Thanks to the News section in Racing Post’s iPhone app I was alerted to some pretty serious price action about a horse called Prince James. It’s not because Prince James is a rising star, far from it. He’s six years old and as Racing Post put it: “failed to beat a single horse home last time but market moves suggest a lot better is expected.” He opened at 10-1, touched 7-2, and eventually started at something like 5-1.
Before yesterday, the beast had started 33 times, for 6 wins. Aside from finishing last at his previous start, his two runs before that were also unplaced. So, there didn’t appear to be anything in his recent form to support the kind of money that was being wagered on him.
I happened to be in front of my television as the field was loading for the 5.00 at Wolverhampton. Prince James was bustled into the lead from an outside draw, slowed the field down a bit going around the bend, and opened up a couple of lengths’ lead as they turned for home. He seemed to be headed in the final furlong, but came back gamely to win a nice race.
I’m not suggesting any skullduggery on the part of the trainer Mick Easterby, or anyone else connected to the horse. Nor do I have anything against Wolverhampton or – indeed – the horse in question.
The problem is this. Someone looking at that betting move from the outside, especially when related to the horse’s recent form, could easily view the episode with the suspicion that an insider knew something that the rest of the market didn’t. It is not unusual for horses with dodgy form to win when they are least expected to. I think most punters would forgive that. It’s when someone’s had a good bet that doubts are raised.
Horse racing does not have a great reputation. Episodes like this – even if nothing questionable happened behind the scenes – does nothing to improve perceptions for the better.
Frankel, Camelot, Black Caviar and others are great for horse racing, but horse racing doesn’t only sell bets at festival meetings. Whether mid-winter racing happens at Wolverhampton, Durbanville or Philadelphia, the industry needs year-round support from fans who trust the sport.
(Disclosure: I had no financial interest in that race.)