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The week started on a sombre note. On Tuesday racing bade a fond farewell to trainer, philanthropist and legendary gambler Barney Curley. His funeral was held at Our Lady Immaculate and St. Etheldreda Catholic Church, Newmarket. Sadly, Covid restrictions meant that only 50 of Barney’s family and closest friends were able to attend. Despite the fact that I’m sure there were a lot of people that would have liked to have been in there that weren’t, it was quite fitting in a way as Barney was by nature a private man. The service focused around his charity work for DAFA ( Direct Aid For Africa ) in Zambia as well as personal tributes from his close family. Those in attendance from the world of horse racing included J P McManus and Frankie Dettori. Anyone wishing to donate to DAFA in memory of Barney can do so here. https://www.dafa.ie/donate

Racing was given a huge boost when it was announced that next years Cazoo Derby at Epsom Downs Racecourse on Saturday 4th June 2022 will form part of the official Platinum Jubilee Weekend to celebrate the unprecedented 70 year reign of The Queen. In 2022, she will become the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. The official announcement with details of what is planned over the course of an extended Bank Holiday next June stated that “Her Majesty The Queen, accompanied by Members of the Royal Family, will attend The Derby at Epsom Downs”.

Not such great news from the Derby meeting this year was that viewing figures from ITV Racing were down. It was reported that the viewing figure on Derby day was 1.312 million – down from 2.28 million in 2020. The latter figure was an inflated peak given that the Oaks and Derby took place on the same day. However, Derby Day 2021’s figures were also down from previous pre-Covid years 1.742 million in 2019 and 1.788 million in 2018. Better news for ITV, terrestrial viewers and racing was that the channel will be broadcasting all seven races live each William Hillsday of the five-day festival. The racing will be on both ITV and ITV4 depending on scheduling of the Euro 2020 football fixtures. The Opening Show will be broadcast each morning of racing from Tuesday to Saturday.

There’s still some confusion and debate around the starting price of the winner of this year’s Cazoo Derby, the Adam Kirby ridden, Godolphin owned and Charlie Appleby trained Adayar. Quite how the winner returned an SP of 16/1 having been 40/1 minutes before the off is still a mystery. The mystery part of it is that none of the major bookmakers appeared to have laid the winner but still slashed their prices.

According to a piece written by Chris Cook for the Racing Post, David Stevens of Coral said they hadn’t laid it, in fact the result had been the best in an assumed not unsubstantial book. The plot thickened when Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes said the 16/1 winner had also been the best result in their book too. At last, the winner wasn’t the best result in William Hills’ book, it was second best though according to Rupert Adams of the firm. Paul Binfield of Paddy Power did admit to laying a bit each-way but then added that the winner was still a ‘good enough’ result for the firm. While not claiming to be in the same league as the aforementioned betting Goliaths, Star Sports do take some massive bets. Indeed, they laid a bet of £600,000 – £400,000 the favourite in the Derby. The biggest bet they took was £75 each-way at 33/1 that despite an offer to lay any horse to win £10,000 ‘off the show’. 

As Chris alluded to in his article, it appeared that all the support had come from a move on the betting exchanges which the big firms, most of whose prices we must assuRacime make up the Industry SP just followed it down without actually laying the horse. It’s a fair guess that the amount needed to shorten one from 40/1 to 16/1 in the Derby on the win book of the exchanges must have been fairly substantial. However, it must leave a bit of a question mark of how much it would take to trim a price on the exchanges and thus of that of the off-course bookies and ultimately the Industry SP at a mid-week meeting. There appears to be little transparency now that the racecourse bookmakers have been jettisoned, firstly by Covid necessity and latterly by design, from their traditional role of returned the Starting Prices from racecourse.

The build-up to Royal Ascot has been reaching fever-pitch though it’s not quite given the overkill of Cheltenham. Royal Ascot preview nights have yet to become a thing, but the racing is as equally anticipated by flat aficionados. This will be the second year in a row that I’ve not be in attendance but have lucky to have been to at least one day of the Royal Meeting for most years since the early 1990’s. It certainly is an event all of its own. Not only is it genuinely exclusive, you can’t just buy a ticket for the Royal Enclosure for example. It’s almost unique in it’s dress requirements, Gentleman also have to wear Morning Dress in the Queen’s Stand at Epsom. Of course, it’s the top-class racing that is the main attraction for people that like a bet. This year the seven-race card per day from last year’s behind closed doors meeting have been made permanent extending by one race a day from the traditional six. As a betting meeting it’s undoubtably the biggest of the flat season. The high-rolling punters are often keen to open their shoulders and up their stakes while the bookies keener to take them on. 

There will be only 12,000 paying customers allowed per day so much of the betting will be done off course. Some of the UK’s top charities are in line for a major cash boost after the country’s biggest betting operators agreed to donate their profits from the Britannia Stakes, run on Thursday, 17th June.

You can rest assured that will be the only benevolence shown by the bookmakers in what promises to be a week of spirited betting ahead of us. Bring it on. 

Simon Nott

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