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Talking Horses: betting firms’ deals with trainers and jockeys treble

The number of trainers and jockeys signing up to links with betting firms has trebled in three years. A British Horseracing Authority register lists the names of 19 trainers and 24 jockeys as having commercial arrangements with bookmakers. The authority said on Thursday that in 2016 the register had six trainers and eight jockeys.

Some of the links on the list are with long-established bookies, such as Frankie Dettori’s arrangement with Ladbrokes, Paul Nicholls’s with Betfair or Colin Tizzard’s stable with Coral, but most involve newer firms striving to build market share in the lucrative British and Irish betting markets. Flat rider Josephine Gordon writes a blog for Unibet, for instance, while the Gloucestershire trainer Fergal O’Brien is on the register alongside 32Red, the online casino that brokered a deal to bring Wayne Rooney to Derby County.

A well-known sports professional writing for a betting site, or helping to promote it, raises its profile and attracts punters. Riding racehorses, and training them, can be a very precarious career – so maximising earnings when possible is an understandable pursuit.

However, links to bookmakers, although perfectly legal, could adversely affect public perception of racing. Bookie sponsorship is forever widening its scope – William Hill sponsor ITV Racing, while several of that channel’s presenters write blogs for, or are ambassadors for, various other firms. An ITV Racing spokesperson said: “Promotional work that any of our pundits undertake for betting companies is separate to their work for us and cannot be promoted through ITV.”

Photographs of a winning jockey after a Grand National, Derby or other big race – with a highly visible brand name or logo on silks and breeches – is invaluable publicity for bookies. And while not exactly resembling Lewis Hamilton on an F1 podium, more trainers are starting to sport promotional logos.

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Before entering an arrangement with a betting company, all trainers and jockeys must notify the BHA of the details, under rules governing “payment for non-riding or non-training services”.

There is no suggestion of bookmakers acting improperly. The kind of control mechanism they have introduced includes one from Betfair that obliges staff who “ghostwrite” blogs for racing people to sign agreements not to act on information they receive until it is in the public domain.

Betfair make staff sign agreements to ensure they use tips before ghostwritten blogs are published.

Betfair make staff sign agreements to ensure they use tips before ghostwritten blogs are published. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Asked for a response to the increase in the register, the BHA stated: “Guidelines are provided to trainers and riders as and when they enter into an arrangement with a betting organisation.

“We monitor the arrangements on an ongoing basis, as well as public perception. Services to betting organisations include blog posts, social media work, company functions, photo-shoots, video content, yard visits and a commitment to wear branded clothing.”

The authority’s guidelines display concern to prevent any suspicion of insider dealing. Trainers are advised: “For ‘high-profile’ horses, those running in graded races, feature handicaps or any races where there is a known ante-post betting market, the appropriateness of market-sensitive information should be strongly considered before it is first made available to the public through media hosted by a betting operator. Such information, could include, but is not limited to: jockey bookings, changes to publicly stated running plans, equine injuries and fatalities.

“If in doubt, it is highly likely the most appropriate means of communicating the information to the public is either through the media (PA, Racing Post etc.) or through the trainer’s own channels (e.g. website or social media).”

The BHA’s register, which is overdue for an update, can be viewed here

Friday’s selections

Nottingham stages a very attractive midweek card with Ojooba (nap, 4.45) looking worth an interest in the £25,000 fillies handicap. This powerful galloper made all the running over course and distance a month ago and should not be troubled by softer ground.

In the previous contest, a £35,000 all-aged handicap, Not So Sleepy (next best, 4.15) looks best now that Hughie Morrison’s stable has so decisively exited the Racing Post’s ‘cold’ list.

A win for Ojooba would be a favourable pointer to the chance of Sweet Promise at Wolverhampton. This filly was runner-up to Ojooba last time. Would-be supporters would need to be quick off the mark, however, as Sweet Promises’s race is due off at 4.50 – only five minutes after Ojooba’s.


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