A flurry of social media activity in response to the new BHA ruling on the mandatory declaration of wind-ops led recently to a number of trainers (myself included) being branded anti-punter, patronising and stuck in the dark ages, amongst other things. This was all for daring to air a different viewpoint to that espoused by the multitude of punters on Twitter who are convinced that this ruling was long overdue and essential. Even the newly elongated Twitter format wasn’t long enough for me to get my points across, hence this blog post.
For a start, let me make it quite clear that I am not anti-punter. I fully recognise that the funding model of our sport is predicated on encouraging people to bet on it. Hence, if racing is to thrive, I am more than aware that we need to grow the betting market, not try to shrink it. So my thoughts on this issue have nothing to do with being anti-punter in any way. I would like to qualify that statement by also stating that betting should never be the only policy driver of our sport.
The NTF were indeed consulted, but clearly not listened to, on this ruling. We voiced a strong opinion that if these procedures were to be declared, there ought to be an analysis of data undertaken in order to come up with robust, evidence-based information on the efficacy, or not, of various wind operations. We suggested a two year window to allow a sufficient sample size so as to be statistically meaningful. At the end of that period we could all be provided with useful information on various procedures that could inform both their application in the first place, along with their usefulness (or not) as a punting pointer. At this point it would have been easy to decide what information should, or should not, be put in the public domain.
One well known punter tweeted that there had been 12 cases this year where in a subsequent stewards enquiry the reason for a massive improvement in form had been down to the horse having had a wind op. I asked which procedure this was, and of course he was unable to tell me. And herein lies the problem. The way the BHA have framed this ruling is that the betting public will be alerted the first time a horse runs after having had a wind procedure. But they will be completely in the dark as to which one. So not only will they not have that specific information, but even if they did have that information, they would be guessing in the dark as to how likely it was to have an effect. This punter said he would rather know than not know, as it would help inform his decision, but I just can’t see how. Let us say that those 12 cases he mentioned had been broken down into individual procedures, rather than all being lumped together. And let’s say that on analysis, of those 12 cases, 6 were shown to have been down to procedure A, 4 down to procedure B, 1 each to procedure C and D and none to procedure E. This punter has no idea whether the horse has had procedure A or procedure E. So how is he able to make a judgement call on whether the horse is likely to improve, or by how much? However savvy a punter is, I don’t believe he can make good use of incomplete information. And there will be plenty of less savvy punters who will be sucked into backing horses regardless. This to me is not a sound basis for putting information in the public domain.
Now let’s say, as recommended by the NTF, we had two years of data on the various wind ops. The data could be analysed to provide, for instance, an average (mean and median) improvement in form on not only a horses first run back, but subsequent runs also. Now, there is a big caveat here that there will be many instances of all 5 procedures where there is no positive impact whatsoever. But a picture could be drawn up of how likely a particular procedure might be to have an impact, and following on from that, how much of an impact it might have. There would be other useful info gained, for instance, on how long these positive outcomes tend to last and so forth. I don’t know how any savvy punter could argue that this information would be infinitely more useful to them than what they are going to be handed. And the argument that this data analysis can be done anyway doesn’t really cut it for me – why for the sake of waiting two years should we be releasing data of very spurious benefit, when at the end of that period we could release proper, evidence-based and usable data.
I recognise that there are still many people who will not agree with my viewpoint, and they are entitled to that opinion, but I would challenge them to define what part of this argument characterises a trainer as anti-punter, patronising or stuck in the dark ages.