Crio’s Racing: The Winter of our Discontent

Racing is “on the nose”. Never before has it had so little relevance to Australian life. If this situation was a product of gambling decline and a downsized Industry, it could probably go unlamented. But that is, we know, not the case.

The first small step towards an overhaul may have occurred this week when Racing Queensland announced that (Melbourne Cup Day aside) no meetings would be scheduled next season on Tuesdays. They have been unprofitable and, of course, it is not as though any Club is yet ready to give up a fixture – RQ alone still schedule 429 TAB meetings (plus 300 non-TABs) for 2013/14 and no doubt feel that they are not giving any opponents a free kick on the most lowkey day of the week.

But, maybe, it is a start.

There are so many competing interests within racing, as well as gambling predators elsewhere, that the fragile fort is guarded rather too zealously. As much as participants complain of mental and physical burnout, they still all want to be able to “earn a quid”. Real change is unlikely to occur very quickly from within.

So we are stuck in our “holding pattern” – even HG and Roy could not shout that “too much is barely enough”.

On course patronage, of course, is no longer the main barometer. Neither, any more, is a vibrant betting ring. Times have changed. People who’ve not been to a winter meeting are shocked when they see the abandoned public areas on racecourses these days.

This weekend I again head to HQ. Last week, “Finals Day”, there were less than 15 bookies total in the Rails/Paddock (local and interstate)…more than enough, sadly, to service those few who opted to pay admission, freeze, struggle to find a TV and were content to not be fed or “watered”!

It is like some abandoned world – disturbingly, even Cup Week lacked verve last year.

Those of you (most I’m guessing) who go back a few years will be familiar with the changing landscape of racing but, unless you have attended off-peak, you’d still be alarmed by the state of affairs.

It is, of course, often only when something has gone that we remember how much it meant to us. So many people commented the other week, once alerted to the bumper Trots card at Melton, that they’d loved the nights at the Valley and would definitely go there had the big features still been in Moonee Ponds. But that’s sentimental schmuk – its last years were eerily like the path gallops are now treading – the huge push for off-course dollars led to a careless approach to patronage until the tipping point was reached at no atmosphere, few facilities for the public and an irreversible decline.

Check out this piece that I found…most illuminating. It is taken from Racetrack magazine exactly 30 years ago, when “things aren’t what they once were” but, in retrospect, the races still had a place in our culture….the footy scoreboard acknowledged that as did the daily media coverage.

And the betting ring was its hub.

Here’s what journalist Graeme Kelly wrote in Racetrack in July 1984:

As a profession, bookmaking stretches back some 150 years.

In his definitive work, “The History of the Derby Stakes”, author Roger Mortimer refers to the “change in the manner of betting” leading up to the 1830 running of the Derby won by Priam.

Mortimer continued: “Formerly, owners for the most part had wagered with each other; now the day of the professional bookmaker had begun.”

It is impossible to pretend that these early representatives of the profession were a reputable collection.

For the most part they were foul mouthed, illiterate and dishonest.

They knew no law but the law of the jungle.

In the great ante-post betting races such as the Derby, the St Leger and the Chester Cup, they went to endless pains to have lame or even dead horses boosted in order to attract the money of the less well informed.

The majority would have skinned their own sister without a moment’s hesitation had the operation offered the prospect of financial advantage.

Their speciality was the corruption of trainers, jockeys and stable employees and their motto was ‘win, lie or wrangle’.”

As the years have gone by the image and reputation of bookmakers have improved markedly but now, after a long and colorful history, the future of bookmaking is under siege. This is particularly so in Victoria.

In fact, the Victorian Bookmakers Association (VBA) considers the situation desperate and has, recently, appealed to racing clubs to consider the plight of its members.

A submission to clubs from VBA began: “This association is greatly concerned with the current non-viability of our members in all spheres of our profession.

As a consequence we are endeavouring to provide information, comments and suggestions to the relevant bodies with a view to alleviating the problem.”

The VBA believes that the constant decline in racecourse attendances is a major contributory factor to the problems confronting bookmakers.

To counter this, the bookmakers believe racing clubs must provide advantages to and attractions for, the on-course patron. These facilities should not be available to the off-course punter.

In the submission the bookmakers say, quite rightly, that: “It is completely illogical to expect people to attend the racetrack when they can sit at home in the comfort of their lounges, with air-conditioning and a drink watching direct television coverage of the races with TAB telephone betting within an arm’s reach.”

The submission continued: “Their on-course counterparts have to brave the elements, spend time and money on travel, pay admission charges and then put up with some indifferent services.”

As a result of this, combined with the poor crowds attending the races these days, the bookmakers are complaining that it has become practically impossible to make their books balance properly.

With so many bookmakers in difficulties, the percentage of “Mikes”- or silent partners – has been steadily increasing.

However, bookmakers believe this also brings problems. For bookmakers being financed by silent partners are – in their desperation – more prepared to gamble than they would be using their own money.

This, in turn, forces other bookmakers to become more competitive and the result is that even greater pressure is placed on the ring in the battle for survival.

In an endeavour to improve matters the VBA has, for some time, been seeking to reduce the number of bookmakers operating by not replacing members who resign or retire.

In this way the numbers can be reduced progressively without hurting anyone.

This confirms a long-held view of leading Sydney bookmaker, Mark Read.

He predicted several years ago that the main betting rings on metropolitan courses would eventually be reduced to a dozen to 20 of the biggest bookmakers.

When making his prediction, Read based his opinion on the assumption that overhead costs would make bookmaking unviable for the small operator.

With the cost of annual licences, turnover tax, stand and clerk’s fees, betting tickets and books, racecourse admissions and ever-increasing bad debts, this has become the case.

Read, a proven innovator, also began promoting the idea of establishing a “phone room” on racecourses to provide a service for the big betting off-course punters who now utilise SP bookmakers.

The “phone room” would enable these punters – providing they had arranged accounts – to ring into a special number at the course and place their bets with a bookmaker.

They would be given the latest odds and be able to bet in much the same way as they do now with SP bookmakers.

The operation would be run under strict Government or race club supervision with all conversations between the bookmaker’s agent and the client being monitored. This would prevent any suggestions of skulduggery.

The beauty of such a plan is that the scheme would trigger a decline in the fortunes of illegal SP operators while not detracting from off-course betting on the TAB.

Naturally such a revolutionary plan has struck resistance among the staid members of racing’s administration.

But with the situation deteriorating so rapidly even those racing administrators with their thoughts attuned to yester-year are beginning to realise that action – urgent action – along the lines being suggested by Read and other bookmakers is needed if disaster is to be avoided.

Today those premonitions are hardly “revolutionary” and the gambling companies have developed in ways that could never then have been imagined. Read himself is part of the push – he was interviewed on one of the Friday Night MV meetings that he went along to and was aghast at what had happened over the past decades.

I still love to go on-course. Us “remnants” all shake our heads and lament the “old days” but, for me, despite it being on a drip, there’s still something magical about a racecourse.

Not that I’m likely to fund a revival. On a rare day off last Sunday, my son and I still drove out to Sandown for the jumps. We stayed just for the Steeple and Hurdle, did not pay admission, brought our own sandwiches and water and did not have a bet! The crowd was sparse by historical Nationals levels, but up on my expectation. Bashboy’s display to win the Crisp Steeple made the trip worthwhile – he is magnificent.

Oddly enough, the other highlight from the last few days has been the performance up in Mildura on Tuesday night where history was made by local trainer Shayne Cramp, whose horses swept the 8 race programme! Multi anyone?

I’m not anticipating getting involved in any multis or any other forms of punting this week at Flemington, though it is, as usual, a pretty solid card and so I’m open to urgings.

Here are some Quaddy quandaries to consider:-

MR5- Good race. 2 and 10 are logical, otherwise maybe include 3, 4 and maybe even 7 in exotics.

MR6- Don’t like the race. Would definitely include 1 and 5, maybe even 13 as value.

MR7- 3 and 1. 7 if it rains.

MR8- 11 and 12, despite marbles, are two of few I’ve not sacked!

I promise to be more upbeat next weekend for the end of the season, especially if I’ve been tipped in to some bank boosters this weekend.

For now it is time to warm the TV – a fav night with the Open Championship and Lord’s Test kicking off….and maybe a side glance at the form and any tips.

Good luck!


  1. cowshedend says

    Crio, book in the offing?
    ‘From Whoa to woe’

  2. As our parents used to say to us…
    “It is only because I care”
    Promise to finish positively next week.
    Got a winner?

  3. cowshedend says

    Mate, if you don’t like the 2nd leg of the Quaddy, the 3rd leg is a dead set put a gun to my head affair, ended up with Fab Fevola… jeez!
    Like Royal Island in the 6th, but reckon it is unders, would have thought around 8-1 is a fair quote.
    With you on the Adelaide visitor Eclair Samba in the 1st leg, video of last run was very impressive.
    Aeratus looks really well placed in the last, gets 4.5kg off Ringo, after a very impressive win last start.
    Jessy Belle gets no favours at all weight wise in the 2nd, giving it’s nearest rival 5kg, a small pox field, should win but must be a huge risk.

  4. cowshedend says

    Was listening to UZ the other morning very early, and they interviewed Eddie Lynam who trains Sole Power, who will be making the trip out here for the VRC sprint during the carnival.
    Sole Power is owned by Paddy Power’s mum, all her horses have Power in the name, Mc Guane pushed him for a tip this weekend, and he gave him another ‘Power’ horse for Sunday, said it would be any old odds, didn’t catch its name and can’t find the fields.

  5. any clue as to the state – I have all of the fields for the weekend here.

  6. cowshedend says

    UK sunday

  7. Cowshedend, re the third leg of the quaddy, don’t discount ‘Its’ Poets Day” She won at HQ last year, paying at big odds.

    To return to the theme of Crios story, a primary fact confronting racing is that there are too many meetings. A day which really highlights this is Melbourne Cup Day. Since 1960 Corowa has had a Melbourne Cup day meeting. Nowadays in adjacent Albury, Wagga, Wangaratta, and Wodonga there are Melbourne Cup Day races. How many quality horse are running? Does anyone care?

    You feel sorry for the small rural communities whose races lose TAB status, as you wonder what impact it has on their viability. Berrigan has not had a TAB meeting since 2002, I think the last time at Tumut was 2003. These little tracks, which have been the lifeblood of racing for over a century, don’t count to the big financiers calling the shots
    in racing.

    When my old mate Royce Millar teamed up with Tim Costello to write, ‘Wanna Bet’, back in 2000 they spoke about the history of gambling in Australla, and its ongoing role in our society. However even they could not have conceived the seemingly endless myraid of newer forms of on-line gambling.

    Crio, i’m not sure if racing is on the nose, but it has some festering problems it is unable, or unwilling to address.


  8. Racing just shoots itself in the foot by charging money for what people can mainly get for free or lot cheaper…vested interests to placate members.

    Someone give Crio a hug , in the meantime I’ll try and find a winner, I’m suitably “lubed” up so I expect something to jump off the page any moment.

  9. Hard to get too enthused but I guess that’s winter racing.
    In Adelaide I thought that Too Discreet was a good thing in race 3, blinkers a big addition and if it jumps will space them.
    In Melb some interesting form, I notice that Royal Island is quite short in race 6, In Adelaide race 6 15 mins earlier St Mark runs and finished 4 1/2 len 3rd giving it a Kg. If St Mark can’t win in a jumpers flat at Morphettville, I wouldn’t want to be taking 3/1 Royal Island particularly if the Flemington track holds up OK.
    Don’y underestimate Mr Good Cat in the sprint. If it was a race in Adel with Nearest to Pin you would expect MR GC to run on for 3rd a couple of lengths away and the field is ordinary so must be in it.
    I also notice that Balaklava Lady has gone to Sydney in Race 7, probably looking for a reasonable track. The field is very poor and it will be right in it.
    Happy punting
    BTW Crio, I’ll be doing my racing sitting on the lounge at home, no entry fee, beers cost me about $2 each ( until I start with home brew, when they will drop to about 20 cents ea. )and I’ll be getting top odds all day on Betfair or top tote, the heater will be on full bore all day and if I win a quality bottle of red is within arms length, unfortunately they can’t offer me that on course although I miss the old days when there were good crowds, plenty of “scallywags” and a lot of good stories created that could be told at later dates.

  10. Cowshedend,
    It’s Slade Power that’s coming out here to take on Lankan Rupee.
    Sole Power is it’s equally successful stablemate that was scratched from July cup last week won easily by Slade Power.
    Can’t see either running this week and couldn’t find any other “Power” horse in the fields.

  11. cowshedend says

    Thanks Budge

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