We’ve decided to address a common question that not only do we get asked here at Bookies Free Bets, but also one that we see often on the forums. In fact, at some point we’ve read or been asked this question about all sports.
There are a number of ways in which we need to approach this to not paper over the information that is on the table. There are merits and also fiction about certain stories relating to this, so we need to be as open-minded as we can.
The first thing that we want to do is look at how it works on an industry wide basis. So, this would mean asking the question; is the horse racing industry rigged?
The short answer to this is no. It’s too highly regulated now as an industry for any cheats or illegal activity to prosper from this. The industry’s role in making sure that the sport is safe is down that of the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA). They took over from The Jockey Club in an attempt to ramp up security within the sport.
This has meant that former chiefs of police and people from a number of world-wide security firms are now on board to crack down on any wrong doings.
But the main point that wanted to cover for this is that it’s just not in the industries best interests to rig their own sport. The reason behind this is that the vast majority of the money that they make comes from people betting on the sport. There is a levy that is in place which takes about 10% of all bookmaker’s earnings from racing within the UK. As you can imagine, this is a sizeable sum.
If there were wind of any wrongdoing from the powers that be, then punters would diminish. This means fewer people attending races but most importantly, it would mean fewer people trusting the bets that they are (or were) placing and therefore not placing them at all.
As fewer people bet, the bookmakers make less. If the bookies lose out, the horse racing industry will lose out. Prize money will be down, the number of races will diminish, the number horses, jockeys, stables and trainers will diminish, and the industry will be crippled.
The key thing to remember with this is that even a slight hint of foul play here, would not be worth the downturn in results if they were to get caught. The industry needs trust. In fact, it solely runs on trust and if that were to diminish, the sport could totally collapse as a result.
Individuals Fixing Races
If there is any corruption in the sport of horse racing, then it would come from an individual basis. There have actually been several high-profile arrests involving race fixing, none more so that Kieron Fallon back in 2004.
It was said that Fallon, along with others within the horse racing industry, had conspired to cheat in races that he was featured in to make sure certain horses would not win. The team would lay huge bets on these horses to lose, but Fallon and all involved in the case were eventually found not guilty due to lack of evidence.
Even though the not guilty verdict cleared his name, it sent shockwaves through the industry. It was widely thought that if one of the best jockeys to have lived was caught up in this, where else was it happening?
The issue comes in that it’s tough to know what is going on and where. There are so any variables and reasons as to why horses do not win races. It would actually be quite easy for a jockey to not win a race and then for no one to really bat an eye lid.
It’s also worth noting that if there were any cheating going on, it’s likely in your low-profile races. These would include Class 5 or Class 6 races. They won’t target the likes of the big races and big festivals as this is where any allegations of cheating are most likely to be spotted. But the 3.40 at Sedgefield on a cold Tuesday afternoon in December probably won’t have all that many people watching, which is where the sport is exploitable.
How Could a Race Be Fixed?
As we stated, there are plenty of ways that a race can be rigged, which is the hardest thing about catching these criminals. One of the most common routes comes through the trainer though.
They know the horse as well as anyone and this can stem from things such as info about how they have trained to administering drugs to either help or hinder the horse for that race.
Years ago, there have even been occasions where the horse that was running was not who they were meant to be. The 1844 Derby winner, Running Rein, later turned out to be Gladiator, a 4-year-old winning a 3 years old race. The coverage the sport gets now and the checks that are in place makes this almost impossible now, but it shows to what lengths people may go to.
Here are some of the ways that trainers have been caught out in the past:
- Performance enhancing drugs
- Performance enhancing devices (buzzers have been used to spark the horse into life)
- Sabotage of opponent’s horses
- Influencing jockeys
What is worth noting is that the majority of the time, they won’t be looking to fix the whole race, they will just be looking to almost guarantee the result of their own horse. Performance enhancers will mean they are trying to get the horse to win, but they can also include other things that decrease levels of performance to make sure it never has a chance of winning.
This is a key point that we want to make. Not all horses are in the race to win. As this is the case, does this make the race rigged?
We want to include this as just like any sport, there are pacemakers involved with horse racing. These are in the race to basically set a certain pace for other horses to give them the best chance of winning. It works a little like Formula 1 where the car in front pushes a hole in the air and the ones behind it can follow in their slip stream.
This is not illegal and whilst the horse is in the race to “win”, they are realistically never going to win that race. If they have no ambition to win the race, then does this mean that they are messing with the result?
It’s a tough one to answer and to be honest, it’s never sat all that well with us, even though it’s a common process. A horse should be in any type of race on merit and in to win. If they are not competitively able to continue their pace for the whole race then they are not good enough for that specific race.
There will also be times where horses aren’t in to win, but for other reasons. A common one is when they come back from long layoffs with injury. The owner or trainer may state to the jockey that this is more of a workout and they are not to push too hard.
In fact, they may even go as far to say as to not try to win at any costs. This means the next time the horse races the price for that horse will increase. Only a handful of people will now this, which leaves it open to be fiddled with.
What Role Do Betting Exchanges Play?
Betting exchanges, like Betfair, have played a huge part in all this and made it much, much easier to for cheats to prosper. The fact that you can both back and lay a bet gives a punter so many more options and this means that there are more ways that they are able to cheat races.
In fact, most of the cases and allegations that have been thrown about regarding racing being rigged have often been linked to betting exchanges. Whilst it is possible to use other betting sites, the exchange offers the flexibility and relative anonymity that is needed.
But the exchanges have fought back over these claims and state that the only sector now makes it harder for cheats to get away with it. Their reasoning is that they are now able to follow a much more sophisticated trail and that they have teams of people just looking for suspicious activity.
This activity ranges from the biggest races in the world, such as the Grand National, to that of the 3:40 at Sedgefield in December that we mentioned earlier. In fact, Betfair work very closely with the BHA and HRA to highlight any activity that they think might look suspicious. There are automated platforms that flag these bets (both back and lay) and then they are manually checked over after that as well.
So, whilst the exchange has unquestionably opened doors, it’s meant that powers that be have had to catch up and now that they are, it’s lead to more corrupt bettors being prosecuted than ever before.
What Sort of Patterns Are They Looking For?
It’s a massively complex system that they have in place, but most of the time the betting patterns that flag are from the smaller races. For example, when horses in the Cheltenham Gold Cup drift from 3.5 to 6.00 just a few minutes before the start of the race, given the sheer volume of punters, the number of eyes watching and the information that is freely available on each horse, this is likely going to be a plausible drift.
But, if the same thing happened on our highly suspicious 3:40 at Sedgefield, with just a few hundred of people at the course and likely less watching online, then this would set alarm bells off.
There was recently an example of something like this taking place at a meeting in Uttoxeter in 2010. James Parfitt had laid a horse for over £14,000 at pretty much any price that he could. He had over 85% of the lay bets for that market.
After an investigation, it turned out that he was in close contact with said horse’s trainer, who had confirmed to him that the horse had been bleeding just days before the race. It also turned out that when Parfitt’s betting history was checked following this, he had done the same with other horses all owned by the same trainer with similar betting patterns.
Parfitt ended up getting a 2-year ban from all forms of racing and betting, with the trainer, John Spence, receiving a 6-month ban.
Operation Crock of Gold
We can’t leave this article without touching on what was – almost – the biggest and best bookmaker scam of all time.
The scam almost bagged the cunning group of punters £300,000, which would have been worth around £3 million in today’s money. The horse that it was surrounded by was that of Gay Future.
The ringleader of the group was Tony Murphy, a successful businessman from County Cork. He used to drive around in a gold Rolls Royce, often with shovels, spades and wheelbarrows hanging out the back on the way to work.
In 1973 a sociable drink with friends dreamt up an almost perfect plan. They enrolled the help of two racehorse owners in Edward O’Grady and Tony Collins, a stockbroker who had a small yard in Scotland.
Collins had a racehorse that looked the spitting dabs of Gay Future but had only about one tenth of the ability. Gay Future had been training brilliantly, and there were high hopes for this horse.
The plan was to run Gay Future in a race at Cartmel in the Lake District, but instead have the horse run under the name of Collins’ chestnut racehorse. They shipped Gay Future from Ireland across to Cartmel and made the switch not too far from the racetrack, before taking it to the race.
In order not to raise suspicion, the pair had decided that they were to enter two more horses across the country in other races that were taking place at almost the exact time that Gay Future was set to win.
They travelled around London and placed several bets with several bookies. The genius in the plan was that the sizeable bets they were going to place were on multiples, which included Gay Future plus one or sometimes both of their other runners, making it look like they are just backing their own horses to win, which is perfectly legal.
But they had no intentions of running the others and withdrew, not long before they were due to race. Betting terms stakes that as a multiple, if there is a non-runner then they are removed from the bet with all other selections remaining. They now had lots of bets that were now just singles on Gay Future without anyone batting an eye lid.
There are two more key points to recognise with their plan.
- The first point was that Cartmel was one of few that had no exchange for bookmakers to check prices and then adjust odds. All they could do was use the single phone box outside of the course to contact head offices in London. Of course, Collins made sure the phone box was constantly occupied.
- The second point was that the race was run on a bank holiday, which is the busiest times of year on the roads for motorists.
These link because by the time that word got out for bookmakers to get someone to the course to back Gay Future as well and limit exposure, it was too late. The courier was held up in traffic, and the race had started.
Gay Future went on to win the race. The group had done it and they bookmakers were left counting the cost.
It was a famous win and they would have gotten away with it, but for a phone call from a newspaper to the trainer’s yard to ask for a quote about the win. Unfortunately, Collins and his crew were out celebrating, and the yard boy and mistakenly let on that the two dummy horses had never left the stable to go and race.
The pair were later found guilty and ultimately banned from racing for 10 years. But the public reaction was oddly more admiration than anything, given the extreme lengths that they had gone to and almost pull it off.
Should You be Worried About Rigged Races?
The above example would just not be possible today. There are too many checks, too many cameras, too much interaction between on course and online/high street bookmakers and just generally too much transparently in the industry.
If races are rigged in any way, it’s on a small scale. There bookmakers and the horse racing authority have it in their best interest to keep the sport safe and to keep people feeling that it’s safe. This is why millions are pumped into the safety of the sport every year.
You could argue that all sports have their rogues, and horseracing would be exception. To say that the sport was rigged would be a massive overreaction and false accusation, in our opinion at least.