Racing: Betting shops on brink of return to the audio era

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The Independent Online

It may well be detrimental to all of racing, yet, for those chained by nostalgia, tomorrow and a possible return to the crackly audio commentaries of yesteryear in the bookies could be a thing of beauty.

It may well be detrimental to all of racing, yet, for those chained by nostalgia, tomorrow and a possible return to the crackly audio commentaries of yesteryear in the bookies could be a thing of beauty.

Dispute between racecourses and the bookmakers means that, after today, most pictures of British racing could be cut to the High Street. The only live coverage to survive would be that from courses under the aegis of GG-Racing, racing from the lower end of the turf's foodchain.

Otherwise it could be back to the old days of telephonic interruptions and the times when you had to use your imagination during as well as before the race. Pre-pictures it was possible to go through a whole race without having any idea how your horse was going (largely because it wasn't).

It was the era when commentators could be rather economical, theatrically creating the impression of a close finish when one did not actually exist. Derek Thompson still tries this, but it's not quite as effective when you can see what's happening yourself.

Stephen Atkin, the chief executive of the Racecourse Association (RCA), confirmed yesterday that no progress has been made since talks with the Confederation of Bookmaker Associations collapsed late last week. "We're pretty much where we were on Friday," he said. "We are available for meetings, but there are none planned at the moment. Our AGM is tomorrow where the matter will be discussed.

"Nothing has changed. The RCA are here to talk but we have not got any [meetings] planned. I am always hopeful, but I am not over optimistic."

The racecourses are chasing a pot of £35m a year, based on £4,000 per betting shop, while, according to them, the bookmakers' offer does not even breach £20m. The RCA chairman, Keith Brown, says his figure amounts to around 65p per race. It sounds small, but there are a lot of 65p's out there.

Bookmakers have offered £3,500 per race shown in betting shops – not including races on the BBC and Channel 4 – for three afternoon meetings during the week, four on Saturdays and Bank Holidays, and three in the evenings.

Even the apparatus of payment has yet to be agreed. The racecourses seek an annual figure per betting shop, while bookmakers would choose to pay by the race, and not for contests available on terrestrial television.

If the impasse remains bookmakers will be able to show only races covered on terrestrial television or those from the 10 smaller tracks signed up to GG-Media. There will also be – on a sliding scale from the mildly interesting to the downright desperate – action from Ireland, the dogs, South African racing and the usual numbers games. Those compelled to gambling on the last two should now, as always, seek help. Now we will find out if betting shops really are populated by people who would bet on flies zipping down trousers.

If it works it would be bookmaking nirvana. The industry is largely supported by helpless fools punting on horses and jockeys they know. If the same constituency can be persuaded to punt on those they don't then that will be it for those whose only touch with the sport is via the High Street.

Tomorrow the menu is likely to include Exeter, three races from Ascot and the great glory of Turffontein, Rome and Florence. Thurday though would give us the true dross, with racing pictures only from the Vaal and Grosseto, which are South Africa and Italy respectively if you are at all interested.

It cannot come to that on a long-term basis, as now the bookmakers have fixed a price on pre-race data with the BHB it would be absurd not to feed off the best racing in the land.

If there is no agreement, there will be no winners. Punters, racecourses, the levy, bookmakers and, once again, the image of racing will all suffer.

Guineas target for Fabre colt

Massalani, an unbeaten colt trained in France by André Fabre, was yesterday confirmed an intended runner in Saturday's 2000 Guineas.

The top French trainer said: "He will probably run yes, unless there is a last-minute change." But Fabre added that he hoped rain stays away.

Hill's cut Massalani's odds to 14-1 from 16-1, but there is plenty of rain forecast for the Newmarket area this week.

There were a total of 29 acceptors yesterday for the 2000 Guineas, including the favourite, Hawk Wing, from the Ballydoyle yard of Aidan O'Brien. Stablemates Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo also remain among the entries but both look set to run in the Kentucky Derby instead.