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Do not expect the BHB to keep an eye on layers now.

Byline: Alastair Down

SOLDIERS get battle fatigue, kind hearts suffer compassion fatigue, aeroplanes metal fatigue and all of us in racing are in the terminal stages of squabble fatigue.

Over the last two years the sport has been riven by one long, unedifying, rancorous dispute after another, and we are in the predictable death throes of a fresh one with the prospect of a diet in betting shops comprising such succulent delights as Borrowdale and Treviso or Vaal and Grosseto. Vile and Gross is more like it.

In the end, betting-shop punters will, in all likelihood, be spared their hunter chases from Sedgefield and Towcester being interspersed by pig-sexing from Palermo and Boer-hunting from Bloemfontein, but the brinkmanship of the bookmakers has reinforced the ancient truth that while most businesses struggle to produce customer service, at the heart of the big layers' philosophy lies the eternal driving force of customer contempt.

But weary though we may have grown of the rights and wrongs of endless rights, there runs through the strife of recent years a joyous refrain.

Not since that short Frenchman put on his woolly glove near Moscow and turned for home have we seen such a reverse. The Napoleons of the bookmak-ing industry are, at long and happy last, in full retreat.

After 40 years of systematic abuse, greedy mouths are being weaned off the sugar tit that has been racing, and snouts are gently being lifted from the trough.

It is not that they will no longer make fat profits from racing, it is just that the days when they set the agenda of how it was done have gone forever. Where they used to saunter down the wicket and cart the racing industry's slow medium pace all round the ground, the bookmakers now have just one leg to stand on and, at the bottom of it, is a back foot.

And it is not merely that they are now going to have to pay the going rate for picking our pockets - the lumbering super-tankers of the major firms are also having rings run round them by speedier more modern craft such as Betfair plus a whole flotilla of technology-led betting innovations that will slowly drive them dizzy.

But even in the sunlit uplands of tax-free betting, there is on the horizon a cloud "no bigger than a man's hand" as the Bible (religious one, not form book) used to say.

With the deal whereby the layers pay ten per cent of gross profits on racing back into the industry, we are faced with the novel and interesting situation whereby both the bookies and the BHB have common cause in getting as much out of the punter as is feasible.

This is unlikely, I trust, to lead to a scenario whereby all odds-on winners in stewards' inquiries are thrown out in favour of 16-1 shots in order to keep the sparkling smiles of Peter Savill and John Brown in place, but the financial alliance between racing's rulers and bookmakers could leave you and me somewhat exposed.

After all, as it's now in racing's interests to see the bookies doing as well as possible out of the sport, what possible incentive is there for our rulers to police the activities of the layers?

Its lamentable record proves that the BHB has never cared a fig for punters and now has good reason to care even less. So when the bookmakers next start attempting to monkey with margins or starting prices we can't expect the BHB, that snarling watchdog of punters' rights, to come roaring out in our defence.

It will, as ever, stay slumbering in the kennel contemplating how much juicier the bookies' bone will become.

For one thing, inevitably, has not changed during the recent revolutions: there is still no voice from the betting public to be heard echoing in the corridors of power. 'Twas ever thus, 'twill always be, because the opportunity for one of the new independent seats on the BHB to be given to a punters' voice will undoubtedly be passed up.

So, despite the fact that public esteem for journalists places us somewhere between car salesmen and cow pats, there is a job for hacks and pundits to do here.

First, to monitor and expose every back-door trick the bookmakers will no doubt employ to squeeze the punter for more and, second, to insist that the BHB doesn't merely lie there, struck dumb, as in the past.

The bookies ain't dead, they are just lying down. And the most dangerous of animals is a wounded one.

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The financial alliance between racing's rulers and bookmakers could leave you and me somewhat exposed
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:780
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