At least one bookmaker is suing Britain’s horseracing industry association following last month’s Speculative Bid farce at Ascot.
The Gigaset International Stakes made headlines for all the wrong reasons after 4-1 favorite Speculative Bid emerged from the stalls without jockey Jamie Spencer and proceeded to run the entire race sans rider. Heaven’s Guest was officially declared the winner and bookies began paying winning bettors.
But the Ascot stewards subsequently declared Speculative Bid a non-runner, allowing punters who’d backed the riderless nag to reclaim their stakes. Bookies were therefore authorized to apply racing’s ‘Rule 4’ deduction on Heaven’s Guest bettors, trimming 20% off the bettors’ winnings in this case.
Problem is, by the time this non-runner ruling had been announced, plenty of winning bettors had already collected their full winnings. Making matters worse, a third announcement declared that Speculative Bid was indeed a runner for betting purposes, meaning bookies that had refunded bettors’ stakes were out even more cash. All of which left bookies echoing Johnny Rotten at Winterland: ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
This past Thursday, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) issued a report on the kerfuffle, which concluded that there’d been “a failure to carry out the established protocol.” A part-time employee was found to have opened the stalls despite loud calls from Spencer not to pull the trigger. The BHA says it will now require the senior starter on duty to start all Group 1 or Grade 1 races.
The report went on to say that the betting issues “would have been avoided had communication taken place” between all related parties “before the result of the stewards enquiry was made public.” Nick Rust, CEO of the BHA, said the “number of errors” made on the day were “well-intentioned and seeking to improve or rectify the situation, but actually compounded the original errors.”
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
That’s too little too late for on-course bookie Geoff Banks, who has decided to sue the BHA. Banks estimated that the total sum that UK bookies lost via the cockup was around £50k, but he told The Guardian that he was less concerned about recouping his losses and more concerned with spanking the BHA and its director of raceday regulation Jamie Stier, who was present at Ascot on the day in question, over their inability to understand their own regulations.
Banks said the BHA had declined to contact himself or any of his fellow bookies to explain the affair. “No phone calls, no friendly conversations, nothing, absolute silence.” Banks suggested the lack of response “emphasizes that [the BHA] feel no contractual obligation to betting, nor a duty of care to the betting public or the bookmakers.”
While the BHA report offered an apology to bookies and bettors over the incident, it also insisted that “there is no legal basis” for bookies’ compensation claims. The report reinforces Banks’ belief that the BHA “need to change. Nobody challenges them and they don’t consult. It’s not that they don’t care. It’s just that their lawyers are more important to them.”
The BHA has been gaining favor with the Tory government, which in March announced plans for a new Horserace Betting Authorization as a replacement for the annual race betting Levy. Precise figures for the new tax have yet to be determined, but perhaps all you need to know is that the HRA loves it and bookies hate it.