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Paul Haigh: There's nothing negative about this transparency; `From Monday, racing will be a more difficult game for the crooks to manipulate....

Byline: Paul Haigh

THERE are two ways of looking at the memorandum of agreement between the Jockey Club and the two leading betting exchanges that will give the former access to the records of the latter whenever the Club has reason to feel suspicious about a race and the betting patterns involved.

You can either take it as the biggest step forward in racing security since the arrival of dope testing and/or patrol cameras. Or you can dismiss it as a bit of cosmetic fluff designed to give the impression that many crooks are now going to have their crookedness revealed, when in fact it means only that they'll have to be a bit more careful about covering their tracks.

Since this agreement is exactly the one this column started calling for directly after last year's TV exposs, there's no reason to keep you guessing which way it's going to jump.

Of course the agreement won't mean the end of the iniquitous practice of running horses to lose. Unscrupulous connections who are well aware that their horse is running half-fit, over the wrong trip or just plain injured will still be able to profit from this knowledge by laying on the exchanges. But, crucially, they will not be able to do it in their own names. Or at least not more than once, because if they do, the authorities will be on to them and will have a visible trail of evidence on which to take the necessary action.

No trainer, therefore, will ever again be able to brag, as one did memorably on national television last year - either to genuine new owners or fakes sent along by TV companies - that he can make easy profit simply by sending a horse out to race when he knows it can't win. It can still be done, he'll have to tell them. But if they want to get away with it, they're going to have to get a few more people involved; and close friends and family just will not do - because a trail that leads to close friends and family will be equally detectable and equally incriminating.

Maybe nothing will stop shady characters absolutely determined to make a one-off hit. But this will make life so much more difficult even for them.

Not only will they have to go to the immense trouble of finding equally shady characters to do their laying for them (ones they can trust to pass on the profits afterwards if all goes according to plan) but, as any tricky insider dealer will be able - if not exactly happy - to tell you, the more people who are involved in any conspiracy, the less that conspiracy's chances of success.

The decision by Betfair and Sporting Options to sign up to such an agreement is an eminently sensible one for them as it kicks away one of the main objections to their existence raised by the big bookmakers who'd love to see them banned. This is the objection that, because they offer the opportunty to lay as well as back, they provide a virtual incentive to non-trying for profit.

This was always a pretty spurious argument as profit could always be made out of non-trying, even before the arrival of the exchanges, simply by selling to a bookmaker the knowledge that a certain horse could be laid with impunity. That option still remains open, although the difficulty of arranging a reverse coup of this sort is now increased by the new openness on the exchanges.

The decision by the exchanges to go for transparency in fact throws the pressure back on the bookies, whose books, we must not forget, remain closed to the Club in the name of confidentiality.

It may not be too long, indeed, before the spokesmen for the exchanges start arguing that the bookmaking industry itself, rather than the exchanges, represents the greatest threat to the sport's integrity.

The third exchange, Betdaq, has not yet signed up, ostensibly because of misgivings about infringement of privacy. But it's hard not to suspect that one reason the smallest exchange hasn't signed already is because it hopes to get a bit of free publicity out of the attention that will be lavished on its, surely temporary, unwillingness.

The adjective `historic' gets bandied about so much it's begun to lose some of its impact. But this is an historic agreement. From Monday, racing will be a more difficult game for the crooks to manipulate - and, as such, it will be an even better one for the rest of us to enjoy.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 12, 2003
Words:762
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