It's been ages since I've penned a blog. Ages. So, firstly, apologies for that and, secondly, allow me to lift the lid on some of what has been going on in the past couple of weeks.
We'll start eleven days ago, on Saturday 20th January. That was the date of our 'office Christmas party'. Due to the nature of the team, spread disparately across the British Isles, the first challenge was to find a date and location where at least some of our number could attend. We settled on Haydock Park and that Saturday - Peter Marsh Chase day - for our shindig.
I was joined by my two main content and support guys, Chris (aka Mr Stat of the Day) and Steve (aka Mr Race of the Day), as well as the dudes who make the Geegeez Gold magic happen, developers Nige and Paul. Bizarrely, I was meeting Paul for the very first time, even though he's been on the team for over two years!
Here they all are, from left to right, Steve, Paul, Nige and Chris...
It was great to get the gang together - we all work remotely so only normally speak on Skype and the like - and sink a few beers and shoot the breeze. They're a great bunch, are the geegeez team!
From there, the next stop was the House of Lords on Tuesday. Yes, I did say the House of Lords!
I was at the seat of British parliament for a gathering of the All Party Betting and Gaming Group, a Westminster Special Interest Group focused on the gambling sector. The topic of debate was "Are bookmakers unfairly closing customer accounts?" and I was present as a member of the Horseracing Bettors' Forum (HBF).
HBF's chair, Simon Rowlands, was one of three speakers, and he outlined the landscape from a punter perspective. A copy of Simon's presentation - as well as the other two speakers, Richard Flint (CEO, Skybet) and Bruce Millington (Editor, Racing Post) - can be found here.
It was a (strangely?) civilized affair with robust and respectful debate. What was noteworthy was the cross-party cross-house support for a minimum bet liability (that is, bookmakers to lay any horse to lose a certain amount).
Lord Lipsey, in attendance, suggested that "bookmakers need to get a grip on things", before intimating that if they didn't start demonstrating they were putting their house in order on a number of fronts, they could expect to be dictated to in a similar vein to the imminently-expected FOBT announcement.
Moreover, the Labour peer, who is a former lay member of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), went on to venture that bookmakers who refused to lay an advertised price were "almost certainly" in breach of advertising standards and any such complaint by a member of the public would be upheld.
There was further discussion around the fairness and transparency of terms and conditions, with Gambling Commission members present in the room confirming this was being looked at. Indeed, since the session, UKGC has released a consultation on proposed changes to the LCCP (licensing conditions for bookmakers).
Horseracing Bettors' Forum takes up an increasing amount of my time, and it is one of the reasons I've not been in contact much recently. As well as minimum bet liability, we continue to work on our Charter which includes funds protection, transparent terms, and lay to liability amongst a number of other points, all of which can be viewed here. The document is still in consultation at the moment, and we welcome thoughts and feedback from those who bet on British racing (i.e. you!)
Being in Parliament last Tuesday meant that I missed a trip to Wetherby, where geegeez.co.uk syndicate horse, Oxford Blu, was having his third run for us. Having won emphatically on his hurdling debut - and first run for the syndicate and trainer Olly Murphy - he was a little disappointing next time out at Fontwell, where he got outpaced in the run to the line.
The self same thing happened again at Wetherby: his jockey perhaps didn't make enough use of him though he stayed on well to the line, beaten only two lengths. I can't wait to see him in a handicap next time, where the likely faster pace and the weight-for-age allowance he'll receive will make him a very interesting contender.
If I missed out on Oxford Blu, I didn't have to wait too long to get to the track, as we had another syndicate runner, Swaffham Bulbeck, making his debut for us (and Olly again) on Thursday at Warwick. This time I was on site and, with expectations suitably managed that a midfield run would be a promising start and that our lad would improve considerably for the run, we were delighted when he beat all bar the very well-backed Mister Chow.
That one is now rated 130 and the horse who finished four lengths behind us, Night Of Glory (reasonably expensive at £340,000 !!), is rated 122, which means we ran to 126 on debut. There is plenty more to come and he's a very exciting prospect who only sold out a couple of weeks ago from the Syndicates page.
Saturday saw another racecourse visit, this time to Cheltenham for their Trials Day fixture, and a catch up with good buddy, Gavin Priestley (Festival Trends, Nag Nag Nag, Route 66, etc) and his family.
I managed to back Definitly Red from just a couple of bets - Theatre Territory would have made it a very nice day but she had to settle for second behind an equally well handicapped horse - and caught up with a few other racing pals, including Josh Wright, David Massey and geegeez.co.uk's news writer, Nige Keeling.
As for Festival clues, they looked fairly thin on the ground. That said, I thought Apple's Shakira could be marked up for being out of her ground a little behind a hardy sort (Look My Way, who reminds me a bit of Countrywide Flame) who controlled the race. That she was eight clear at the line speaks well of her and she's a worthy favourite for the Triumph, where she'll receive a mares' allowance.
Elsewhere, Wholestone travelled like the best horse and, on better ground and with the stable in hopefully better form, he could go well in a wide open Stayers' Hurdle. 16/1 looks big enough to my eye.
Santini and Black Op pulled 30 lengths clear of their field in the novices' staying hurdle and that is obviously strong form. The latter was extremely weak in the betting, presumably expected to improve for the run and/or for better ground, and he'd be interesting wherever he lands at the Festival. The former, and winner here, needed all of the range to get up and is extremely lightly raced as well as unbeaten to date. But those Festival staying novice races are an absolute crapshoot, so I'll keep the powder dry for now. Every other set of eyes saw what I saw...
And still there was more racing to come. Having been a tad frustrated by Oxford Blu's third at Wetherby, then delighted with Swaffham Bulbeck's second at Warwick, I - and my fellow syndicateers - were cock-a-hoop with My Dance on Monday.
It was a shrewd bit of placing by trainer Anthony Honeyball as there were only four runners, one of which was a 66/1 shot. When My Dance had won last time, she'd made all and run her rivals into submission. The plan was much the same here, though we had a 120-rated gelding in opposition and would have to defy a penalty to prevail.
The My Dance syndicate, and jockey Noel Fehily, after her win at Plumpton
My Dance looked magnificent in the paddock and, though slightly weak in the betting, there were very few concerns en route to a facile nine length romp. She jumped beautifully all the way round, and we now raise our sights to what will likely be too lofty a perch, a Grade 2 mares' novices' hurdle at Sandown in three weeks' time.
It was a brilliant 3-2-1 for geegeez.co.uk syndicates and brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, including me!
[Incidentally, there are currently three shares available across two horses, one of them only added today. You can view those opportunities here]
Which brings us almost up to speed. But still I've had one more day out of the chair, as yesterday I hot-footed it just down the way to the Barbican Centre and the inaugural Horse Racing Industry Conference. The theme was evidence-based research in racing and, among a variety of fascinating presentations, one stood out in particular.
Dr Tunde Buraimo and Professor David Forrest spoke around 'Demand Analysis for Horseracing'. This covered two aspects, racecourse attendance and betting. Naturally, it was the latter which floated my boat particularly.
In what was a fascinating outline, Professor Forrest made a couple of points which demanded consideration. The first was about the impact on betting turnover of the concentration of high quality racing on Saturdays. The following slide will take a little explaining, which I will do after allowing your peepers to peruse the data...
What this slide is saying is that, allowing for all other things being equal, the same race which is held on a Saturday would generate 9.8% (.098) more betting turnover on a Monday. The *** implies there is a high degree of confidence behind this figure. The dataset is derived from Betfair data.
The main thrust of the slide is that, excepting Sundays which seem to be something of a down day for British racing betting (and Bank Holidays where the spread of horseracing wagering opportunity is at its greatest), placing any Saturday race on a different day would result in an uplift in betting turnover.
This is down purely and simply to the reduced level of competition in terms of the volume and quality of races on weekdays. Or, put another way, to the cannibalization of the betting pound on Saturdays by an overflow of conflicting punting opportunities (not all of them racing-related, it should be added).
Taking this at face value would suggest that bookmakers should be clamouring to sponsor weekday races - and hope to increase the quality of those contests - rather than following the same tired old dogma of trying to chase a smaller piece of the larger Saturday pie.
It should also be understood that, while betting operators may be well served pushing for a more even distribution of quality racing through the week, the racecourses themselves are happy to focus their fixtures on Saturdays, when the largest number of potential racegoers are free from the shackles of the office or factory. Such is the tug of war within racing for the leisure pound.
If that was interesting, the next slide I will show you appears to fly in the face of received wisdom on the subject. It pertains to the relationship between field size and betting volume. Again, have a look at the numbers first...
What we see here, presented with a universally high degree of confidence, is that as field size grows, so betting volume shrinks. Moreover, this appears to happen on an almost linear basis. How can this be when bookmakers constantly trumpet the importance of eight runner-plus fields for optimizing betting turnover? Who is telling the truth, and who is lying here?
Well, that second question is actually harder to answer than it should be, because of a lack of publicly available data. The likelihood is that nobody is lying but that there are multiple interpretations of 'the truth'; it is to be hoped that in the near future bookmakers will share such metrics - in an anonymized format - so that established axioms may be challenged, and informed decisions made to the benefit of all parties.
In terms of the slide content, it is likely - in my opinion, at least - that Betfair win market data does not reflect the traditional bookmaker each way revenue curve and is therefore misleading in terms of the overall betting turnover picture. Moreover, field size in relation to betting volume is very much something which needs to be considered in the context of race type (handicap versus novice hurdle, for example) and the amount of the market which is consumed by the top two or three in the betting.
In other words, I wasn't remotely sold on the slide content even allowing for the fact that its data source has more provenance than what we haven't seen from traditional bookmakers. This core data sharing cannot come quickly enough - it will help bookmakers and racecourses deliver better, more consistently appealing 'product' which by definition works more optimally for bettors as well: a win win win situation if only all parties consent to collaborate.
While all that has been going on, work continues 'back at the ranch' on Geegeez Gold developments. We're currently in the process of upgrading Query Tool to allow users to:
- save queries to their user account
- view a report of saved query qualifiers in the usual today/tomorrow format
- view 'Query Angles' qualifiers within the racecard a la Report Angles
Alongside that, we've begun work on a feature to allow users to add their own notes and comments on a race or 'horse within a race' basis. This piece of work will be extended out to eventually allow users to store their own ratings within their Gold account.
Such features are of limited value to many punters but, for maybe 20% of users, they represent major upgrades to the Gold toolkit. And I can't wait to share them!
Busy times indeed...