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Horse Racing: Squealin from the bookies is music to my ears.

Byline: ALASTAIR DOWN

IT WAS never made clear in Dad's Army whether Corporal Jones was a betting man, but the current blizzard of toys over the big bookmakers' perambulators is further proof of the wisdom of Jonesy's immortal observation that "they don't like it up 'em"!

From April 1, all non-terrestrial live pictures from six courses - Ascot, Bangor, Chester, Goodwood, Newbury and York - will be shown exclusively in betting shops signed up to Turf TV, and the screens in SIS shops such as William Hill, Coral and Ladbrokes will be blank.

And this is merely a sighter, because from January 1 a further 25 courses signed up to Racing UK will move their pictures and data rights from SIS to Turf TV, leaving slim pickings in the SIS shops where the main visual attraction will be a whole lot of nothing very much.

Cue apoplexy from the big bookies, the handing out of tin hats to PR men and the predictable response of all bullies down the ages - plenty of threats and intimidation.

But to borrow an expression from my friend Mr Francome: "What do you expect from pigs but grunts?"

Let us not fall into the cosy trap the major bookmakers habitually set, that there is some massive area of common interest between the bookie and the punter. This tired old lie has been peddled for so long it has acquired an utterly specious respectability that would make the average Soviet propaganda minister blush several shades of scarlet.

We punters are of interest to the big bookmakers only as a method of serving the interests of their shareholders. If the bosses at Ladbrokes, Hills or Coral ever asked out loud "what is good for the punter?" they would be out the door, because their only role is to maximise take from the betting public. And if you doubt they have no shame about doing it, just look at the CSF or the BAGS service.

It should also be pointed out that bookmaker profits are currently stratospheric, although it would be foolish if the racing industry thought that this was horseracing-led. Indeed, all the big chains have invested a great deal of money and effort into getting the high street punter to bet on other things than racing that provide even fatter margins.

Like all greedy people the bookmakers want more, and the idea of a rival service to SIS, in which they have a major stake, is anathema. Having historically run rings around the divided factional interests of the racecourses, they now find 31 courses united for their own corporate good, and the bookmakers like it not one bit.

Thus we have William Hill threatening to pull their sponsorship of races from courses that no longer wish to bow the knee to the great God SIS. When bookmakers mount their high moral horse, one of the earliest victims is the English language, which suddenly ceases to have all meaning.

Never forget the transparently stupid and intelligence-insulting remark by Ladbrokes' Chris Bell at the time of Ladbrokes' doomed effort to take over Coral. In a comment that still sets the benchmark for surreal use of words, he insisted that Ladbrokes taking over Coral would be "good for the punter", rather as Mrs Thatcher was a major boost for the miners or foxes are routinely made welcome in henhouses.

THUS we get Hills's well-indoctrinated public relations director, David Hood, parroting: "We face a situation whereby continued sponsorship at these Turf TV tracks would fly in the face of all commercial realism. What is the point of subsidising these tracks?"

Subsidising? Subsidising!? What sort of twaddle is this? Silly me had always imagined bookies sponsored races for sound commercial reasons, but I was evidently mistaken.

They obviously engage in this subsidy through the goodness of their hearts, handing out largesse to struggling courses such as York, Sandown, Cheltenham and Goodwood from fear that folk will go hungry. It's but a matter of time before they register as charities.

The big bookies' sole and abiding interest in the health of horseracing is the amount of money they can extract from it. And all their fine words and beneficent posturing will never alter that eternal truth.

So when they scream like stuck pigs, your every instinct tells you that something good is in the air for the punter and the sport he or she bets on. The bookies loathe any change that is beyond their Machiavellian control, and be it betting exchanges or racecourses taking their lives back into their own hands, they will fight by any means fair or foul.

By their actions we shall know them.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 27, 2007
Words:774
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