The perils of bookmaker-sponsored trainer columns were laid bare once again on Tuesday morning when Altior drifted alarmingly for Saturday’s Silviniaco Conti Chase before the news broke that he had been taken out of the Kempton contest.
In a rollercoaster period of trading, Altior’s stablemate Top Notch was the subject of sustained support and is now a general 8/11 chance to follow up last year’s five-length success in the Grade 2 contest.
Such volatile moves are relatively commonplace in ante-post betting but a shadow was cast over this particular sequence of events when Unibet, for whom Nicky Henderson has a high-profile column, pushed Altior out to a top-price 6/1 for the Kempton contest while other layers were as short as 6/4.
Let the lads get on Top Notch first though, fair play— . (@lxuis_23) January 7, 2020
Henderson confirmed the news with a blog update at lunchtime on Tuesday, in which he said: “Unfortunately, Altior will now not take his chance in the Unibet Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton at the weekend because we do not feel he looks his absolute best and despite working well on Saturday he is still not 100% compared to previous years and he could still be feeling the side effects of the antibiotics he was given to treat the abscess on his wither.”
Bookmaker-sponsored trainer and jockey columns are commonplace in the modern era, but the ethics of such arrangements have been called into question in the racing media and incidents like this one only add fuel to the notion that the bookmaker benefits from certain information before it is put into the public domain.
However, Brett Williams of Unibet was keen to pour cold water on the conspiracy theorists. He told Bookmakers.co.uk: “I can categorically say that this is no more than a coincidence.
“We know we have to be whiter than white with this, it’s a real catch twenty-two situation because if we go shorter than anyone else about a particular horse that has options, then we are accused of having the inside track on where that horse is going to run.”
Williams, who is responsible for overseeing the Henderson column, added: “I only have dialogue with the trading team on a Saturday morning when we discuss running plans and ante-post movers.
“We have refunded all bets placed on Altior in the Silviniaco Conti race so we haven’t made a penny on the horse.
“Of course, all arms of our operation will come together to discuss how we can improve the way we do things but our intention is to be as open and honest with the betting public as is possible.”
More Care Is Needed For Racing's Integrity
Such honesty is, of course, most welcome but there must surely be a responsibility with the trading team to ensure instances like this don’t arise.
A more appropriate course of action would surely have been to suspend betting on the Silviniaco Conti Chase – it’s not as if it’s a big betting race and they have refunded all bets on Altior, so there was no need for them to continue trading that market.
While Unibet, whose sportsbook is aided by software supplier Kambi Group, were understandably keen to pour cold water on any such claim that their traders seized on an advantage over competitors, Coral spokesman Dave Stevens was keen to focus on the key aspect of confidence in the integrity of the sport.
Stevens said: “Ante-post betting obviously carries an added element of risk for both punter and bookmaker, and on this occasion it's the Top Notch backers who appear to have been rewarded for their foresight.
The @the_racehour lads have started 2020 with a BANG and continue on from where 2019 left off!— Bookmakers.co.uk (@bookmakers) January 8, 2020
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“Incidents like this highlight the need for information to be put into the public domain as quickly as possible, in order for both punters and layers to maintain complete confidence in the sport as a betting medium.”
A subsequent statement from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) read: “Should any trainer have concerns about information from their yard being used for betting purposes, then we would be happy to help them look into it.”
Altior’s future remains in the balance somewhat, with his trainer going on to say in his blog: “He will be given 10 days on the ‘easy list’ and spend some time on the water treadmill. We’ll throw everything at him to get him right so we’ll tuck him up and give him the very best.
“He’s fit so it’s just a case of ticking him over. The plan is for him run in the Game Spirit at Newbury and he will be given one entry at Cheltenham which will be in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.”