Altior Motives

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A week after reporting on the Black Dave saga, I once again feel duty bound to peer under the murky duvet of secrecy and investigate the rancid underbelly of our beloved sport. This time though, it concerns one of the biggest names in the game.

Nicky Henderson revealed last Wednesday evening that Altior was to have a minor wind operation and would miss his intended pre-Christmas target of the Tingle Creek at Sandown, for which he was clear favourite. Nothing untoward you might think, but Henderson released the information on his blog with bookmaker Unibet and it was clear that some knew about it before that.

Markets have a clever knack for unearthing hidden nuggets and moving accordingly well before any official news, and those with the insider knowledge clearly had the opportunity to make money laying Altior or backing others to win the Tingle Creek. Both of these happened last Wednesday.

As in the Back Dave case where David Evans received price boosts, the relationship between trainer and bookmaker raises eyebrows, but this should not be mistaken for being the main issue at hand. Both cases pivot around the delay of vital information – in Evan’s case the news that his other horse was a non-runner, and in Henderson’s case that Altior was to postpone his seasonal comeback.

However, the recent fad for trainers to have blogs on bookmakers websites does have some bearing on the matter – partly because of a perceived conflict of interest, partly because it seems wrong that a bookmaker should receive vital knowledge before the common punter, but mostly because it puts more people and more time in the chain of reporting and therefore offers more opportunities for information to be misappropriated.

You could argue, as Nicky did on ITV Racing in response to some gentle probing by Matt Chapman, that if trainers reported every whistle, niggle and off-day a horse has they would spend their life at a desk, but that would be missing the point.

It is very unlikely that most punters would be interested in most horses – a Class E selling hurdler’s possible wind operation is unlikely to feature on the Richter Scale of ante-post betting, whereas Altior’s wellbeing almost certainly is. The stark reality is that some people lost money because they didn’t have information that others had.

Let me say that I don’t doubt for one moment Nicky’s integrity. I refer to him by his first name because I had the pleasure of interviewing him two years ago just before embarking on my ludicrous journey, and he came across as open and honest, and extremely obliging with his time for some strange chap he’d never heard of before.

Anyone who knows jump racing will tell you he adores his horses and puts their welfare before anything else. For example, the relief he felt whilst nurturing the national treasure Sprinter Sacre through his rollercoaster career to a safe retirement was palpable.

I just think he misjudged this one. I think trainers do have a duty to disclose important information about their high-profile horses in a timely manner. Nicky points out that he was waiting for a second opinion before going public, but he has been around the game long enough to know that the information was likely to leak out somehow and he should have told everyone the first opinion on Tuesday.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that my fashion sense suggests I do not care much for the concept of ‘image’, but actually, due to the inseparable nature of horse racing and betting, the damage done to our sport’s image over the last couple of weeks has been real and devastating. Backing a losing horse can be hard to take, but backing a horse ante-post that the layer knows won’t even run is just plain wrong.

Luckily, I am unencumbered by receiving cash from bookmakers for my views (quite the opposite with most of my bets, actually) and can give you this information straight from the horse’s mouth:

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