winners in the Viking Hoard debacle except for the cheats who laid him on the Betfair exchange. It has been a lucrative foray for them.
The above paragraph brings shame on the sport of horse racing however there is a solution that will help. Ban all betting exchanges. Many will wonder has that ship sailed but I’m not so sure. If something meaningful isn’t done this has the ability to completely destroy the sport. There is no way an unlicensed, unregulated person should have the ability to lay a horse to lose a race. When applying for a bookmaker’s licence in Ireland I have to get a certificate of personal fitness from the local superintendent, a tax clearance cert from revenue and I am regulated by Horse Racing Ireland. Retail and online firms have to go through a similar process in order for them to lay a bet and in the UK, the gambling commission make all licenced layers jump through hoops to gain a licence. This is a pain in the rear end to do, but it ensures that fit and proper people are obtaining these licences, that money laundering isn’t taking place or being facilitated and it is a severe deterrent for corrupt practices.
Readers of this piece may think I am being cynical or having a cheap shot at my opposition but I can assure you I am not. I am simply highlighting the fact that betting exchanges are an open invitation for corruption in racing and my gut feeling is that this ‘Viking Hoard’ episode is the tip of the iceberg. Low grade racing has poor prize money and when its more lucrative to lose a race than win it, there will always be individuals who are willing to break the rules. When they are unlicensed, unregulated and answerable to nobody it’s a given that this practice is going on regularly.
Part of racings mystique is a little skulduggery, handicapping horses, landing the famous touch, catching the bookies after lining one up all year. Its fair game, don’t we all admire it even if it hurts us from time to time when we back one that may not have been too busy or in my case when I lay one that is backed off the boards and wins accordingly. However, backing a horse to lose, knowing before the event that it won’t win is crossing the line. Sedating it in advance makes a bad act even worse. An individual can’t sell alcohol without a licence and can’t give out loans unregulated but anyone can lay a horse in a race. This doesn’t sit well with me. We are in lawless territory and I hate to say it about the sport I love, but while these exchanges are in operation we have a credibility issue within the sport. Traditional firms have had their share of sharp practice and have let themselves down on occasions, but they generally don’t bring this sort of trouble to racing’s doorstep. When they do, they are punished. That is the difference. Betting exchanges will say they have open lines of communication with British Horse Racing authority and HRI, but that’s just corporate bluff in my opinion. It doesn’t deter the people who are determined to cheat and ‘win’ money illegally.
Paul Nicholls, Gordon Elliot and Joseph O Brien are sponsored by betting exchanges. Every interview, press briefing etc. their logo appears. Fair play to the three men, I’m sure it’s a lucrative deal but are these the companies we want sponsoring leading individuals within the sport? These exchanges provide a platform for the sports credibility to be undermined and will leave its reputation in tatters.
I fully appreciate that not everyone will agree with my views on this but I do feel very strongly about it.
Betting exchanges are a cancer on racing, its time the authorities cut the head off the poisonous snake.