BBC SPotY: A Worthy Winner in a Stellar Field

Tony McCoy

Tony McCoy wins BBC SPotY 2010

At least, dear reader, at last! Horse racing, in the form of AP McCoy, received recognition in the wider sports arena last night, as the brilliant Ulsterman repelled what might well have been the best shortlist for the award ever.

There were no ice skaters (with apologies to ice dance fans), there were no royals (with apologies to sporting royalists), and there were no footballers up for the main gong (no apology required) either.

But there were nine true sports stars, with robust credentials to be on the podium. Just whisking through the list doesn't really give enough context to the depth of the competition last night. Graeme Swann, England's spin doctor, was tenth of the ten candidates, which says a lot.

The remaining octet comprised three time young spoty (or should that be spotty?), Tom Daley, who continues to develop to be the best in his game since Greg Louganis. Who? Check this out...

And if you think this is a sport for wooses, you're only part right! Check this out, especially the second one... (!)

Double Ouch!

Then there was the golfing duo, one of whom has usurped Tiger Woods as the World Number One (in fairness, largely due to Tiger spending too much time making other kinds of stroke), and the other who won the US Open and sunk a really tough putt to win the Ryder Cup, when it all came down to that putt. No pressure. Ahem. Hats off to both Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell.

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What about the new British heavyweight champion of the world, who talks the talk and walks the walk? Or the brilliant Manxman cyclist who 'only' won FIVE stages of this year's Tour de France, including the one most coveted by sprinters, on the Champs Elysee in Paris?

Then there were the ladies, fantastic in both form and achievement. Jess Ennis is a brilliant heptathlete, a true gold prospect for 2012, and a lovely down to earth lass; Amy slides down toboggan runs face first at ninety miles an hour, trains on concrete in a West country park... and is the Olympic gold medalist. There's a book and a film in that girl!

And of course there's the inimitable and, in his own way, equally brilliant Phil 'The Power' Taylor, a man who has as many championships in his sport as McCoy does in racing. He was the one guy on the night who came across as having a huge  personality, and just generally being a nice bloke.

But then, I think these were all nice blokes and blokesses. Like I say, aside from the inclusion of Zara presenting an award, and William reading off an autocue for Beckham's lifetime achievement (I love the man, but lifetime achievement?), it was bereft of the usual BBC luvvies and niche elitist sports... with the exception of the skeleton bob!

Anyway, the above is to highlight what was a truly deserving field. The man who polled the fewest votes, probably because he didn't turn up, was David Haye, and he'd have been a worthy enough winner. Next in was Graeme Swann, also absent due to some unfinished business down under, and he too could have had a case made for victory (though not the most robust case, in truth).

From position eight to position two in the votes - Amy Williams, Mark Cavendish, Tom Daley, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Jessica Ennis and Phil Taylor - there was real class at every turn. Real class.

But get this. Phil Taylor's second place polled 72,095 votes. AP McCoy's win polled over FOUR TIMES as many, with 293,152 votes. That's right on 42% of the total votes cast went to our man.

So, we did it! (And we could have mostly saved ourselves 15p).

Geegeez, and I'm sure all of its readers, sends Tony their heartiest congratulations. The key here is that, knowing a tiny inkling of the man, he probably didn't want to do this for himself, but rather for the sport. It's my contention that he was actually the figurehead here for a massive PR coup by Racing For Change (well done, RFC, I never thought I'd say that!)

They put him forward. They put him through all the PR videos, the interviews, and so on. They, helped by the fact that business is too skint to, sponsored races with names like 'Vote AP for SPotY' selling stakes. And they pulled off, as I say, a well executed coup.

The political animal in me (it's only very small, more a political amoeba really) is concerned about where RFC goes next, as the fact that it was so easy for them to get races named in McCoy's honour speaks volumes for the number of unsponsored races, which in turns illustrates the dwindling numbers of racecourse visitors.

And... I never thought I'd say this, because I'm just thrilled to be involved in any kind of racehorse ownership, but... Prize money is currently a massive issue.

In other words, we have a worthy champion, in a sport that is rapidly falling apart. All of the grit and grace of our top equine and human pugilists can only veneer so much of the inherent issues lurking a strip of paper beneath the surface.

Racing needs to change infrastructurally, and fundamentally. I'll post on that in the New Year more comprehensively most likely, but for now I'll say this.

There is too much racing (ironic I know, given that all of it has been called off for a few days!). And there is too much low grade racing only hosted to keep betting shops open.

That betting shops are a borderline anachronism with the massive influence of online and telephone betting (and the parallel rise of the roulette machines responsible for most of the revenues in betting shops themselves now).

They, the betting shops, don't need live racing any more. And we do have way too many tracks. The simple rules of supply and demand are at play here and, like the greyhound racing circuit (though hopefully not to the same extent), horse racing needs to rationalise. To, god help me, downsize.

Enough for now. Unless you have a view... in which case leave a comment below.

Happy Monday,


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33 replies
  1. Avatar
    Ricardo says:

    BBC, Ch4, attheraces & Racing UK no wonder! Why can’t i watch every race i want to on whichever channel i want to free? I have rarely seen Racing UK & am not impressed & it’s certailny not worth the money. Atheraces generally is excellent, CH4 & BBC coverage of some major meetings is very good & gives a different angle with more focus on major races & is a bit more entertaining. In short all races should be available on attheraces with Ch4 & BBC showing major meetings all free. Prize money should be on a fixed scale basis & more faily distributed so lower grades get a better share, it’s one extreme to the other now, heavily over biased to the top grades, 1m for the national totally ridiculous. I’m sure many would run for nothing just for the glory of winning, as many of the top horses are owned by fabulously wealthy individuals who are not in it for the money. Too many races? well just a few, perhaps limit the number of meetings per day & give them a day off every week, say monday, respite for jockeys trainers, stable staff and punters whose brains are increasingly scambled by information overlode. In short there is too much, too fast & for too long, in summer racing can start at 11am & continue to 9pm! More quality less quantity.

  2. Avatar
    Michael M says:

    Is not Victoria Pendleton a very prominent cycling world champion in the UK ? Did Paul “GAZZA ” Gascoigne ever win this award ,or a drinking trophy at the local ?

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Michael. Yes to the first question, and yes to the second as well. Gazza won this in 1990 after a rather gallant World Cup performance. Of course, it was all downhill after that (to this day).

      Come on Gazza, pull yourself together mate. Top player, top man, but sort your life out!

  3. Avatar
    Chris O'Bee says:

    For once a degree of sense prevailed in the SPOTY award. AP and Phil Taylor long overdue recognition, Jess Ennis a worthy third.
    Finding the value though was a pretty thankless task with AP as short as 2/1 back in July, of course on the night that looked a massive price! But, back in July good old Betfred went 80/1 on Jess Ennis so that’s where my ew fiver ended up so with the first 2 thoroughly deserving their awards and Jess third it could hardly have been a better result though in fact of course speaking purely from the wallet it could have been much better !
    As for racing then few could argue that many days are pure dross. Monday is invariably dire and introducing Horse Racing on a Sunday has never really made sense to me at least. It’s no coincidence that aside from the big meetings Saturday is the only day I really focus on Racing helped greatly by the excellent and free Key Racing News ( feel free to delete of course if I’m “advertising” without authority ! ) .
    I may also be in a minority when I say holding the King George V1 chase on Boxing Day is not ideal, thankfully even my Mum has heard of Kauto Star so I might be allowed to watch it whilst eating another turkey sandwich !!
    Have a great Christmas and New Year all !

    Chris O’Bee

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Chris

      Whilst I agree with the doing away with Monday racing, Sunday racing is about getting people to the track when they can go to the track. It’s no surprise that, in ticket sales terms, it’s been a huge hit. Ditto King George on Boxing Day. Whilst some have family obligations (like you and me!), the crowds at Kempton on 26th are monster, and it is a true sporting tradition that has not been diluted by time or choice, which really is something to be delighted about!


  4. Avatar
    John Collinson says:

    Really pleased AP won, what a landslide victory- I voted 4 times and I suspect JP McManus and his other racing pals had their friends ringing all night – good for them – the right result.
    Regarding racing in the UK it’s obvious that the only long term solution to racings financial problems is for an off course tote monopoly. Look at France, admission prices are incredibly low. For example, Arc day costs something like £2 to get in and yet the prize money in France is higher than here. They have numerous racecourses operating in the provinces and so in the UK we would not necessarily have to close too many of our courses. If the only bookmaking was on course, this, coupled with sensible admission prices, would also encourage more people to go racing.

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Interesting, and slightly controversial point, John. Personally, I don’t actually feel bookies would be too concerned about that, for reasons already outlined regarding the limited off course racing take and the diversification into machines, virtual betting and the ubiquitous growth of sports betting (especially football).

      I have some strong views on how to make the Tote much more profitable, which I’ll maybe share another day. The management summary however is stop trying to compete with the National Lottery. Racing is a game of skill interspersed with luck, and Tote games / dividends should recognise that and be pitched according. (10p minimum Scoop6 stake would triple the pools overnight; a daily Pick 3 or 4 – mini jackpot – would be a serious rival to the placepot in terms of popularity due to the combination of payout and ‘gettability’).


  5. Avatar
    sim says:

    Hi Matt,
    Great post yet again,
    Although it was quite some line up of personalities, there really was no comparison, to a bloke who risks his neck day in day out for the love of his sport, i suppose Phil the Power was the closest contender, but can Darts really be considered a sport, i mean if he were to win, then we would be having the best domino’s player next year.
    As for the quality of racing, i rarely enter a bookies these days (due mainly to the interweb), but when i have nobody really seems interested in the horses as they are too busy playing the roullette machines.
    Also perhaps RFC should look to see why punters are not attending racing venues, i’m pretty sure cost would be up towards the top, not only entrance fee’s, but food & drink.

  6. Avatar
    Chris O'Bee says:

    Hi Matt,
    I’m probably a dinosaur particularly in terms of Sunday racing, if it serves the purpose of drawing large crowds then great, do away with Monday racing and let that be a day of rest !
    However, I can attend Kempton Park probably 355-360 days of the year, Boxing Day I can’t so will probably never attend the Boxing Day meeting. Of course the old agage ” if it ain’t broke don’t fix it ” is a fair enough point but would it not be true that a large crowd would attend say on New Year’s Day ?
    Just my opinion, I did say in my previous message I might be in the minority but then I often am !



    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Chris

      I think the problem with racing at the moment is that a number of core elements currently ARE broke (as well as broken), so my focus would be elsewhere, were it down to me… thank modern wonders for video and internet playback, these days!


  7. Avatar
    David F says:

    One thing which irks me is that on some days there are no meetings in a reasonable travelling distance, especially those days when more or less everyone has the time to attend should they wish.

    A seasonal case in point is the New Years Day meetings. From memory there is nothing in the south east where I live. My nearest meeting is up in Fakenham, over 100 miles and nigh on two hours drive away. This may sound like sour grapes on my part but from a marketing point of view it is ridiculous. An entertainment/sporting industry wishing maximise attendance and income should not ignore, arguably the most prosperous, one-sixth of the population.

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi David

      It’s another interesting point. I think one of the questions I’d ask is that, whilst there’s no doubting the relative wealth of the southeast, I wonder what percentage of them are regular racegoers. I don’t actually know the answer to that, so it may be that those numbers back up your point still further.

      But I can say that Bournemouth, where I come from, is a very wealthy town, but it struggles to get 6,000 to watch football there and has very rarely been higher than the third tier of English football as a result. Affluence and apathy often go hand in hand, alas.


  8. Avatar
    Steve Crewe says:

    Hi Matt,

    Sorry didn’t see the show, seeing as how I live on the other side of the world, but a very worthy winner indeed.

    Quite agree with that there is far too much racing, especially of low quality. I remember that when I first took an interest over 50 years ago, racing was by no means a daily affair, nor for that matter was there ANY professional sports on a Sunday, or any AW racing.

    While I don’t entirely blame the introduction of AW racing for the decline in quality racing, it certainly started from around that time – LIngfield was the first track if I remember rightly. Of course there were poor class races on turf – follow Todd in Sellers was a profitable venture – but not whole cards dedicated to horses that in those days would have been pulling carts around the streets; the original Chester Tradesman’s Plate was for horses that had worked in harness during the year, and that was the ONE poor race at the May meeting (the only one of the year) .

    Perhaps we could lose a few more courses, but we have rationalised over the years: Ally Pally, Hurst Park, Lincoln, Manchester, Wolverhampton (turf & NH) being just a few that I remember.

    Sorry to go on for a first comment, but keep up the good work, as I enjoy your little pieces.


    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Steve

      Welcome to the commentator’s section! Nice to have your thoughts in line.

      I think the advent of all weather racing is, in the main, a good thing, though I don’t agree with the frequency of poor quality fare at those tracks. You’ve only to look at the success of some of the handicappers here who have gone on to massive success in the States, and were simply overlooked as moderate all weather handicappers here.

      My favourite example is a chap called Hail The Chief – his Racing Post form is here:

      You’ll note that he went from being stuffed in the Cambridgeshire on turf to winning a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 in the US. He wasn’t the best all weather horse here at the time, but did have some of the more adventurous connections, who were handsomely rewarded for their opportunism.

      I’d not heard of the Chester Tradesman’s Plate – that’s something extremely interesting to me, and I might do a little research and post on it in a future piece.

      Thanks again for your comment, and don’t be shy in adding further insights. Same goes for all you other commenting ‘virgins’! 😉


  9. Avatar
    Peter says:

    One point often missed is that the bookies DO need horse racing. This is the difference between their licence and the fruity licences for arcades and pubs. Without that element they would be back on the % payout machines and £70 jackpots.

  10. Avatar
    David F says:

    Hi Matt

    I take your point about Bournemouth, affluence and apathy – it’s not been the same since Harry left 🙂 – but I was talking about racing in general. During the rest of the year I’m sure there are other areas of the country similarly ignored on certain days.

    As for the new year, hopefully as many as attend Kempton on Boxing day would turn up. At the moment the racing industry is guaranteed zero.

  11. Avatar
    Nigel says:

    Greg Louganis hitting his head was one of the biggest disgraces in the sport and I’m sure Mr Daley would not want to follow his example. Mr Louganis failed to mention to anyone that he was carrying the AIDS virus and after hitting his head, proceeded to get treatment and continued his dive, I’m sure Tom Daley has more class and integrity than that.

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Nigel

      I’m not entirely sure of your point here, but if I think I understand it correctly, you’re suggesting that nobody should ever go to a public swimming pool again, because there’s a possibility that someone there might have some sort of virus of any description. Is that right? Or have I misinterpreted the usual newsreel sensationalist claptrap? 😉


  12. Avatar
    Craig says:

    Another excellent post Matt.

    I don’t think there is too much racing. It is entirely self-regulating and the supply of races is determined by owners, trainers and courses who will either turn up at the track to compete for £1,500 in a Class 6 handicap at Wolverhampton or they won’t.

    If they do (and they do every day!), then that is their choice and unless and until they decide not to supply their horses to compete in these races, they shouldn’t be forced to keep their horses as pets by those who don’t want to bet in their races anyway! There are 100’s of horses which make a career from running in low grade races on the artificial surfaces (I hesitate to call them ‘all weather’ tracks given they can’t cope with snow and ice). What would happen to them if there was a big reduction in the number of meetings? Considering that people are claiming there is too much racing, how come so many class five and six races are still attracting over ten runners despite the paucity of prize money? It is becasuse connections WANT to run their horses, whether for the ‘sport’ or in order to make money in the betting markets by setting up a gamble. Prize money is not that big a deal when there is half a million ppounds being traded on a race where the winner only gets enough from the sponsor to keep his nosebag topped up for a month!

    I also wonder if prize money would necessarily increase for having less racing. If a sponsor deems it commercially attractive to advertise themselves for a couple of grand in a horse race, they aren’t suddenly going to sponsor a race for five grand simply because there are less races. They’ll go and spend their advertising budget on another sport or maybe buy some space/airtime in a local newspaper or radio station.

    So leave well alone in my opinion and things will evolve naturally. I don’t think it will be long before there are no on course bookmakers at Southwell, Kempton, Lingfield and Wolves. These very regular meetings will become like the dog tracks are now. Racing purely for the purposes of Betfair and online betting. And I see nothing wrong with that. As a gambler I can decide whether to have a bet or not and frankly it is often a lot easier to find value and profit at these courses than it is at the high profile meetings. If I (and many others) had to rely only on a few meetings a week it would be even more difficult to make a profit from racing, because for the serious bettor, being selective is essential. The less races there are, the less opportunities there are to find profitable angles into a race and the more pointless my existence becomes!

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Some great points, Craig. As an owner – along with 49 others – of the Geegeez geegee, Khajaaly, who won a Class 6 handicap at Wolverhampton the other day for very little money, I can tell you that the prize money was as insignificant as who finished last in the race to us.

      We were absolutely thrilled just to win a race (now, two races!), despite the return per 2% member being something around £40 of their initial investment of £700. And that’s the point. We didn’t / don’t get involved to make money from the prize money. Whether that’s the way it should be or not is somewhat moot, as we accept on entry that we’ll ‘lose’ money.

      Being a part-owner in a horse is a pleasure, a thrill, a hobby, a pastime, some sport. But it is NOT a money-making vehicle. Never has been, I don’t think. So yes, whilst the lowly level of prize money does seem odd in absolute terms, in the context of why we’re in racehorse ownership, it is almost entirely irrelevant.

      Of course, whilst we’d like to make money from owning horses – who wouldn’t? – we’re all smart enough to know that if the horse wins (as it has done twice), we’ll bag a few times our stakes (or 25 times as it turned out, sweet beautiful joy) and consider ourselves many times blessed.

      There are definitely great opportunities from the relative lowliness of the class of racing – such as 4/1 early about Khajaaly on his second win, most likely because the bookies’ odds compilers were quite rightly pre-occupied with pricing up Cheltenham’s A-List racing – but that in itself is not a justification for retaining so much of it.

      Owners continuing to run their horses when there’s £500 up for grabs if they win will be an acid test. There is evidence of more owners leaving the sport, but that has to be considered in the macro-economic context (didn’t think I’d ever write that in a blog!) where businesses are going pop left, right and sideways.

      It will be more instructive to see if the tide turns for racing when the wider economic tide becomes more favourable…

      Good stuff, Craig. Thanks!


  13. Avatar
    John says:

    Always a good read, noted the comment abouts about French racing. There is much to admire about much that the French do, unfortunatly it seems that it has become the norm for many to be disparaging about any thing and every thing that they say or do. Would that this country were in any way superior to them, then I might understand why we assume we are right about everything and the French are a bunch of idiots. Perhaps we should start by not wasting so much horse flesh and start tucking in to a few plates full, very nice eating in my humble opinion.

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      I’m a pronounced francophile, John (that’s pronounced frank oh file – the old ones are the best ones!)

      But…. I draw the line at scoffing horse. It may well be tasty (though I heard it was more akin to shoe leather, not that I’ve ever tried that either), but the very thought that it’s a nag would be enough to make me gag.


  14. Avatar
    Sholto says:

    Hi Matt
    I agree with Craig’s comments entierly.
    Perhaps the controling bodies of the sport should put more effort into weeding out the scumbags to make it more staight and not try to fix something that ant broke.


  15. Avatar
    Kevin says:

    Hi Matt,

    I’ve never seen so many responses to a post!

    Firstly, so glad to see AP get his award but as you say I think the RFC marketing was instrumental in it.

    Secondly, too much racing? Definitely! Didn’t the recent Cheltenham meeting just show what was possible if trainers had much less choice about where to run their horses. How many top class races have four, five or six runners only? I even remember a Peterborough Chase with two runners not so long ago.

    We need a racing programme that provides something everyday but without all the unnecessary padding. Racing’s idea that putting on additional races would increase the levy just doesn’t work. It just diluted the product and made it more difficult to follow. Racing and racing form is all about context. If you don’t understand the context of a race (the form of the runners today compared to the conditions of today’s race) how can you have an opinion and express it in the form of a bet? Racing seemed to think we were all compulsive mug punters!

    I only bet on the jumps these days because I just don’t have time to look at the flat, and now due to home and work comitments I only look at the top class action. In my case additional races have reduced to less betting NOT more!

    None of the above resolves the fundamental funding issue though. While ever the majority of money staked on horses goes into the bookies and exchanges pockets our sport will steadily die and become more susceptable to corruption. We need to adopt the Tote only model that Hong Kong, France, etc. have as they have top class racing, good prize money and cheap admission prices. If we did this we could keep all our tracks as well. France has literally hundreds!

    I don’t buy into that bookmaker claptrap of the lack of bookies reducing the atmosphere. I’ve been racing in both countries and good class racing produces good crowds and good atmosphere.

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Kevin

      Yes, there are occasionally more replies than this, but never so many excellent impassioned views on the sport we clearly all love, whether it’s from betting, spectating or both.

      A tote monopoly is probably idealistic, given the rise and rise the betting exchange, and that’s something the sport’s governors (and the country’s) will need to chew on at length…


  16. Avatar
    Dave says:

    While it was great to see AP win, at the end of the day it was simply down to racing doing a better job than other sports in promoting it’s candidate.

    Pat on the back to RFC for mobilising the racing constituency but a somewhat hollow victory when you consider how it was achieved. Any award that allows multiple voting has to be flawed.

    It will be interesting to see next years SPOTY as RFC have highlighted how the outcome can be manipulated. Which sport next year will decide SPOTY is marketing money well spent.

    Will AP’s win make a real difference to the sport in the long run. Probably not.

    Maybe I’m taking it all too seriously 🙂

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Dave

      Maybe you’re taking it all too cynically. 😉 While I’m confident you’re right about RFC doing the best job of mobilising support for their candidate, that’s partly to do with the apathy and/or minority nature of fans of other sports. That in itself is a pat on the back for racing.

      As regards the more pertinent (in my opinion) question of whether the award will make a difference in the long run, can you remember a sport of any discipline that had a broader global reach as a result of a SPotY winner? It tends to be the other way round, alas. So I’m with you there.


  17. Avatar
    john cutler says:

    What is happening like you said the big bookies do not give a dam about the general run of the mill player even Ladbrookes have decided to drop the yearlly dairy with/which gives the dates & fixtures.
    Could someone suggest were one can obtain a racing dairy for 2011 giving this information.
    Merry xmas
    best regards

  18. Avatar
    Dave says:

    Can’t beat a bit of healthy cynicism now and again Matt 😉

    Don’t get me wrong by the way as I am in no way decrying AP here or RFC. Better racing than another sport and am genuinely pleased for AP that he won. His record speaks for itself and the way he conducts himself is an example some other sportsmen would do well to follow.

    PS – John, keep your eye on e-bay as there are usually a few bookmaker diaries being sold fairly cheaply at this time of year.

  19. Avatar
    peter glossop says:

    Hi Matt,

    Not read all your replies but I visit betting shops most days of the week and the majority of people in there are there for horse racing. The bookies as usual want it their way. Take racing away and watch them scream. We had a great opportunity with the tote sale for racing to take over betting for the good of racing.

    My opinion is that racing like many other things in this country is run by too many toffs who feed their own wishes at the expense of the vast majority. Yes too much poor racing and no intelligent organisation. But it is still jobs for the boys so it will NOT change

  20. Avatar
    chas says:

    to j cutler corals –p power have diaries matt the bookies who have overseas licences should be forced to pay 50 %of all taking s to the bhb and the bhb should put it back into prize money also cut back on paying thousands for the top races give that back to group 5 6 races keep up the good work matt merry xmas and a prosperous new year chas

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Chas

      Definitely agree that the offshore mob should be made to pay something, but of course it’s very hard / impossible to police that, unfortunately. Doesn’t seem right. Perhaps they should be banned from advertising unless they pay appropriate taxes. It’s hard to make money with no new customers, even if you are dodging your responsibilities offshore.


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