As the turf season starts to hit full stride it was interesting to note the end (official that is) of the jumps season 2009/10 which passed with slightly less coverage than St George’s Day, England’s National Day, although in truth compared with St Patrick’s celebrations you’d think we’re all Irish !! Still life must go on a bit like National Hunt racing which started the new season the very next day.
As you’ll be aware by now I’m rather sceptical when it comes to the whole Racing For Change set up and some of their ‘loony tune’ ideas to get people coming and enjoying racing. But I’m prepared to say I during the past 10 days I’ve become a convert to one of their ideas, namely the switch of odds to decimal which was trialled (kind of) at Ascot this week.
Up to a few weeks ago I just saw it as a pretty useless and worthless idea, a change for changes sake and little more. As someone who has bet on and off course for over 30 years I just couldn’t see what the point of it was and having grown up with 13/8 and 85/40 I kind of didn’t get the whole decimal vibe. However 2 instances in the last 10 days have totally changed my mind and certainly made me think about this argument in a different light.
During this 10 day period I have taken a few friends racing who are total racing virgins, with one never placed a bet in his life and the others both once a year Grand National £2 ew punters. Keen to take them into the betting jungle the subject of the odds came up, well in truth it cropped up on the first occasion when my friend wanted £5 win on a 4/6 fav. It was at this point I decided to educate them and impart my wisdom, with value for money the starting point. I soon began to realise that they had little concept of odds and none whatsoever of value. The conversation went something like this … me ‘it’s a short odds on fav you won’t get much back if it wins’, friend ‘what’s odds on mean’, me ‘well it means you’ll win only £3 odd back for your fiver, friend ‘so if it wins I only get £3 of my £5 back’, me ‘no you’ll win £3.33 and get your £5 stake back’, friend ‘so if I put £10 on how much will I win?’ …. And so on you get the vibe. Throughout the afternoon this whole odds fraction thing reared its ugly head and despite my best efforts it never really sunk in. In the bar during the last race my friend suddenly commented on why the tote didn’t have the prices of the horses shown the same way as the bookies. Then came the real eye-opener, friend ‘the bookmakers should show the prices like the tote do, it’s much easier to work out how much you’ll win’. That one comment got me thinking.
Today at Ascot I decided to conduct a little market research of my own. Taking full advantage of the free admission I took along a few friends and again took them to the ring to sample ‘jungle fever Ascot style’ which thanks to the large crowd was actually pretty exciting by Ascot standards. Again as before both friends were slightly confused when it came to working out how much they would win for their £5. After explaining, both again nodded but I could see in their eyes there was still some confusion. For the 3rd race we headed for the ‘decimal bookie’ and to my amazement both got straight away how much
they’d get for their £5 and both told me in no uncertain terms that the other way was just …. Well how shall I put it ‘daft’!! At this point I saw it, why wouldn’t it be a good idea; it’s just so much easier for the casual punter to understand. It may not have the romance or be as aesthetically pleasing but it really is so much simpler and the right way to go. After all the Tote have been doing for years and the exchanges kind of do it, which makes the bookies general anti stance against the change rather a strange one when you consider they back on the exchanges to their advantage every day!!
The only arguments that seem to be put up by people who oppose the idea of change to decimal odds, are the old chestnut, tradition and the notion that experienced race goers/punters don’t want it. To me the tradition card is spurious one, the fact is horse racing has a tradition of change, with just about the only thing that has remained unchanged during the past 100 years is that horse racing still uses horses and they start a point A and end at point B.
The changes have been numerous from the introduction of starting stools, photo finishes, winning distances, bookmaker pitches, training methods, the tote, AW racing, exchanges, lady jockeys, lady trainers, jockey’s minimum weights, skull caps, back protectors, Beaches Brook, use of the whip, remounting fallen runners, the list could go on and on. Tradition is in reality a non starter and a total red herring.
It was stated by a number of bookmaker after Ascot that the experience race goer/punter was totally against it and saw no point in changing the way odds are displayed. Again so what? You can’t tell me changing to decimal odds will stop these veterans of the track going racing or decimalisation will suddenly stop them from placing any future bets. Don’t be daft, these people may moan and reminisce about the good old days but they’ll still go racing and still willingly hand over their money to the bookies.
It is simply a local step to take, it will take some getting use to for old hands like me but it won’t make any difference to those already hooked by the racing/betting bug but it just could make the difference to those who aren’t.
The trouble is as usual the bookmakers will get their way and this idea will once again be put on the back burner and the next big idea rolled out. The shame is I think this is a big idea and I just hope we open out eyes and see it.
Whilst we’re at Ascot I’d like to congratulate them on showing how free admission to racetracks should be handled. None of this going on websites, contacting racetracks for tickets, filling out forms. If it’s free it’s free, that’s free just to turn up and walk through the gates, no questions asked no applying beforehand. A simple idea executed simply resulting in nearly 20,000 crowds on a Wednesday ….. Now that’s racing for change !!!