Weblog: Betting Shop Manager of the Year
Halis Karatas part of a great summer of heroes
Everyone keeps talking about this great summer of sport we are currently enjoying, but I say thank goodness for the sport, because there seems to be a distinct lack of summer to go with it!
Since I last wrote we have witnessed Andy Murray win a set in a Grand Slam final, only to be pegged back by the now peerless Roger Federer at Wimbledon. I popped in and out of the hotel pool in Majorca to try and keep an eye on the match and was quite excited about the prospect of a British winner at SW19, but it was not to be and Federer joined Pete Sampras on seven titles and takes legendary status on the ATP Tour.
I was really proud of how dignified Andy Murray was in defeat. It must be tough to be interviewed as quickly after such an epic battle and he spoke so well, surely that elusive Slam will not prove to be beyond him, and credit to Federer for the recognition of his defeated opponent.
A Murray victory would have ended a long wait for British sport, but in another discipline, Bradley Wiggins has only gone the whole hog and brought home the Tour de France. The entire team Sky will be buzzing after pulling together and making British success a reality for the first time in the 109 year history of this gruelling event. Chris Froome took the runner up position and Mark Cavendish also helped himself to a fourth consecutive final stage victory, making him the fourth highest stage winner of all time. Fingers crossed that this bodes well and is a good omen for Team GB's chances in all sports at the Olympics.
It is a shame that shop reaction to the Tour de France was so low key. I've been back at work for a week now but the only time it was really spoken about was when the idiot/idiots put the tacks on the track. Drug scandals have often blighted the Tour but for me the tacks have to be one of the lowest things I have ever seen in sport; I can only hope that those responsible are caught and feel the full wrath of the French authorities.
To put it in some sort of 'Selkirk' perspective, big George S, who has been known to crack the sickest of jokes, couldn't even make light of it, that's how bad it was.
The other Major event to finish on Sunday was of course the 141st Open from Royal Lytham. Poor Adam Scott. I honestly blame my co-Manager Allan Fox for Scott's demise with four consecutive bogeys in the final four holes. I have to tell you that Allan is far and away the unluckiest punter I know, and among others he always backs Adam Scott. I've told the story before of when Allan needed the favourite to finish in the first three of a three horse race - and it fell, but this rivals even that story.
Scott led after day one and repelled a surge on day two from Brandt Snedeker to reclaim top spot on day three. All the regulars expected the collapse to come, but when Scott stretched away again into Sunday afternoon I was persuaded to write a 'congratulatory message' on our board for Allan. It read a bit like "Breaking News- Hell has frozen over!" and went on to feature a caricature of Allan with Devil horns pronouncing he had sold his soul to Satan for the price of a winner.
We close at 6pm on a Sunday so that message was to greet him on return from his weeks holiday on Monday. I can tell you now I am glad I won't be bumping into him when he sees it; time will dull your pain buddy!
The weather has had a terrible impact all outdoor sports this summer, and racing has been hit particularly hard. I can't remember a summer with such little 'firm' in the going descriptions. That has been the least of some tracks' worries though and abandonments must be near record levels for the time of year.
The cost to the industry, from courses to bookmakers has been high, an estimated £3 million and rising according to the special report in Wednesday's Racing Post. Add to that costs of travel to the paying public and horses, trainers, owners and jockeys and it makes for bleak reading. Leicester have been hit more than most, with the last five meetings lost, so for their sake and everyone else connected with racing, we can only hope that there is a real summer on the horizon.
On then to the major talking point in the shop that greeted me on my return from holiday, the infamous Worcester boycott.
For some time we have been reading that the Horseman's Group were planning such a boycott due to prize-money falling short of their required tariff per race.
Last week it became reality and trainer and boycott organiser Charlie Mann claims the boycott to be a success. He says that Northern and Arena Group have agreed to meet their tariff on all races from 1st October, although he is hoping that this can be brought forward to 1st August and admits that future boycotts are potentially on the agenda to speed up this process at other venues.
The BHA response to the boycotts was to issue the trainers who withdrew their horses fines of £140 each, which in all reality is a token gesture as the £3,000 prize money split between them from the race more than covered that expense. The BHA did however issue a warning that any repeat of this action would result in far greater sanctions. As Jamie Stier, BHA director of raceday operations and regulation rightly pointed out: "Quite apart from the direct impact on the owners and trainers of the 19 horses who were balloted out, thereby removing any chance of their being able to run, the BHA considers the trainers' actions to be disrespectful to the racegoing and betting public".
There is very limited support for the protest action taken in Selkirk's branch of Scotbet. The vast majority of our punters are also dismayed at the levels of prize-money available, but feel that this was entirely the wrong way to go in trying to correct the matter. There are already massive drains on finances, we are in times of austerity and recession. Overheads for almost everything have rocketed and I'm sure for racecourses this is no exception. There is no argument from my punters or I that there is a problem desperately needing addressed, but it is unrealistic to think that courses like Worcester could just magically sort this long-standing problem.
Mann's response to the threat of further action did not harness any greater public support when he said "If we organise another boycott there will be other trainers involved and I take it they will then be fined £140 as well". I believe that the BHA have shown remarkable restraint and empathy while dealing with this but that should not be mistaken for being soft.
Many said when Paul Bittar was installed as BHA chief executive in January that the two biggest issues he faced was the whip ruling and the funding deficit. After many previous tweaks the whip ban was dealt with positively and decisively, to the extent where Joseph O'Brien, who copped a seven day ban for excessive use while partnering third placed St Nicholas Abbey on Saturday, said "I suppose I breached the rules and there is not a lot I can do about it now". If we remember back to when the rules were being first introduced this ban could have brought on a jockey strike.
On funding and prize-money there is now talk from the BHA of a return to "structured values". Again, no-one in the shop disputes that there is pressing issues to be dealt with here, but to rob the paying public of a race doesn't really seem to be the best way to solve the issue. This one is sure to run and run, it will be interesting to see what comes from it in the coming weeks and months.
And finally to end on a happy note. To go with Bradley Wiggins' fine success there is a story of great achievement from Halis Karatas, Turkey's top jockey. On Friday Karatas equalled Frankie Dettori's magnificent seven by going through the card with seven of his own at Veliefendi in Istanbul. It is the first time this feat has been matched since Frankie at Ascot 16 years ago and will no doubt have the Turkish layers licking their wounds for quite some time.
Now, where's my suntan cream?