Chris McGrath: Then or now, it's never been so good

Inside Track

They say never look a gift horse in the mouth, and no wonder.

By the time the one that appeared at Leopardstown on Wednesday had its jaws prised open, the only surgeon willing to take on the dental repairs was Dr Hugo Z Hackenbush.

Of course, those who collectively matched £800,000 at the price must have known that nobody would deliberately expose himself to potential liabilities of £600m, at 28-1, against a 13-8 chance who had already jumped the last in a clear lead. And few, however vexed, could be genuinely surprised when Betfair voided all "in-running" bets on Voler La Vedette's race.

Lawyers have doubtless been perusing the exchange's rules in the meantime. But whatever options might remain, ethically the situation looks pretty analogous to the betting shop punter who backs Manchester City for the Premier League and finds that the clerk has absent-mindedly scrawled odds of 100-1 on his voucher, instead of 10-11. Bookmakers have rules to deal explicitly with "palpable error", albeit these should hardly be necessary. No honest punter would seriously expect to be paid at 100-1. The historic lifeblood of betting, after all, has been a bond of probity between backer and layer.

That is especially true of credit betting. On an exchange, however, there is no credit – which is why all this has come as such a shock to the system. Ostensibly backer and layer nowadays trade more intimately than ever, bringing nothing to the transaction but funds immediately transferable between their accounts. Moreover, it turns out that all those comforting, traditional precepts of trust governing backer and layer are often being applied between backer and "robot". Software programmes, which automatically detect trading opportunities, are now so commonplace that one such "bot" allowed even a small-time player, with less than £1,000 in his account, to perpetrate this fiasco.

However innocent the circumstances, and however infinite the odds against a recurrence, this has become a mortifying ordeal for Betfair. In the first place, a freakish technical glitch infected the layer's own software; but it was obligingly reciprocated by Betfair's own system, in permitting his account to exceed its exposure so outrageously.

But Betfair has been too brilliant a success for the model to be depicted, overnight, as fatally flawed. And if naïve users are startled to discover they have been betting against robots, then they can take comfort from the fact that those at the sharp end of this surreal episode are divided merely by extremes of opportunism. For even if the system is being routinely manipulated, it is not as if the odds are somehow distorted. Some might even say you're better off betting against a machine than a human being. For the time being, at least, machines remain immune to greed or corruption.

It has been a curious way to end another vintage year on the Turf. Its first Classic was won in stupefying fashion by a colt candidly reckoned "the best we've seen" by Sir Henry Cecil; and its final, dark days were illuminated by a steeplechaser who can himself have few precedents, certainly not measured by sheer durability. Of course, the sport remains prey to an incorrigible tendency to pronounce its latest champion as the best. In their different disciplines, people have almost simultaneously proposed Galileo as the greatest stallion ever; his half-brother, Sea The Stars, as invincible; Zarkava as the best European filly; Zenyatta as the best American mare. (It will duly be seen as impossible to identify even the best female foaled within a 15-month period whose name begins in Z and ends in A.) Now, in a single year, we add Kauto Star as superior to Arkle, and Frankel superior to Secretariat. It would be nice if the sport resolved in 2012 to take better care of its own dignity, and that of the breed itself; to avoid too many fatuous, unprovable comparisons between generations; and simply to give proper, respectful testimony to the privilege of witnessing glory here and now.

For many, of course, the more pressing priority will be to turn over a new leaf in their wagering. The death of See You Then this week, at the grand age of 31, evoked wry memories. In one of his three consecutive Champion Hurdles, he was my first ever £5 bet; 12 months later, he was my first £200 bet. It all seemed so simple. But the opportunities since made available show that even the Voler La Vedette case, is a small price to pay. Never mind the quality of the horses. As punters, we have never had it so good.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Thats Ben (2.20 Warwick)

Point-to-point winner who has shown plenty of promise in two novice chases under Rules, travelling strongly a long way when set an extreme staying test last time, and looks well treated.

Next Best

Ballyegan (2.35 Newbury)

Slipped to a lenient mark when winning in a first-time tongue-tie at Towcester and still looks fairly rated.

One To Watch

Araucaria (Donald McCain) has not been with her trainer long and showed a lot more at Catterick during the week, outpaced over the sharp 2m before rallying for third.

Where the money's going

Coral's New Year specials include 7-4 against Frankel to remain unbeaten in 2012 (at least one run) and 8-1 that he starts odds against for any UK race.

Suggested Topics
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum