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Day one betting spoils at Aintree go to bookmakers

Bookmakers held sway on day one of the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree after winners at a variety of prices.

The first half of the action belonged to former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who bagged a hat-trick as co-owner of the winners of the first three races.

Protektorat (17-2) kicked off proceedings in the SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase with a surprise victory for Dan and Harry Skelton.

Trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Harry Cobden then fired in the next two, with Monmiral (10-11 favourite) in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle and Clan Des Obeaux (5-2 favourite) in the Betway Bowl Chase.

It was a big day for Sir Alex Ferguson at Aintree
It was a big day for Sir Alex Ferguson at Aintree (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

But the last four winners went the way of the layers, as Abacadabras (5-1) in the Betway Aintree Hurdle was followed by 66-1 stunner Cousin Pascal in the Rose Paterson Randox Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase.

It was a similar story in the final two races way with Editeur Du Gite (9-1) having things all his own way in the Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase and Me Too Please (14-1) winning the Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Bumper, where evens favourite Eileendover was only fourth.

Rupert Adams of William Hill said: “It was an excellent day for us.

“Protektorat was not very well backed whereas Hitman and The Shunter were in that race. We got off to a flier and it carried on.

“Clan Des Obeaux was not as well backed as you would imagine. Even Monmiral did not cost us that much.

“Jason The Militant would have been our worst result today by some way, but he fell (in the Aintree Hurdle). Then the prices of the last three made it a cracking first day.”

Cousin Pascal was a great result for the bookmakers
Cousin Pascal was a great result for the bookmakers (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The long-priced winners saw Paddy Power come out on top in the first-day skirmish.

Their spokesman Paul Binfield said: “It was a small winning day for us and we’ll happily take that given Sir Alex scooped a hat-trick in Liverpool, including two favourites in the first three races.

“Two big-priced winners, including a 66-1 chance, assisted the bookies in no uncertain terms.”

British runners tempted by £100,000 bonus at Punchestown

A British-trained winner of the Punchestown Champion Hurdle is in line to collect a £100,000 bonus.

Irish runners won a staggering 23 of the 28 races run at the Cheltenham Festival last month – including the Unibet Champion Hurdle, which went the way of Honeysuckle.

Henry de Bromhead’s brilliant mare is set to go for the double under Rachael Blackmore – and big-race sponsors Paddy Power are offering the bonus in the hope of tempting competition from Britain.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Epatante got closest to Honeysuckle at Cheltenham from the home contingent when third. She is expected to reoppose later this month.

Spokesperson Paddy Power said: “We gave the Brits a beating at Cheltenham and now we’re laying down a challenge to the tune of £100k – come and have a go if you think you’re good enough.

“Honeysuckle blew her rivals away last month and will be well fancied for the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, but now there’s an extra cash incentive for any British raider who thinks they can dethrone the queen.”

Entries for the race will be revealed on Monday, April 12.

Final day sees betting honours going to the bookmakers

Bookmakers ended the Cheltenham Festival on a high as all seven favourites were beaten, to sink backers.

Punters had hoped to finish the four-day Festival with a flourish, after a series of well-supported winners on Thursday. However, the results went the way of the layers.

The victory of Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Indo (9-1) over the two market leaders A Plus Tard and Al Boum Photo in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup put bookmakers on the front foot.

The double-figure wins of Belfast Banter (33-1), Porlock Bay (16-1) and Vanillier (14-1) all added to misery for backers.

The success of 2-1 second-best Quilixios for the De Bromhead team in the Triumph Hurdle did not have a great bearing as it meant 11-8 favourite Zanahyir was beaten.

It was a similar story in the Mares’ Chase with Colreevy (9-4) getting the better of her Willie Mullins’ stablemate Elimay, the 6-5 favourite.

Mullins also took the final race of the meeting, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, with Galopin Des Champs (8-1) when the trainer also supplied the beaten favourite, Gentleman De Mee.

“Thursday ended badly for the layers with a trio of well-backed winners, and when Rachael Blackmore continued that run with victory on Quilixios in the Triumph Hurdle, the biggest day of the week got off to a poor start,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

“However, both Belfast Banter and Vanillier were welcome winners for us, and when it came to the biggest betting heat of the week, it seemed as if Gold Cup punters only wanted to be with Al Boum Photo and A Plus Tard, so Minella Indo came to our rescue in style.

“Defeats for Billaway and Elimay in the two races that followed put the icing on our cake.

“The first three days of this unusual Festival had seen results swing back and forth, but when it really mattered on this massive final day, we can have no complaints.”

Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: “WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup day was a good day for us even allowing for one lucky and skilful punter picking up €578,000 on an accumulator placed in December.

“But a hearty congratulations to that customer and after a terrible Thursday, we’ve ended the week a small bit behind.”

The lucky customer was in the money after Minella Indo was the final leg in a €20 accumulator placed in Paddy Power’s Shannon shop in County Clare on December 1.

All his winners were at Cheltenham with Honeysuckle, Bob Olinger and Put The Kettle On doing their bit at the Festival earlier in the week.

Bookmakers relieved after gamble is scuppered at Musselburgh

Bookmakers were spared losses estimated at millions of pounds after the third leg of an audacious betting coup came unstuck on Sunday.

The layers were prepared for the worst after the first two horses, Fire Away and Blowing Dixie, obliged at short prices after being backed at big odds, with only Gallahers Cross left to run.

The trio were linked together in a variety of wagers with several bookmakers when betting on Sunday’s races opened on Saturday night.

All three were sent off short-priced favourites after being snapped up at double-figure odds.

Paul Binfield, spokesman for Paddy Power, said: “I don’t want to reveal figures, but our liabilities would probably be on a par with others in the industry.

“The trading room at Power Tower breathed a huge sigh of relief when Get The Appeal foiled the gamble and crossed the line in front.”

After the victories of Fire Away and Blowing Dixie, the eyes of the racing world were focused on Gallahers Cross, trained Daragh Bourke, in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle at Musselburgh.

The race may only have carried a winning purse of £4,288, but it was worth an awful lot more to those in on the gamble and those punters would have been sitting comfortably for most of the two-and-three-quarter-mile contest.

Gallahers Cross travelled well up to the second-last flight, only to find little under pressure, and the 4-5 favourite faded into fourth place as the Paul Nicholls-trained Get The Appeal made all the running under Harry Cobden.

Until then the three-horse gamble was very much on.

Fire Away, who was available at 22-1 when betting opened, went off the evens favourite as he kick-started the gamble in the bet365 Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Having his first start for Laura Morgan, the eight-year-old romped home by 19 lengths in the hands of Richie McLernon after taking the lead after the third-last fence.

“We’ve had him 11 days. We bought him from Daragh Bourke,” the Leicestershire trainer told Musselburgh’s Twitter account.

“He had a couple of horses for sale. He was one of them. I did go to buy the other one, but we bought him instead.

“Fingers crossed, he can win a few more.”

Backed down from 9-1 to 4-6 favourite, Blowing Dixie brought up the second leg in the Betway Casino Handicap at Southwell.

The Iain Jardine-trained five-year-old looked to benefit from a drop in class when defying top weight by a smooth two and a half lengths in the hands of Andrew Mullen.

“He’s travelled through the race really strong and I wanted something to take me further, but I was there three out, so I let him get on with it,” Mullen told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’s very honest. He likes Southwell. He’s got course form round here and he came good today.

“I spoke to Iain this morning and he said ‘I think I’ve got him as well as I can and if he turns up, he’ll be hard to beat’. He was right.”

Not all bookmakers fell foul of the attempted coup. Simon Clare, head of PR at Ladbrokes Coral, revealed they managed to “dodge a bullet”.

“Our trading team who were on duty last night spotted the path of bets quite quickly and it was clear they were connected, so they reacted quickly and turned off the multiples for those three selections,” he said.

“We were aware something very organised was going on, but we managed not to face anything too scary.

“We saw what other people were saying and had our trader not spotted it and left it another half an hour or an hour, given the huge odds in play, you would have been facing huge liabilities.

“It’s hard to know what other firms were facing. We managed to dodge a bullet.

“Actually, for us, it was much more of those favourites winning was more of a nightmare for us than the attempted coup.”

At the request of the British Horseracing Authority’s integrity department, the connections of all three horses were interviewed by the race day stewards before their respective races.

Bookies Conning Punters with Rule 4 Manipulation?

Dictionary definition of 'con'

Dictionary definition of 'con'

Bookmakers, and one firm in particular, appear to be systematically conning punters through a marketing strategy originally designed with polar opposite intentions.

My own exposure to this started out as a perception, after a series of bets struck early succumbed to swingeing Rule 4 deductions. And, off the back of a frustrating triple whammy price cut in a single race, I decided to dig a little deeper.

Background

The apparent con relates to early prices offered by most big name bookmakers. These odds are generally made more attractive to smaller staking punters and those who like to bet the night before (perhaps due to time constraints or work commitments), by the provision of a Best Odds Guarantee, or BOG.

This 'BOG' concession means that punters will receive the better of the price they take and the returned starting price. So far, so good. But if a horse is withdrawn from the race between the time the bet is struck and the time the race goes off, a 'Rule 4 deduction' is applied.

Tattersalls Rule 4 - and all its other rules - can be viewed in this pdf document.

Rule 4 (R4) deductions are calculated based on the odds of the non-runner at the time of withdrawal, and involve a deduction from the bettor's stake. The R4 table is shown below:

1/9 or shorter = 90p in the £
2/11 to 2/17 = 85p in the £
1/4 to 1/5 = 80p in the £
3/10 to 2/7 = 75p in the £
2/5 to 1/3 = 70p in the £
8/15 to 4/9 = 65p in the £
4/5 to 4/6 = 55p in the £
20/21 to 5/6 = 50p in the £
Evens to 6/5 = 45p in the £
5/4 to 6/4 = 40p in the £
13/8 to 7/4 = 35p in the £
15/8 to 9/4 = 30p in the £
5/2 to 3/1 = 25p in the £
10/3 to 4/1 = 20p in the £
9/2 to 11/2 = 15p in the £
6/1 to 9/1 = 10p in the £
10/1 to 14/1 = 5p in the £
Over 14/1 = No Deductions

 

A good example of how to calculate Rule 4 on your bet can be found here.

The Rule 4 deduction chart is fixed, and seems entirely fair. After all, if for instance the withdrawn horse is only a 4/1 shot, it must have had reasonable claims in the race; so the chance of my selection is materially enhanced by his absence.

But a key clause in the Rule 4 documentation is this:

Where a bet has been placed and a price taken on the day of the race and there is subsequently an official notification that a horse has been withdrawn or has been declared ‘not to have started’, the liability of a layer against any horse remaining in the race, win or place, will be reduced in accordance with the following scale depending on the odds current against the withdrawn horse at the time of such official notification: [scale as per above table]

To labour the key phrase, the bookie liability shall be reduced against the scale based on the odds of the withdrawn horse "at the time of such official notification".

The Problem

If there is no problem with the Rule 4 system, then where exactly does the issue lie? Take a look at the image below [click on the image to open fill size in a new tab], which shows the odds movements of three horses from the same race on odds comparison site, oddschecker:

Systematic shortening of known non-runners is a scam

Systematic shortening of known non-runners is a scam

 

At the intersection of each vertical and horizontal red box, there are two items - a number in blue, and the letters 'SUSP'. The blue number represents the revised odds of the horse in question, which have shortened (pink equates to lengthening odds revisions). SUSP means betting has been suspended on that horse.

Now note the times to the left of each horizontal red box.

The proximity of the blue numbers - i.e. shortening odds - to the suspension of betting is interesting. Actually, it's downright concerning.

In the first two cases, the difference between the shortening odds and that horse being suspended in the betting was five minutes. In the last case, it was a single minute.

In all three cases, the time the horse was shortened was later than the time the horse was declared a non-runner on the official BHA website.

In other words, it was possible to know beyond doubt that the horses shown above were not running before shortening their odds.

Why is this important? Because if a horse is 14/1 or shorter and becomes a non-runner, bets placed on every other horse in the race prior to this horse's market suspension will incur a R4 deduction.

It remains possible that the triple example above was merely coincidental. Suspicion grows, though, as it becomes clear that two of the three non-runners were shortened into the next R4 deduction bracket.

In other words, it could be inferred that prices were deliberately managed to mean a multiple deduction on any bet left standing on any other horse in that race.

 

A Closer Look

Now of course a single race - no matter how frustrating in 'bookie tax' terms - hardly constitutes a body of evidence. Nor either does the anecdotal evidence that was its precursor.

And, in fairness, what follows is less than a categorical damnation; but it does further illustrate the issue and focus a beam on one particular operator who could be said to take greater advantage of this perceived con trick than most. (Note, this operator is NOT the only one perpetrating the practice).

The bookmaker in question is PaddyPower, and the following data relate to that firm's prices as represented by oddschecker.com.

I looked at all of the non-runners from Monday 13th July up until 4pm GMT (or 4.01pm as it turned out), and noted the following:

- Official time of withdrawal of each horse (NR Time)
- The penultimate betting show for each horse (Show -1)
- The time on oddschecker of the penultimate betting show (S-1 Time)
- The R4 associated with the penultimate betting show (Assoc R4-1)
- The final betting show prior to withdrawal (Last show)
- The time on oddschecker of the final betting show (LS Time)
- The R4 associated with the final betting show (Assoc R4)
- The difference in R4 deductions between the last two betting shows (R4 diff)
- The time the horse was suspended by Pad Pow for betting purposes (Susp Time)
- The difference between time of suspension and last show time (Susp-LS Time)
- The difference between time of official withdrawal and last show time (LS-NR Time)

In the below table, I've used the following presentation formats to highlight a couple of things:

Grey Italics - No change in the horse's odds all day
Green bold - Favourable R4 movement between last two shows
Red bold - Unfavourable R4 movement between last two shows

Here are the data in race time order:

Power manipulating R4?

Power manipulating R4?

Although the above is not that easy to read, a few things become apparent. First, there is a lot more red than green, meaning that - on this day at least - punters came off much worse 'nett'  when comparing positive and negative R4 deductions. Specifically, there were eight R4 deduction extensions in the final shows, and three R4 deduction reductions (if you catch my drift).

Second, note the comparison between the official withdrawal times and last show times (right hand column). In all but one case, the last show was after the horse was officially withdrawn. And, therefore, in direct contravention of the stipulations of Tattersalls Rule 4 (C).

Mr Power's published rules with regards to Rule 4 can be seen here, and are in line with Tattersalls Rule 4 (C). Thus there is a disconnect between Power's stated rules, and the company's application of them.

*

Here's another interesting thing: let's sort the data by the size of the last show Rule 4 (Assoc R4)...

Wholesale manipulation of fancied non-runners? Or a crazy coincidence?

Wholesale manipulation of fancied non-runners? Or a crazy coincidence?

 

Notice how that raft of red has gravitated towards the top of the table?

This means that, in the admittedly small sample of non-runners, those highest in their respective markets were most susceptible to what I'll cautiously suggest could be interpreted as manipulation.

Fridge Kid, the sole green entry at the top of the list, was the only horse in the table (excluding the grey italicized entries, whose prices did not move all day) that did not change within at most five minutes of the suspension time.

Now, it's important that I caveat this: it is possible that this is a 'feature' of the way Padd.y's data feed talks to oddschecker. Possible, but unlikely, in my opinion.

 

Conclusions

There are reasons why it is dangerous to be categorical about what the data appear to suggest, starting with the fact that I don't know enough about how oddschecker receives and processes data from the PaddyPower feed.

I do however know something about how this data is consumed by geegeez's own odds comparison engine, and it is reasonable to assume similar processing happens on oddschecker.

Also, there is insufficient data in the sample to conclude anything stronger than a tendency towards 'aggressive book management', as opposed to a less equivocal and more absolute contention.

Unfortunately, the information aggregation process is time consuming and not something I'm able to commit to longer term. However, I will 'spot check' this from time to time over the coming weeks, as I believe it is more than mere coincidence.

However, despite all the caveats and the limited dataset, it is clear that P.P. are consistently revising their prices after the official notification, and using the revised price as a basis for Rule 4 deductions from pre-existing wagers.

I contacted PaddyPower's twitter team, hoping to get a comment from the trading room on the matter but, as yet, have not had a reply.

In lieu of a response, it seems sensible to tread carefully when taking an early price with PaddyPower. Personally, where another bookmaker is offering the same price, and the same BOG concession, they will be my chosen layer.

Ultimately, if this is indeed deliberate - as appears likely - the notion of giving with one hand, via the availability of early prices, and the Best Odds Guaranteed concession; only to take with the other, by manipulating the odds of known non-runners, is a fiercely sharp practice. And bookmakers who deploy it have no place in punters' considerations. You hear me, Padddy?

Matt