The Best Exploiter of ‘The System’?

Jim Best wins the races..?

Jim Best wins the races..?

I wrote the below piece on 4th September 2014. But, in light of yesterday's verdict in the Jim Best case, it is both topical and prudent to revisit it, and consider - as well as the man himself - the wider implications, and what we as punters need to do to stay on the right side of such plots.


It was a contentious day at the office for British racing yesterday, as a plot unfolded in dramatic circumstances.

The race in question, a handicap hurdle at Southwell, looked a typically low grade Wednesday heat, the ten declared runners all being rated 100 or lower. Notably, trainer Jim Best was responsible for two of the ten. Tony McCoy was due to ride Into The Wind, the second favourite, and Rhys Flint would pilot apparent outsider, Saint Helena.

But, between declaration time on Tuesday and off time on Wednesday, a suspicious sequence of events transpired...

First, the more fancied of the two Best runners was withdrawn on account of the ground. Next, with McCoy now apparently without a ride in the race, Flint was 'jocked off' Saint Helena and the champion assumed the steering duties. All the while, market support for Saint Helena was strong, from before the notification of Into The Wind's absence right up until off time.

Saint Helena, a 9/1 shot in the morning, was eventually sent off the 11/10 favourite. As it transpired, she won, just, requiring all of McCoy's strength and race-riding nous to get the job done.

If you fail to see anything untoward in the above, that's probably because you're not party to Saint Helena's form history. A six year old mare, Saint Helena was good enough to win three times on the flat, off ratings as high as 79, and all on good to firm ground.

In her seven prior hurdle starts, she had run no closer to a winner than when a 69.75 length eleventh of twelve in her last race. That was a novice hurdle, and it was the latest bid from the trainer to get this horse handicapped.


The racing game in Britain and Ireland is predicated upon a few good horses running in stakes and conditions races, with the vast majority of the remainder running in weight for ability races once they've qualified.

The qualification criteria to receive an initial handicap rating are fairly straightforward, on the face of it at least:

In most cases a horse will have run on three occasions before being allocated a handicap rating. When handicapping a horse for the first time, it is necessary for there to be a clear correlation between the horse’s various performance figures and the handicap rating. Ideally from a handicapping perspective, the three qualifying runs would all be to a similar level, allowing a degree of confidence that the initial handicap rating is accurate.

If a horse returns performance figures of 60, 60 and 60, the Handicapper would almost certainly award an initial handicap rating of 60. The difficulty arises in three very different performance ratings, particularly in the case of a good run followed by two moderate performances. Generally the Handicapper will err on the side of caution with a handicap rating, giving emphasis to the best performance figure as long as that race looks solid.

Obviously, the official handicapper has a frequently horrific job in trying to nail form jelly to the ratings wall. And this was a case in point. Saint Helena, clearly a talented animal on the basis of her flat form on fast ground, had run seven times - four more than the minimum requirement - almost exclusively on soft and heavy, before being awarded an initial handicap rating.

Spot the difference between the win/placed flat form and the mark-seeking hurdles efforts. (Click the image to enlarge)

Saint Helena: Spot The Difference

Saint Helena: Spot The Difference

The British Horseracing Authority, via the on course stewards, called Jim Best in before the race, to explain the absence of Into The Wind. They then called him in after the race to explain the 'apparent' improvement in form of Saint Helena.

The released notes on that second 'chat' are thus:

The Stewards held an enquiry to consider the apparent improvement in form of the winner, SAINT HELENA (IRE), ridden by A P McCoy and trained by Jim Best, which had never previously been placed. They interviewed the trainer who stated that the mare, who had been a very buzzy type in the past, settled better today and had benefited from a break of one hundred and twenty-five days since her last run. He added that the mare was suited by the firmer ground on this occasion. Having heard his evidence they forwarded his explanation to the British Horseracing Authority so that the previous performances of SAINT HELENA (IRE) could be reviewed. The Stewards ordered the mare to be routine tested.

It is almost certainly true that Saint Helena was "better suited by the quicker ground" - after all, her best flat form was on quicker. Equally, she looks sure to have "benefited from a break of one hundred and twenty-five days since her last run" on the basis that she might have actually been trained for race fitness during that time.

The case has been referred to High Holborn, and we'll see what the beaks in town make of it.


An interesting story for a Wednesday in its own right, the Jim Best plot saga is actually a little older than 24 hours or so. Indeed, Best has multiple 'previous' for such coups, almost all with a matching fingerprint.

A quick 'system builder' query for Jim Best-trained, Tony McCoy-ridden horses running in handicap hurdles without a prior win for the trainer reveals a 47% win rate (15 from 32). Amongst this group of horses, all of which received the McCoy assistance for the first time, were the likes of:

6/08 Noble Minstrel  form F0775 - mark of 72 awarded - 58 days off - wins at 4/1

1/09 Rocky Ryan form 005 - mark of 90 awarded - 61 days off - wins at 15/8

6/13 Planetoid form 089F70 - mark of 85 awarded - 169 days off - wins at 5/6

8/13 Sugar Hiccup form 00070P - mark of 79 awarded - 239 days off - wins at 5/6

7/14 Money Money Money form 40P0 -mark of 80 awarded-250 days off-wins at 5/1

8/14 Kiama Bay form 09503 - mark of 104 awarded - 91 days off - wins at 7/4

9/14 Saint Helena form PP9P080 -mark of 82 awarded-125 days off - wins at 11/10

And the similarities don't end there.

Consider Planetoid. This was a horse that was due to be ridden by Mattie Batchelor, a Jim Best stable stalwart, but with a (seemingly) lamentable record of 0 wins from 71 rides for the yard.

What atrocious luck then to experience "car trouble" on the day of Planetoid's success, having ridden him on three of his unsuccessful prior starts. Lucky for connections, at least, that McCoy was there to take the spare mount. Ahem.

Here are the stewards' notes from Planetoid's win after interviewing the trainer about the apparent improvement in form:

The Stewards held an enquiry to consider the apparent improvement in form of the winner, PLANETOID (IRE), ridden by A.P. McCoy, and trained by Jim Best, which had never previously been placed. They interviewed the trainer who stated that the gelding had problems with his jumping last year and has been given a break in order to re-school him over hurdles. He further added that PLANETOID (IRE) was suited by this quicker ground and running for the first time in a handicap. Having heard his evidence they forwarded his explanation to the British Horseracing Authority so that the previous performances of PLANETOID (IRE) could be reviewed. The Stewards ordered the gelding to be routine tested.

And these are the stewards' notes after Sugar Hiccup's win:

The Stewards held an enquiry to consider the apparent improvement in form of the winner, SUGAR HICCUP (IRE), ridden by A.P. McCoy, and trained by Jim Best, which had never previously been placed. They interviewed the trainer’s representative who stated that the mare was suited by the faster ground and, having been off the course for 8 months, had been freshened up. Having heard his evidence they forwarded his explanation to the British Horseracing Authority so that the previous performances of SUGAR HICCUP (IRE) could be reviewed.

Finally, here's Money Money Money's post race stewards chat:

The Stewards held an enquiry to consider the apparent improvement in form of the winner, MONEY MONEY MONEY, ridden by A P McCoy, and trained by Jim Best, compared with its previous run at Fontwell on 13 November 2014 where the mare finished tenth of thirteen, beaten 110 lengths. They interviewed the trainer who stated that the mare had benefited from a break from racing and appeared to appreciate the better ground.


What it means for punters...

So a very clear pattern emerges to these Best 'job horses' and, in a racing jurisdiction so heavily based around the art of handicapping, it is a part of the punter's job to be aware of trainer behaviour. Jim Best is not the only exponent of mark manipulation. In fact, some higher profile handlers on the level - Luca Cumani and Sir Mark Prescott, for instance - are positively admired for their ability to 'get one ready'.

When betting in handicaps, punters must ALWAYS be aware of the material differences between today's race and a horse's recent efforts. That's where value lies, perhaps not in heavily gambled animals like Best's, but certainly with the smaller stables who are having a few quid on but passing serenely under the radar.

First time in a handicap always merits attention, especially when combined with a material change in circumstance, such as a step up in trip or markedly differing ground. A break between qualifying for a handicap rating and running in a handicap can also be a sign of expected improvement. After all, if a horse runs a week after qualifying for a mark, that doesn't leave a lot of time to get the beast fit, does it?

A drop in class can often help, as can to a lesser degree the fitting of headgear (especially a hood). These are considerations the smart bettor must make, and they are part of the game. Making those considerations in the microcosm of trainer patterns can be most instructive, and there are no Jim Best's in the list of 'most effective first time in a handicap hurdle after a break'.

No, sir. That list, which in truth probably never existed until now, contains four high profile National Hunt trainers: Nigel Twiston-Davies, Evan Williams, Anthony Honeyball, and Philip Hobbs. How many Class 5 Taunton handicap hurdles do you suppose they've carved up between themselves? And yet, these events pass largely without comment or question.

I guess the key difference is that Best's modus operandi is to take a proven flat performer and 'bugger about' with it to get the mark, whereas the jumps boys are dollying around in novice hurdles and bumpers beforehand. Which is worse, or better? I'm not sure.

What it means for the authorities...

The exaggerated game of cat and mouse between trainers and the official handicappers is one of great importance to the sport, both from an integrity, and from an interest and engagement perspective. And, the truth is that there is very little the authorities can do about things, as they stand.

Jim Best operated within the current rule set.

It is perfectly acceptable for a jockey change to occur when a better option becomes available due to a non-runner in the same race (cf. "25.3.5 the substitute Rider was declared to ride another horse in the same race but the horse is unable to run" from the Rules of Racing).

It is perfectly acceptable for a horse to be self-certificated on account of the ground, or indeed anything else, as long as the trainer does not breach a 15% of declarations threshold (cf. "8.3 For any Trainer, where the rate of non-runners in Jump races measured as a percentage of the Trainer's declarations in Jump races is 15% or more, the Authority may suspend the Trainer's ability to self-certify non-runners in accordance with Rule 97.3 for up to twelve months." from the Rules of Racing).

It is perfectly acceptable for a horse to 'apparently' improve markedly, as long as the trainer or his representative can explain the improvement after the race, should the local stewards deem it appropriate.

To borrow that hackneyed Dickens quote from, I think, Oliver Twist,

If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.

The BHA's eyes have been opened by experience. They are all too aware of the issue here. They spoke to Best both before and after the race; and they are due to call him in again in due course to discuss the matter further. (That said, they're still due to discuss the Planetoid run with him, fifteen months after the race. Perhaps they can discuss them, along with Sugar Hiccup, Money Money Money, and Kiama Bay, as a job lot... with the emphasis on the word 'job').

The key question for the BHA to answer themselves, rather than necessarily bring Best to book, is around the allocation of a handicap mark. It is usual practice for a horse to receive a mark after three runs, if not winning once or placing twice before that time. The handicappers already have discretion to await further evidence, and this discretionary power has been invoked in six of the seven cases mentioned above.

I am led to believe by the twitterati that Saint Helena's seven runs before a rating was allocated constitutes something of a record. But, while that insistence of further evidence is to be admired - and may be the solution to the problem ultimately, at least in part - it is unclear why the 'capper relented after seven inscrutable efforts.

It should be reasonable for the official handicapper to require as many runs as is necessary to give an opening mark or, alternatively, to give a deliberately cautious mark - to the tune of two stone, let's say - in agreement with the trainer. All trainers have a dialogue with the handicappers, and I imagine the next chinwag between David Dickinson, under whose remit most of the above cases fell, and Jim Best will be interesting...

Perhaps a horse should be initially required to run in three handicaps within x% of the race distance of those it raced in to qualify for a mark. That might make it more difficult for trainers to run horses over the wrong trip. Or perhaps a horse must run over the trip for which it is most obviously bred - with a percentage of latitude - prior to being awarded a mark.

These suggestions are somewhat left field, and I'd hate to see any of them introduced for the simple reason that they'd be a triumph of job creation, whilst most likely opening up new loopholes for trainers to figure out and subsequently exploit.

Nope, I think that whilst the governance of self-certification and the allocation of initial handicap ratings can - and must - be improved, the game can - and should - be allowed to continue largely unimpeded by further legislation.

We now all know the hallmarks of a Jim Best punt, so at the very least, the next time one is afoot, we can get involved!


p.s. what are your thoughts on this most contentious of issues? Leave a comment and let us know.

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53 replies
  1. 10 Things You Didn't Know about Geegeez Racecards
  2. Vernal
    Vernal says:

    I was in Bookies when that horse was running and at no point was it highlighted that a Jockey change had been made until the race was running commentator mentioned Mccoy

  3. dave parsons
    dave parsons says:

    Excellent article which shows the difficulties of picking winners by just studying form! A good job i use other techniques as well

  4. chris
    chris says:

    In a Guardian interview, within the last year, Best said ‘that they weren’t really a gambling stable’ or some such. Don’t believe what they say, judge them by their actions.
    It’s the trainers that do the entries and make the declarations so they have no excuse – but the stewards and the BHA think otherwise and fail to hold them to account often enough, thereby doing us a disservice.
    When was the last BHA announcement that they were going to reframe the rules to take account of trainers current practices? Don’t ask me I’m not old enough – and you certainly aren’t, Matt 🙂
    A heart vote of thanks for writing this, Matt; it deserves a wider readership.

  5. fredcm
    fredcm says:

    I personally am fed up with the number of non-runners since the self-certification rule, I can understand it if there is a massive change in going but that’s very often not the case. l think we should go back to the veterinary certification rule.
    A very interesting piece Matt.
    Regards Fred

  6. kenbrehaut (@kenbrehaut)
    kenbrehaut (@kenbrehaut) says:

    This is exactly why punters like myself who previously had a bet about 4 or 5 times a week ( only small bets but they were still regular bets ) have now taken to betting on only big meetings such as Royal Ascot etc, about 6 meetings per year because there is a stench associated with horse racing which will be almost impossible to resolve , myself and 7 mates now take to casino’s for poker games etc where the playing fields are level.

  7. WizardOfUz
    WizardOfUz says:

    Good piece Matt and the last line pretty much says it all :

    “We all all know the hallmarks of a Jim Best punt, so at the very least, the next time one is afoot, we can get involved”

    Jim Best is not the only , or necessarily the best , proponent of this the important thing for us is to be able to either capitalise on it or avoid it.

  8. Josh Wright
    Josh Wright says:

    Enjoyed this piece, i got into a few heated discussions with some twitter folk about this issue- starting from a point of view that i wasn’t really sure what i thought! However, on consideration…i do not mind these kind of plots…mainly because they are obvious, if you know what you are looking for – no one could say, come mid afternoon, that what was going on was shrouded in mystery. Bookies knew what was going on, and once money started to come you then had a clear choice about how you played the race. And this must go on all the time at this level of racing, given the prize money for modest novice hurdle races, and what you can win by racking up a sequence in a c5/4 hurdle races.

    my main question would be, what is the alternative? and how would it impact in this level of the sport. Afterall Best has a living to make and staff to employ. If he buys moderate flat horses, and has to show his hand in a novice hurdle, he risks ruining his handicap mark, and thus ability to win some prize money for owners…now alternative for him is to win a novice and then spend a year to more ‘buggering about’ in handicap company to get his mark down (and that happens all the time does it not?? how else does a horse become well handicapped again?) i cant see the difference.

    maybe i have missed something, but this sport is about stories, intrigue, second guessing connections etc – and in my mind, if you want to make money by betting in poor quality handicap hurdles, then should do the work and ensure you keep on side those connections who exploit the system well.

    I know there is a strong view that this kind of obvious plot job damages integrity of sport – ok, lets say that is the case, how do you stop it? you need to make a horse run on merits in Novice races -so you either need new rules and to be stricter with applying them, and/or you need to increase prize money so it is worth winning a poor quality novice? although even then you will have to ‘manipulate’ hanciap mark over next few months to make it competitive again…

    and my final point would be this…this kind of activity does not stop you being a successful punter, and in truth it gives us all something to talk about!! what would we do without these stories-life would be a bit more boring. I have made about 400 points clear profit in last year, from 1 or 2 point bets on the whole, increasingly dramatically since using geegeez racecards etc – my point is that there are enough ‘good eggs’ and readable/reliable form to enjoy this sport, and if you do not like what goes on in C5 handicap hurdles, then dont bet in these races…? at least until rules change, money increases in novice races so you can be more confident.

    Would the sport and the industry be better off without the likes of Jim Best- what would happen to those mediocre flat horses if he wasnt buying them??…

    • David Sutton
      David Sutton says:

      I’m with Josh on this one but it’s a lovely read and nice research by Matt.

      If we consider the ‘quick’ system drawn up by Matt, a 47% strike rate is quite handy so, I’d say there’s a handy profit from landing these gambles. Okay, the SP isn’t special but I’d suggest the early morning prices would have been significantly better value (even accounting for R4 deductions).

      I’m not convinced Rocky Ryan belongs in the list either. Firstly, it was in January and the remaining winners are all in the summer jumping months. Secondly, he had the standard 3 runs for a handicap mark and finally, the better ground is unlikely to be found in January. Perhaps there’s another angle to be investigated?

      However, as I say, it’s a fine article and worth the read.

      • Josh Wright
        Josh Wright says:

        Oh yes,im not crabbing the article,superb as ever from Mr Geegeez, and gets you thinking,and discussing our great sport….

        on your system point…i have done some initial digging,and will do a bit more..but with yesterday’s winner, that is now 16 winners from 33,48.5% (80% place SR!!) win SR,with Jim best Traines horses, ridden by McCoy,in a handicap hurdle, having never won for jim best before. 19 points profit at industry SP, 22.55 at Betfair SP..

        now, horseracebase allows you to look at difference between opening price (which i think is the price roughly 10 minutes before the off, and Industry SP) this function only in place since december 2011- and that shows me that he has had 4 winner that have shortened between 1 and 7 points from opening odds to sp- that is worth an extra 16 points if i am reading it right…interestingly there are 8 more winners before 2011,so there is even more profit to be had..

        it is not impossible to say that by taking a price even just 10 minutes before the race you would make an extra 30 points or so profit,if not more. and at early prices that may be quite a bit bigger. That would make 50 points or so since 08, which isnt too bad for such a mini angle. I may dig a bit more..but that is one worth following blind. Now 3 from 5 in 2014.

        • Josh Wright
          Josh Wright says:

          Interestingly if you just focus on those horses that have never run in a handicap hurdle before, it is 8 wins from 13 bets, and 12 have won or placed since 2008,nothing before then. 15.8 points SP, an extra 12 points from ’11 by taking opening price.

  9. John armstrong
    John armstrong says:

    Great article it seems he acted within the rules the governing body of racing need to get involved alter the rules and stop this from happening again after all we have the straightest racing in the world don’t we
    If a jockey had pulled a job off they would have come down on him like a ton of bricks seems there’s one rule for one & one for tother

  10. chris
    chris says:

    I always wonder how ‘they’ make it pay? You win chicken feed prize money, after 2 years preparing the plot, and you bought the horse and paid the training fees – a sizeable investment.
    You have to recoup £20K for those fees alone and then the big bet has to win. Scary.

  11. Dion
    Dion says:

    The one thing that’s annoying to me is this rule 4 the bookies employ to protect their profits especially with self certification. The classic was the withdrawal of Kingston Hill which I think was fully justified as the horse is special so no way they should chance it of the very fast ground. What grinds is they left it until the last minute to withdraw and the ridiculous amount of rule 4 the bookies banged in. I had already backed against it when I saw the going as I thought it would struggle yet even after BOG I just about cut even. Bookies take note, Gambling works both ways so stop the huge amounts of rule4 and play fair.

    • Scott Ferguson (@borisranting)
      Scott Ferguson (@borisranting) says:

      how to fix that part? Bring in a morning non-runner time (eg 8am) before shops have opened so they haven’t had time to crunch prices to create a false R4 figure. Gives punters plenty of time to do the form afterwards. Current situation is open to so much manipulation. Non-runners by 8am can be for whatever reason they like, anything after that requires a vet certificate (and possibly a 7/14 day standing down).

  12. Steve
    Steve says:

    Great article,however it’s time the BHA and stewards started looking into Jim best trained horses shocked by the article didn’t realise just how many times this has happened and all with A.P.mccoy riding ??? When a horse is under-performing being beaten 50L + in his races then wins afterwards again beaten distance it’s time the trainer was fined even suspended it’s blatant cheating “as a punter I expect honesty that’s clearly not the case here. THANKYOU for sharing your thoughts well written and as always appreciated. Just makes my blood boil as the game is hard enough as it is without trainers blatantly pulling there horses in order get good price”

  13. Chris Atkinson
    Chris Atkinson says:

    Great read Matt – I think all of us who love our racing in a strange way have a hint of admiration when a coup is landed, albeit tinted with the green eyed monster standing close by in attendance!! Would love to know how quickly the morning price of 9-1 evaporated to 11-10?!?!

    For now, I will carry on with my gut feeling and your excellent site as my sources of punting inspiration and accept that if one of mine gets turned over by a horse that has been plotted up, so be it.

    Cheers, Chris

  14. marklhod
    marklhod says:

    I agree entirely with what WizardofUz wrote earlier on both counts – firstly this is a great piece of writing Matt, and secondly we need to be able to spot these ‘events’ – somehow!!

  15. Hugh Watson
    Hugh Watson says:

    Very good article opening, for me, the door to the mysteries of handicapping. Must study the form a bit better in future. At the moment I tend to back horses that have finished last in the previous race. Does seem to be fairy fruitful, some of the times !

  16. qachiever
    qachiever says:

    Tremendous article Matt, with plenty to think about at many levels. Quite clearly the trainer knows what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, so it’s up to the handicapper to over-rate future hurdlers in his care and, when taken to task for being unkind to a ‘no-form’ nag, bring out the charge sheet of previous and say: “Your point is, Mr Best?”
    Interesting that, after months and months of subterfuge and ‘buggering about’, two rivals nearly ruined the whole thing by also trying to win the race!

  17. Richie
    Richie says:

    Everything I have read on here avoids the bleedin’ obvious…McCoy is a total genius, and can get runs out of horses that no other human, before or now, could summon. Just magic!

  18. eddie
    eddie says:

    Mr Best is indeed a master plotter. However, one might want to consider a certain Scottish trainer whose horse are capable of hacking-up and then 100% flopping like they haven’t been fed…. your guess i as good as mine…. that is, unless they have prepped for weeks to make sure they run well at Glorious Goodwood. Nothing ever gets said about this….. can you guess the trainer?

  19. kevin tormey
    kevin tormey says:

    whats needed is profession race readers who can flag up on the day a non trier and forward his/her opinion to the stewards/handicapper for them to take approiate action. this stewards have noted connections explanitions is just a waste of time as ive never heard of any consquences of these notes.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Not as simple as that, Kevin (it never is). Saint Helena was given a strong ride in all of those races. She just wasn’t even remotely fit and would have hated the ground. It wasn’t for want of trying on her part.


  20. Frustrated
    Frustrated says:

    Good article. The first thing that needs ditching is the jockey change rule. No changes unless the declared jockey is incapacitated, and if they are they can only be replaced like-for-like. Greg Wood has done an interesting piece as well pointing out the horse was alloted 10-8 with a jockey declared who hadn’t ridden in months, normally rides at 11st and had recently tweeted about being 11st “#wishfulthinking”.
    It might be within the law but the law is terrible.

    • Scott Ferguson (@borisranting)
      Scott Ferguson (@borisranting) says:

      Exactly, those two rules are in place in Australia. Once declared, the punter has the right to correct and concrete information. The jockey would be heavily fined if he accepted a ride below his declared minimum riding weight/lowest he has ridden at in 12 months.

  21. david
    david says:

    Why run a horse on soft ground knowing it doesnt like it ???? to get a good mark ,,!!!! why dont the stewards ever ask that question?,

  22. chris
    chris says:

    The BHA / Handicappers can only move the goalposts to minimise these issues, which in turn opens up different avenues of opportunity. It can never change, there will always be issues and we will keep hearing and reading them. That’s part of the fun though isn’t it? Part of the game? I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and all the comments.

  23. luigi3907D
    luigi3907D says:

    MONEY MONEY MONEY, ridden by A P McCoy, and trained by Jim Best, compared with its previous run at Fontwell on 13 November 2014

    And who said the BHA were behind the times……

  24. lickybits
    lickybits says:

    hasn’t similar tactics been going on for a long time
    trainers deliberately running horse over inappropriate distances for the horse (i look out for horses moving up or down in distance)
    i’ve even noticed over the last few weeks how many short priced favourites (less than evens) get turned over in small fields / low prize money races, might be reasons for this, race not being run at a true pace, horse over-rated against its competitors etc but its seems to happen a lot. and there seems to be a lot more small field races than ever.

    also noticed the numbers of horses being pulled out of races seem to be on the up.
    i’m not suggesting anything untoward is happening, its just with the prize money being so low who knows?

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Lickybits,

      Yes, it has. The ‘problem’ now is the increased (social) media scrutiny, and the ensuing battle for hearts and minds. People have a negative perception of racing, so every time something like this happens, many outside of the sport will roll their eyes, tut, and think we’re all mugs. IMO, the BHA have a duty only to ensure that a horse is not handicapped until sufficient evidence is available – however long that takes – and to police the self-certificated non-runner issue more rigidly.


  25. Sill
    Sill says:

    A very interesting debate and a scenario that is difficult to get on top with the rules as they are at the current time.
    I have had horses with Jim for quite a few years and had a lot of success with numerous winners Skye But N Ben,King Cyrus,On The Feather and Highland Legacy to name a few but also horses like Royal Trooper who was costly failure for us and the Handicapper refused to mark him after 3 even 4 runs I think, he was then rested and refreshed at a considerable ownership cost, like the cases you mentioned only to be beaten 3 times as a very short priced favourite AP on board on all occasions.
    In my opinion AP would have been the only jockey to get Saint Helena home on Wednesday , his brilliance has often been the major key to success and punters only need to do a little homework to see he rides the majority of Jim’s winners , however this partnership means it is clear for all to see and it certainly diminishes the price that maybe available should another jockey be used.
    It shows very much not all cases are successes and they can be expensive.

    We had a lovely horse called Far Flung which was retired after finishing a really promising 3rd in front of Cape Dutch which was 2nd in a good Festival Handicap a few months after, again proving that owners rarely get things they dream of, having a few plotted winners has gone on at higher levels for years and it will continue to happen.

    Simply put follow closely stable entries etc of yards who have had success if you want to bet and very well done to all connections when the successes do come.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Sill

      Thanks a lot for your comments, and I tend to agree with all of them. I syndicate horses through geegeez – one is running today at Newcastle – and those owners and I know exactly what you mean about how difficult it is to get a winner, let alone one where you expect it to win.


  26. jim
    jim says:

    Once again the old handicap issues arise. I often have sympathy with newcomers to our great sport that say ‘all racing is bent, I don’t know why you bother’. We of course know this is not true. But as I have mentioned several times before the handicap system has been, is and always will be ‘played’ as things stand. Some people enjoy trying to work out the next plot and getting on, others regard it as blatant cheating. What is for sure that it is widespread with some trainers only being able to train by occasional winners of handicaps. I have voiced my opinions on several forums and whilst I get acknowledges of agreement, what I don’t sense its the actual will to change, radically. Being very simplistic for a minute in my view the changes need to be as radical as getting rid of handicaps completely and using a system where the best eventually race against the best, for the highest prize money, the worst race against the worst for the lowest prize money, with a view to improving or trying other equestrian pursuits and the inbetweeners race against the inbetweeners view a few to improving or regressing. Granted how each horse falls into each grade needs a lot a thought but surely winning races is a good place to start. Handicappers could be redeployed to help with this. Keep it simple so people can get involved, give everyone a chance of winning or giving up and finally let everyone know the basic rules rather than having to read a 80 odd page guide to handicapping in order to work out how best to exploit the handicapper. It would also stop the ‘messing with marks’ that constantly goes on to allow a horse to win a race. I am also sure that once a simpler system is bedded in that there would be plenty of competitive racing to keep bookies and punters happy to. Pipe dream maybe, but the most complicated problems often have the simplest solutions.

  27. debeers
    debeers says:

    I enjoy the intrigue of running on the wrong ground to get the mark down part and parcel of the racing game. However what does need to be addressed is the way certain racecourses supply information to the people who attend. I was at Newton Abbot when Planetoid won and poor Mattie Batchelor had a puncture. In the old days, there was a number board where you could see who was riding but that has long gone. Now you just hope you can catch an anouncement or get mortified when you hear the commentator say that AP has replaced Mattie as horses go to the start! I emailed Newton Abbot after that event asking if a list of jockey changes could be added to the notices about non-runners that they do provide. The silence was deafening!

  28. David
    David says:

    Not sure if anyone has picked up on Jim Best’s comment when the Guardian queried whether Rhys Flint would have been able to do 10st 8lbs on Saint Helena:
    “Rhys is a very good jockey and he’ll be getting plenty of rides for us,” Best said. “He rides out for us. I don’t know about his weight but I know he’s eager to get back riding.”

    I find it incredible that a trainer would put up a jockey who rides out for him without knowing how much he weighs. IMVHO this is the strongest indication so far that Into The Wind was never going to run.

  29. David
    David says:

    If we should be considering the owners, what about the owners of the second, which was also looking for its first win over hurdles, and who have lost the first prize money, any money bet on Operateur and the thrill of winning. Instead they probably have a very bitter taste in their mouths.

  30. luigi3907D
    luigi3907D says:


    Up to a point you are correct about following the vibes, but many people need to place bets the night before or early morning and they would have piled on Into The Wind and be none the wiser till they got home in the evening to find that all they had to show for their research was a refund for a non runner.

    When I worked in the trade, one could place ‘if absent’ bets whereby your bet would be placed on another runner if your first choice didn’t run, but that is very difficult ( even if possible ) now.

    You are saying in effect this sort of thing is fine because SOME people can spend all day in front of a computer to follow what is happening and SOME CAN’T – so tough luck those that have a proper job.

    A similar scenario in football would be for team announcements to be made an hour before kick off but the manager can send 11 other players on to the pitch! Rules are in place to prevent this – not just so the manager can name a team and go into the bar till kick off.

  31. maverick99
    maverick99 says:

    The critiques regarding the Best winner appear to be focused not necessarily on his success and successful “coup” but the fact that the 8/1 early price (based on 2 runners/jockey bookings) became a winning short priced favourite because of the withdrawal and subsequent change of ride of AP McCoy. From a “punters information” perspective it’s all well and good bemoaning the trainers and their tactics to reward owners and provide a winner or two with an equally successful winning punt, but surely the fault lies with the industry that allows the withdrawal and subsequent change of jockey. Trainers wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t stretch the rules in order to reward their owners, especially with horses with limited ability where even a few pounds in the horse’s OR can make a significant difference, although I can understand a punters annoyance who placed bets early, based on incorrect information. That said, if anyone has ever taken the trouble to study the turftrax historic going records of all the tracks you will notice significant official going differences based on the same going stick reading, which must from a “punters information” perspective be as crucial as the jockey booking when contemplating a bet, so even the authorities have questions to answer. Turf trax link here:

  32. Martin
    Martin says:

    This is all part of the game as far as I’m concerned and punters should make themselves aware before parting with their cash,If you don’t know what you’re doing why bet ? I’m sure that winning a 2k race isn’t going to pay the bills until the horses mark has dropped again enough to make it competitive once more ? blame the prize money for forcing these tactics..
    I’m far more interested why on a day to day basis we have horses winning on alleged Gd/fm ground that have never shown anything on Gd/fm previously which leads me to ask are the going reports we are given actually accurate ? and I believe that they are not so you’re backing something based on a going description that doesn’t reflect the true state of the ground,we have no chance…at least with the JB plot all the fact’s were there if you were smart enough to see them !
    Rather than hound Mr Best,the authorities should do something about issuing accurate going reports .. I’m sick of hearing about Good/Good to Firm in places (watered) what the hell does this even mean ?? “in places” It’s SO vague !! it could mean 10y’s across the finishing line or on all bend’s and the back straight or visa versa ! how can you hope to make an informed choice with a description like that ?
    Last night Champion Versions won on allegedly Good-Gd/fm ground !! all previous promising runs had come on going with soft or heavy in the description,with two previous runs on Good and Gd/fm resulting in an 8th of 9 and an 8th from 10 ,beaten a total of over 190 lengths !!
    Has Champion Versions suddenly decided he does like Good/Gd-Fm ground ?? I think not,I’m more inclined to think that there was more water put down than the official going report declared ! very misleading by the racing authorities !! as I say they should sort their own business out before targeting others,…
    This is not just an isolated case either practically every Worcester and Southwell meeting have been softer than advertised imo and as mentioned above by Maverick,going stick reports themselves are not in the slightest relevant unless measured against historical readings from the same course or even the same section of the course…a going stick reading of 6 means absolutely nothing if taken in isolation..
    Good-Gd/Fm at Newton Abbot 6.7 to 8.3 recorded in the last couple of seasons
    Good-Gd/Fm at Worcester 6.6 to 7.4 same as above..
    Sedgefield have recorded going stick readings over the same time period of 6.8 and the official going report for that day was SOFT ..
    I have no idea how this happens but when you see a going report that says Good-Gd/fm going stick reading 6.8 you need to ask yourself who interpreted this reading ?? because someone somewhere is saying that 6.8 equal’s Soft ground !! Are all COC’s trained to read the results in the same manner ? will and 16 stone man pushing the going stick in give a different result to a 9 stone lady pushing it in ?? I don’t know the answer but there’s something wrong and personally I feel more aggrieved over this than Jim Best and his owner’s pulling off a gamble which was fashioned ultimately within the rules…

    And don’t even get me started on alleged bookies that refuse and restrict punters,how crooked is that in relation to a little plot ???

  33. Paul Moon
    Paul Moon says:


    Read this piece again last night – superb, absolutely superb!

    Hope you are well

    Best Regards


  34. Gary
    Gary says:

    I did not see the race here but I was at Doncaster races on Saturday and I am 90% certain the last race was a “fit up” on a day when a 1/16 got beat and a 4/7 the last race the jolly “cliffs of Dover” was backed from around 8/13 ro 1/3. I had a small bet on the 2nd. The jolly sped off in front, raced very freely. The other jockeys allowed it a 15-20 length lead over just over 2miles at a galloping track. The jockeys in behind were motionless like Burtons mannequin Dummies. Only in the home straight before 2 out did they decide to try catch the favourite. Me and my friend commented all the way through why aren’t the other jockeys trying to close the gap. The favourite ended up winning by only a couple of lengths. Either the jockeys had accepted before the race they were only going to race for places. Or something more unsavoury may have happened without the winning jockey or trainers aware. I have gone racing for years had horses poorly ridden etc but I have never seen a race as suspicious as the one on Saturday. There were question marks over every jockey in the race bar the winning rider. Please watch a replay of the race my racing buddies both agree that watched that it was a very odd race and what were the jockeys in behind playing at. I’m convinced something will come to light about this race in the future

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Gary

      I watched that race intently, as Harry Cobden, the winning rider, writes a blog on this website. In my opinion, there was nothing untoward. In fact, if anything, the winner looked for all the world like he’d gone off too fast. He jumped brilliantly through the race until the last couple of flights, when he was clearly tiring. I’d say that the other horses couldn’t go with the winner early, couldn’t jump as well as him, and the riders in behind probably – and legitimately in my view – thought he’d have to come back to them the speed at which he went through the first mile and a half.

      My opinion is just that – and others, yourself included, will have a different view.


  35. KEN King
    KEN King says:

    Would argue the verdict was obvious before the end of the “trial”.
    What bothers me more is that the jockey involved evidence was very very open to doubt.

    Having ree at e e in question would dispute the boads statement that it was obvious what was happeni g. Suggest that they spend a fewdays look at A/W racing.
    This sort of thing has been happening all my betting life,I’m nearlying 70!!

    Certain trainers in the past such as J Sutcliffe were masters of this .

    How many punters have ,if they are honest, have really suffered ?

  36. PaulAR
    PaulAR says:

    I’m in my mid 50’s and have been betting on and off ever since I left school in 1976. I didn’t really cotton on to any nefarious activities until my mid 20s. Dodgy goings on have always been a part of the industry, and unless somebody stamps down hard, with the iron boot, they always will. It is a sickener when it affects one of your selections, particularly if that selection is going to be the final leg of a nice accumulator.
    It’s only my opinion, of course, but trainers, jockeys and bookies are all up to their necks in it. I can just hear the telephone conversation now;
    “Hi Jim (any trainer), it’s Fred (any bookie) here. I’ve heard that Such and Such may get pulled from the 3.45 tomorrow, is that correct?”
    “Hi Fred, yes, it’s looking like the ground is going to turn out a bit too soft for him. Why?”
    “Any chance you could leave the decision until late morning/early afternoon. Only, there’s been a few quid going on him in the last couple of hours, it would be good for us to get his odds down further. That way, we could get a decent rule 4 on. It’ll be worth your while!”
    “No worries, Fred. We’ll sort that just after lunch time.” Click.
    That may seem a bit dramatic, but TBH, you don’t need to be Maigret or Sherlock to know something smells.
    Having said all that, it doesn’t stop us having a bet does it. When you feel you have been a victim of such scams, take a break for a while. That’s how I’ve dealt with it for the past 40 years.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Paul

      Funnily enough, a version of that very scenario came up at the HBF meeting I attended yesterday afternoon. Suffice it for now to say that Rule 4’s and late declaration of non-runners is on the table and there is a volition to drive earlier notifications of intended absentees.


  37. potsman
    potsman says:

    The plot itself for me is not the problem. Generally the only winners in any betting is the Bookmakers. Lets face it we are all suspicious that price drops happen all the time because bookmakers are trying to limit their liabilities. In fact to me going to the race course is not as enjoyable as it was, gone are the days when you used to run up and down the line of bookmakers to get the best price. It disgusts me when having got to the front of the queue without the bookmaker taking a bet on your horse he drops the price a point. Bookmaking as an art has disappeared in favour of exchange markets so any coup that takes place is ok by me. The downside to that is punters like me have probably been betting on that horse when it has not been running on its merits but we all know that happens just sometimes more obvious than others.
    I am now suspicious with these high profile gambles the bookmakers will now artificially contract the price of a Jim Best horse to make it look like a coup and take more money from us gullible punters.
    Trying to suss out the wheat from the chaff is why we subscribe to the likes of Geegeez..

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi postman,

      Yes, I’m sure we’ve all backed the wrong one from time to time. Equally, especially with the help of some of the insights in Geegeez Gold, I like to think we are the ‘priveleged few’ that can have a strong inkling that a horse may have a significantly better/worse chance than is implied by the market.

      If we cannot expect the issue to be eradicated from the sport, we must find ways to combat it.

      Thanks for your comment and the points you’ve raised.


  38. a non a mouse
    a non a mouse says:


    It goes on all the time. I have heard a number of stories coming out from my local area. A good friend of mine who is close to some stables has even told me a number and names of trainers who are at it all the time. I was also talking to some bookies last week and one even said the same and they also have horses in training.

    • Matt Bisogno
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi anonamouse,

      I imagine it does happen quite often, but I’m not sure that sort of grapevine tittle tattle is anything more than ‘pub talk’ very often.

      As I’ve posted elsewhere in my replies here, it is incumbent on us to be on the lookout for anomalies. Gold is not the only tool that will support that diligence, but it’s probably the best, and certainly the most cost-effective… in my granted somewhat biased opinion!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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