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Monday Musings: Taxing Matters Pre-Cheltenham

It was good to see that Denise Coates, boss and joint founder of Bet 365, was still smiling (ish!) in the picture accompanying the story that she is once again the highest taxpayer in the UK, writes Tony Stafford. Not just the leader, but the Stoke-on-Trent based magnate has more than doubled her 2018-19 payment to HMRC of £276million. This time round it was a mind-boggling £573 million.

Fred Done of Betfred fame by comparison is a well-beaten third – behind distiller Glenn Gordon – on £191 million, showing if ever we doubted it that there’s generally only one side of the betting argument you want to be on and that’s not the punters’.

Talking of punters, many of the more successful ones – a large number of whom are paying subscribers on this site – complain these two firms are very selective about what bets and how much of them they care to accept liability.

Both are massive companies, especially Bet 365, even if their support of Stoke City FC hasn’t been over-successful in terms of results – I’d be amazed if their fans didn’t encourage Denise to open up her purse-strings an inch or two for today’s Deadline Day.

As its regular TV advertisements pronounce, they have 53 million customers around the world. Paddy Power/Betfair, the main domestic (Irish and UK) elements, along with Skybet, in Flutter.com, claim to have 13 million customers world-wide.

The Flutter.com site explains that their business, based in Dublin, obviously the home of Paddy Power (some of whose ads I love, much more than the exaggerated Cockney delivery of actor Ray Winstone – maybe he can’t help himself) is in five divisions.

Division I is Paddy Power/Betfair. Division 2 is TSG which includes the Stars Group containing Poker Stars. Division 3 is Sky Betting and another television stalwart, Jeff Stelling, is currently exhorting viewers to join the half a million customers that are accepting their policy of agreeing deposit limits in the admirable aim of protecting punters’ finances.

Their Division 4 embraces Australia’s major companies Sportsbet and Easybet while in the US Division 5 is earmarked as a major growth area. There, Flutter.com embraces Fanduel, FoxBet, the race broadcast company TVG, Poker Stars, and Betfair. They are concentrating on “online retail sports and online gaming and poker”. They claim to be the leading online sportsbook and casino operator in the rapidly expanding US market.

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So that’s Flutter.com with its millions of clients and no doubt Paddy Power, as the instigator of it all, has to pay a few Euro in his homeland to satisfy the authorities while clearly having financial obligations on this side of the water, too. Whatever the story, his very public face deserves to be the focal point for the sort of astonishingly questionable treatment of one of Betfair Sportsbook’s regular customers I learned about over the past week or so. No doubt, many others have similar tales to relate.

On Friday January 22, this customer, a former racecourse bookmaker, requested £100 each way at SP, on Bullion Boss, trained by Nicky Richards in a race at Musselburgh. He finished second at 3-1 favourite. Betfair Sportsbook was only prepared to lay him £3 each way.

On Friday at Doncaster he requested a £200 win bet on Donladd, again at SP. Donladd finished second at 8-1. The would-be customer was offered £1.25 win at SP.

Yesterday he wanted to back Escaria Ten, a chaser trained by Gordon Elliott for the three-mile novice chase at Naas for which the gelding was the morning third favourite in an eight-horse field. He asked for £150 each way at SP. They offered £4.67 each way.

Further, on the same horse ante-post in the National Hunt Novice Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, for which the gelding was priced up in their non-runner no bet market at 16-1, he again requested £150 each-way. He was offered 63p each-way!

Escaria Ten ran a very good race, finishing a closing runner-up to all-the-way winner Eklat De Rire and Rachael Blackmore, but ahead of his own stable-companion and the narrow favourite, Pencilfulloflead.

Judged on this performance you would have to say Escaria Ten has many of the credentials for staying the extra six furlongs of the Cheltenham race. No doubt Betfair Sportsbook will be thinking of trimming those odds. If my informer contacts them again, maybe they will increase his ante-post bet to £1 each-way, although whether they will be prepared to take on the extra risk is another question!

A month ago, I marvelled at the debut hurdles performance of the Ellemarie Holden-trained French Aseel, a son of French Fifteen who beat 17 others at Leopardstown by 22 lengths and upwards.  Predictably the Holden family seized the chance to take a profit on a horse they’d acquired at Arqana last summer for €62k.

He now resides in Willie Mullins’ stable and will probably take his next step towards the Triumph Hurdle at the Dublin Festival fixture back at Leopardstown next weekend.  A 6-1 chance at present, if French Aseel can beat the current market leader, Zanahiyr, in what is always a decent trial, he will surely go to the Festival as the hot favourite.

Naas provided a clue yesterday when the Dermot Weld-trained Coltor, who was runner-up on their respective debuts but by a margin that could easily have been increased a good deal had Denis O’Regan wished, won the juvenile hurdle from 17 rivals. As with all similar races at the major Irish tracks, the race was full of classy graduates from some of the top Irish Flat-race stables.

One big Cheltenham question was answered in the affirmative by Shishkin in the Lightning Chase at Doncaster on Saturday. The narrow winner of a very competitive Supreme Novice Hurdle last year, from Abracadabas, stable-companion Chantry House, and Asterion Forlonge, Shishkin had been sent straight over fences, echoing the previous Nicky Henderson pattern with Altior five years earlier, indeed in the same Kempton race.

An easy debut win and an equally facile follow up also at the Sunbury course sent him on his way and, although faced with only three opponents on Saturday, they were all decent animals. He was a 1-7 shot which seemed skinny enough but the way in which he asserted and drew clear after halfway was reminiscent of his eminent predecessor, almost making those odds look generous.

Now firmly odds on for the Arkle at the Festival he will be most people’s banker of the meeting, if such a thing still exists, and deservedly so.

The most valuable prize on offer in Europe over the weekend was not for a flat or jumps race but the €1 million total prize for what by my calculation was the 100th running of the Prix d’Amerique, trotting’s biggest race of the year in Vincennes, Paris.

Begun in 1920, it was halted for only two years during the early phase of World War 2 and its history is littered with many famous names. In the years before all-weather racing started – so pre-1990 – there was an attempt to educate the UK betting public in the winter to bet on French trotting.

I well recall Vincennes race programmes being published in The Sporting Life newspaper as winters in those days could be more severe than now, although this one is having a good go at following their example.

In the years coming up to 1990 I remember the name Ourasi, winner of three in a row, 1986-8, plus 1990 to make it a record fourth win, around the time that Conrad Allen was cheering home the first winner of the all-weather era at Lingfield Park. [I was delighted that his Little Eva, owned by Simon Lockyer, won at Lingfield for him on Friday and she could be one to follow in the coming weeks.]

Yesterday’s Prix d’Amerique’s winner, despite another 18-horse field, was never in doubt. A six-year-old, Face Time Bourbon had won last year’s big race and was a 4-6 chance to follow up. In almost Shishkin mode he went comfortably for home in the 2700-metre race at the entrance to the home straight and was never troubled in picking up the €450,000 first prize.

Now a winner of 19 of his 21 races – he was second in the other two – he was the automatic choice for most punters in France in the race which attracts even more betting revenue every year than the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. A son of another dual winner, Ready Cash, Face Time Bourbon is still an entire, so the demand for his services – trotting horses are usually artificially inseminated and often race on while their sperm is harvested– will be immense.

- TS