For the first time under my editorship, the ROA and TBA Leaders this month are dedicated to the same subject: the Tote, more specifically the opportunity that exists for our sport when the exclusive seven-year pool betting licence – currently held by Betfred – expires in 2018.
This united front, which reflects the strength of feeling within both associations, is excellent news for those who wish to see a racing body have a crack at reinvigorating pool betting in Britain.
The key to any successful Tote bid is agreement between horsemen and all the racecourses
As you may or may not be aware, the saga of the Tote sale had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. To cut a (very) long (and depressing) story short, the Conservative government backtracked on Labour’s pledge to sell the institution – founded in 1928 – to racing. Instead, bids were encouraged from a variety of potential purchasers, with 50% of the sale proceeds ring-fenced for racing.
The ‘Tote Foundation’ represented racing’s interests but was rejected – along with other bids from Coral, the Reuben Brothers, Sir Martin Broughton and Andy Stewart – in favour of the Fred Done-owned bookmaker, Betfred, which paid around £265 million to secure the Tote’s pool betting licence and its estate of betting shops. That was in 2011.
Fast forward to 2016 and, with less than two years remaining on the initial deal, racing can see the light at the end of the tunnel in its quest for an exclusive pool betting licence. As Nicholas Cooper and Julian Richmond-Watson explain, the key to any successful bid from racing will be cooperation and agreement between horsemen and all the racecourses.
If the ROA and TBA are singing from the same hymn-sheet when it comes to the Tote, the same cannot be said of this month’s contributors on the idea of a ‘Speed Gene’, the genetic test that indicates a thoroughbred’s likely level of stamina. This controversial issue was brought sharply into focus after 2,000 Guineas victor Galileo Gold was tested in order to establish his suitability for the Derby trip of a mile and a half. Computer appeared to say no – and connections subsequently agreed with this verdict when taking the colt out of the Epsom Classic.
Chris McGrath’s fascinating report (pages 48-52) features comments from Dr Emmeline Hill, whose company Equinome offers the test, and her business partner, the breeder and trainer Jim Bolger, who maps the training schedules of his young horses on the basis of their test results.
As a Turf purist, it is perhaps not surprising that Tony Morris (pages 22-23) views the idea of campaigning a racehorse according to its genetic make-up with a degree of scepticism.
“I just can’t persuade myself that any single gene might represent the factor governing stamina limitation,” Morris states. “The notion of a ‘speed gene’ strikes me as preposterous. I don’t believe we yet have the science to answer the question definitively.
Indeed, the question itself seems to be flawed if it takes no account of that crucial and undefinable quality we recognise as class.
“Traditionally we have made judgements over stamina from observation of the horse in competition and our interpretation of its pedigree. All very rough and ready, of course, with plenty of scope for alternative opinions, but I’d be inclined to prefer the view of a sound, experienced judge to what I consider the dubious and inadequate science currently available.”
One thing that Bolger and Morris would surely agree on is that Mick Kinane, the subject of this month’s Big Interview (pages 36-41), was one of the finest jockeys ever to emerge from Ireland.
In a superb interview with Julian Muscat, the retired Kinane talks about his rise to the top, the superstars he rode to countless big-race wins – including the sensational Sea The Stars that closed his superb career – and the difficulties he faced when trying to adjust to life away from the weighing room.