There is an element of Chepstow to Brighton, but it’s not as cold or windy. The stands cast a shadow over the course so that in the last furlong it’s like watching the finish through an old-fashioned kaleidoscope as they flash between light and dark.
Think of three slightly concave sides of a square and you’re not far off. It’s all humps and hollows and sweeping bends. It is the first course of my journey which is incomplete, so there is a limit to the length of the races, which seems to be about a mile and a quarter if this evenings races are to be a guide. Until somebody builds a bridge, it’s impossible to ‘go around again’.
You can’t see the start, or much of the course other than the last 4 furlongs to be honest, and I’ve not enjoyed this at other courses, but it’s certainly quirky and for some reason I like it. Again like Chepstow, the stands are perched high above the action so you can get a decent view of the finishing straight, and as the horses flash past the post you get a lovely view of the sea. It is one of the most picturesque parade rings I’ve encountered, but I’m not sure the horses appreciate it.
There’s a competitive ring here. In the third race the five horses are priced at 2/1, 6/1, 7/2, 3/1 and 6/1. I think that’s pretty decent, and later work out that it’s only slightly over-round at 109%. I know that sounds complicated, but anything less than 100% and the bookies lose money if you place the right combination of bets irrespective of who wins. To put it into context, the Grand National market was 165%, giving a massive edge to the bookies.
A huge spat has developed in the last few days over the starting prices for the Grand National, played out in the court room that is the pages of the Racing Post. At 65% overround the market was surely the most profitable of the year for many bookmakers, some of whom have decided to defend themselves by citing free market theories, or arguing that other retailers make their money at Christmas, why can’t they with the equine equivalent?
It’s an interesting debate because bigger profits for bookmakers means, through a complicated and frequently shifting funding landscape, more money returned to the sport. But this won’t satisfy the punter who may quite rightly feel somewhat exploited by the odds on offer in the biggest betting race of the year.
I must admit to an increasing loathing of bookmakers in general, and whichever way they spin it, 65% overround is unacceptable. I must point out that it is the powerful off-course firms that are most to blame, as they can manipulate the on course market easily and frequently. I was astonished that Shutthefrontdoor went off as 6/1 favourite for the Grand National, given that I saw 8/1 available not long before the off, but this only demonstrates the depths of their power. If the favourite had won, hedging their liabilities in this way would have saved them millions, and therefore cost the common punter millions collectively. This seems an inevitable but short term view of securing the future of the sport.
The on course bookies can’t hide from the blame either, though. They had opportunities to push out the prices on the horses not being backed off-course, and unsurprisingly chose not to. Which makes a situation such as today at Brighton all the more laudable. A small but decent crowd enjoyed a competitive market at a seaside holiday venue that you would expect to be easily exploitable. Well done to the ring and management of Brighton – unusual it may be, but a good day out it also undoubtedly is.
On the way back I drove past the rest of the course and saw a little parking area just before the village of Woodingdean with supreme views of most of the course and the coast beyond. You could take a picnic here, bet in the morning with best odds guaranteed concessions, and watch the finishes on 3G. But it wouldn’t quite be the same.