Focus On Binocular - Much Ado About Nothing

For the second year running Binocular has been the centre of controversy prior to the Champion Hurdle.

BinocularLast year trainer Nicky Henderson was castigated for his will he, won’t he approach to the race . . . in effect too much information.

Roll the clock forward a year and Binocular is not declared because of medication remaining in his system longer than expected, which may have resulted in him failing a dope test should he have competed. This time Henderson did not give a blow by blow account and he has been castigated.

Speak and you are dammed, don’t speak and you are dammed.

Whilst in an ideal world the public would be made aware of every bit of information concerning every horse, it ain’t going to happen and it does not matter if it relates to a runner in a Championship race or a Class 6 AW race.

As things currently stand there is nothing in the rules of racing which require trainers to provide constant updates on the state of their runners. At the end of the day trainers are paid by the owners and they are accountable only to the owners. If the owners deem the information to be sharable it should, as the rules currently stand, be their decision and theirs alone as to whether the information is shared.

Now it could well be argued the rules need changing and a case could be made in relation to declaring medication or treatment given to a horse in running but whilst there is no requirement there is no incumbency on the trainer to be up front.

Once again the blogs, fora and Twitterland has been ablaze with ill-informed comment. Much of it along the lines of another Henderson horse “failing a dope test.” Binocular has not failed a dope test, he has tested positive for an allowed medication, which would be illegal should it be in the horses system when he raced.

Connections proactively requested the test from the BHA, a responsible and laudable request.

The BHA did not initially announce the test as it was expected the drug would have been metabolised from the horses system before the race. However horses are not machines and the drug did not come out of his system in time.

Now it is very easy to hypothesise but lets say the testing was announced on Thursday. The horses price would have drifted. Now suppose the drug had left the horses system, quite likely, and he then went on to win the race. What would the reaction have been then . . .  the same as last year, even worse, no doubt.

Even more ironic is those who are shouting the most about what has happened this year are the same people who were complaining last year and are the same people who would have complained even more loudly had the test been announced on Thursday and had Binocular gone on to win on Tuesday.

Now I am not Nicky Henderson’s PR man, I have only spoken to him twice in my life. I cannot judge what sort of person he is. I hear from those who live in in the area that Henderson is not particularly popular person, indeed I have heard many unflattering comments about him.
I am minded of something a wise ex-boss of mine said to me when I managed to upset a very senior director in the organisation in which we worked . . . “remember being popular is not in your job description. You did what you are paid to do.”

The same applies to Henderson, I cannot see what he has done that is intrinsically wrong. What rules has he broken in this case?

Some will say he should have come clean at last night’s Festival Preview at Sandown Park. But was he actually dishonest? I did not stay for the forum but I am told he said Binocular “is fit” . . . where is the evidence he is not fit? The only problem is he has a high level of a lawful medication in his system so yes, Henderson may not have been fully frank and open but does he have to be?

How many other trainers, especially top trainers, in the same position would have taken exactly the same course of action as Henderson?
  
It may not be right but what Henderson has done is fully within the rules.

There is certainly an argument to review the rules in relation to disclosure but, as always, arcing needs to avoid a knee-jerk reaction.

Of course there are those who will happily, cynically, cash in on what has happened, none more so than some of our bookmakers.

Some have even gone as far as refunding ante-post bets on Binocular. That is a very serious step as it undermines the entire ante-post system. It is accepted that in return for enhanced odds if a horse then misses a race for ANY reason then the bet is lost. It is utterly disingenuous for any bookmaker to return ante-post bets on Binocular but not on any other runner.

Many others, especially a certain Irish layer with a very active PR department, are making a big deal about their refunding bets placed on Binocular.

However most of the boasts are hollow and the actual refunds are low. Yes where ante-post bets have been refunded there may well be an additional expense.

However non-runner, no-bet (NRNB) offers have been available for several weeks now and most layers have been offering NRNB since the beginning of this month. Therefore all bets placed NRNB will be refunded as a matter of course.

I strongly suspect the number of bets struck non ante-post and before NRNB came into play will, in fact, be very small.

With NRNB having been on offer for some time punters have had plenty of choice as to where they placed their bets. They could have bet NRNB or taken the chance at possibly better odds without NRNB.

At the end of the day you pays your money and takes your choice.

There is one area of betting which does need looking into and that is the possibility of “insider trading” on the exchanges.

Having spent most of my life in the banking industry I have had the rules around insider dealing drummed into me, as well as the risks of non-compliance. Indeed, on one occasion, compliance actually cost me money because I was unable to act on information I was aware of to mitigate some losses.

The racing industry does have rules in relation to inside information, however they are not as well defined as in the banking sector. As a racing journalist I am covered by the inside information rules but all I have signed is a one line declaration when I received my press badge. The enforceability of the rule in a court of law would be interesting.

Now presumably the BHA will be liaising with the exchanges to see who laid the bets on Binocular in the last 48 hours. However I would be surprised if they find that much evidence of “insider dealing”.

Now I have no intention of doing so here but it would be extremely easy to circumvent the BHA rules on using inside information for gain and any person with a modicum of common sense could do so as the rules have been laid out so ambiguously.

Obviously if the bets are traced back to individuals covered by insider information rules then the  full force of the Authorities should be felt.

Plenty has been said today but let’s get a sense of perspective.

  1. Betting carries risks accept it – if you don’t like it don’t play
  2. Full information has never been in the public domain – if you don’t like it don’t play.
  3. Bookmakers have relied on insider information for years. They are getting moralistic about matters now because they no longer have the monopoly.
  4. (most importantly) Nobody has died.

      
 

 

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