Given that horse racing and betting are inextricably linked, many people just getting into the sport with having a punt in mind worry about whether or not it is fixed.
Let’s say one thing immediately; if it was openly fixed, it would be cancelled. Cheating is not accepted in any sport.
Horse racing is also not pure entertainment, like for example wrestling, where some sort of script is acceptable. Team orders aren’t even allowed, something we’ve seen in Formula One in the past.
Each horse is to be ridden to achieve its best possible placing, but that hasn’t stopped certain characters over the years bending, and occasionally snapping, the rules.
Horse racing has been open to rigging and fixing down the years.
While it is very, very rare for cheating to take place it can and does happen. This has led to the reputation of the whole sport being compromised.
Types of cheating include:
- Schooling in public – deliberately holding horses back
- Doping – giving horses drugs to either stop them, or enhance their performance
- Collusion – jockeys/trainers getting together to fix a result for their greater benefit
The first thing to say about race fixing is that there is no doubt at all it happened way more in the past than now. Security cameras in stables, regular BHA checks, veterinary checks etc mean that it gets harder and harder for those attached to the sport to in any way fiddle it.
The other thing to note is that any skulduggery is almost certain to take place at the lower end of the sport. This is because prize money and earnings are not good enough. This makes people at that level more inclined to attempt to enhance their chances of winning a bet, rather than simply be paid for their work.
There has been some bad stuff over the years, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s those outside the sport who tend to think it’s rigged, while sometimes those just on the fringes of it, i.e., the casual watcher and gambler, are often even worse when they talk out of their pockets.
Playing the System
One thing that, as a punter you should look out for, is trainers playing the system. This is something that happens to this day and regularly too.
What we mean by this is playing the ‘handicap’ system. When a horse wins, or has run three times, it is given an official handicap mark or ‘rating’ by the BHA.
That mark determines what weight it carries when it runs in a handicap race. The more weight carried, the less chance it has of winning, in theory at least.
So, what some trainers tend to do is try to make sure that their horse does not run well early on in its career in order to get a low mark in handicaps, increasing their chances of winning.
This really is a borderline tactic. Actually ‘stopping’ the horse via instructions to the jockey is highly illegal. This would lead to fines and bans for the trainer and the jockey owing to damaging the sport’s integrity. There are legal ways to do it however, and they aren’t kept secret.
Achieving a Low Handicap Mark
One of the past masters at getting a low handicap mark for his horses is Newmarket trainer Sir Mark Prescott. So, if it’s no secret that he’s doing it, why isn’t he stopped? Well, because he is aware that his horse may not run well but he is doing nothing untoward to make that happen.
How he achieves this is by looking at the horse’s breeding, and home work. A horse bred to go over a mile or so as a juvenile, and then over middle-distances later on, will usually not have the pace to win over five or six furlongs for example.
What he will do in this case is enter the horse over an unsuitably short distance. If, and usually when, it doesn’t win and is seen to struggle, the handicapper will have no choice but to rate the horse on its merits.
In this case, the jockey is trying his best too. There is no actual cheating going on. But, when the horse inevitably finishes nearer last than first, it will be given a lowly handicap mark which can then be exploited when it goes up in trip in handicaps later on.
What Can the BHA Do?
If horses are ridden properly to achieve their best placing, then in theory the BHA has to let this continue.
As a punter, you have to know the game and will stay away from horses you don’t believe can win early on. The flip side is that you can join in on the gamble when said horses go up in distance and start winning.
The BHA doesn’t like it happening though, for sure. There have been cases in 2022 and 2023 of trainer George Boughey’s horses NOT being given a handicap mark after their third run.
They clearly see a pattern of the trainer making sure his horses don’t run to their full potential early on, so the BHA essentially stops him from running them in handicaps by refusing to give them a rating.
The problem with this is that we can completely understand why trainers do this. Some say this is the BHA fighting back and helping punters, but that’s not really true.
The handicap system in Britain means that a horse can run well but not win, perhaps even down in sixth or seventh place, and be reassessed at a HIGHER rating by the handicappers thereafter.
This means it gets harder and harder for them to win and turns owners off the game forever.
If the handicap system penalises horses when they’re not winning and the prize money at the lower end of the sport simply isn’t good enough, which it isn’t, they trainers and owners will naturally do what they cannot within the laws to increase income.
If this means having a bet and taking money from bookmakers who make hundreds of millions, then the vast majority within the sport would take no issue with this.
The BHA needs to get prize money and the handicap system right BEFORE it takes action on trainers whose horses may or may not be capable of more than they’ve shown on the track so far.
What Protections Are in Place?
The BHA, British Horseracing Authority, is in charge of monitoring all aspects of the sport and is responsible for trying to ensure cheating doesn’t take place. It is also in charge of punishments when it does.
The BHA does operate a strict and robust system. They have a published zero-tolerance policy on doping.
As well as this, they work together with other worldwide racing territories to standardise as much of this as possible. Most, but not all, racing zones ban the same substances, some in total and some only on race days.
Rule (D) 3 in the BHA Rules of Racing says that the ‘responsible person’ has to ensure all treatments and medications administered to horses in their care are given only in the interests of the horse’s health. They are never to be used to increase or stunt performance on the track.
Clear and accurate records of all medications administered must be kept and the punishments for not doing so can be harsh. Losing races, even long after the result has been called, fines and even bans can be enforced on those responsible.
So, Is Horse Racing Dodgy or Not?
In a nutshell, no. That doesn’t mean there aren’t certain little tricks used for some people within the game to gain an advantage.
Our advice is stick to betting at the higher end of the sport.
This is crucial.
Breeders and owners such as Juddmonte, Godolphin, Cheveley Park, Shadwell and others aren’t interested in small advantages being gained over a bookie, or for £3,000 in prize money. It’s about the sport to them.
When a horse is sent to Group race, a Listed race or a major handicap there is big money involved and, more importantly, there is breeding to think of later on.
It’s crucial for them to get the best possible placing for their horses in big races which increases their value when they get to the breeding sheds after they retire.
You can rely on that.