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To be or not to be (withdrawn from a horse race)

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The sport of kings has been brought into the headlines for the wrong reasons over the last week, largely due to an issue arising over the interpretation of whether a declaration of a horse’s non participation in a race has been made officially or not.

The issue concerns the champion chaser Altior and its participation (or not) in the Grade 2 chase at Kempton last weekend. The race worth £34,000 was eagerly anticipated by punters who were keen to see whether Altior, who had been beaten for the first time in 3 seasons in November, was back to top form.

There is a requirement for Trainers to inform the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) when the decision has been made to scratch the horse from a race in which it has been entered. This is not least because of the sensitivity in the betting markets of such a decision. In the case of Altior, the Trainer, Nicky Henderson, called the BHA last Tuesday to inform them that in his opinion Altior was not going to run at Kempton that weekend.

However, the horse had not been formally scratched until Wednesday with the subsequent effect that rumours arose which effected the betting market to the extent that Altior drifted from heavy odds on, to 4/1 in some markets. Punters wishing to take advantage of what appeared to be increasingly generous odds could therefore have placed bets on Altior during this period and unless the bets were placed on a ‘non runner no bet’ basis, the punters would lose their money.

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Both sides claim they acted in the best interests. As with any transaction in the commercial world, be it a financial trade in the City or financial outlay on a horse, such decisions have to be made by all parties with all information to hand. It’s about transparency and in this instance Nicky Henderson has said he couldn’t formally confirm the scratching of the horse until he’d discussed it with Altior’s owners. The BHA say they couldn’t scratch the horse on the basis of what may be regarded as insider info gleaned from a Trainer.

Nicky Henderson has recently said that he is thoroughly fed up with the whole issue and whilst the matter has upset most of the parties involved (including punters) it’s fair to say that it highlights the specifics of the application of the rules and if nothing else, lessons will be learnt from this. For us punters we must look carefully at the reasons for any drifting of odds in the betting market and as with any purchase, the old adage stands, if it looks too good to be true, there is probably a good reason why you should steer well clear.

Now pass the blood pressure pills for Mr Henderson.

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