Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 19 November 2017

Another fine mess for Godolphin

John Ferguson at last year’s Tattersalls October Yearling Sales. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
John Ferguson at last year’s Tattersalls October Yearling Sales. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Johnny Ward

What one can tell about a person by his WhatsApp profile photo - if he has one at all - is something that would make an interesting study.

Constant changing of the image may imply insecurity, no image at all the opposite. I was surely the only person in the world to ponder all of this as a consequence of John Ferguson's decision to quit Godolphin after a quarter of a century's service to Sheikh Mohammed last week.

'For Bin Suroor to come out and criticise Ferguson so publicly in the lead-up to Epsom could only have been interpreted as evidence that his boss was fully aware of it in advance.' Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
'For Bin Suroor to come out and criticise Ferguson so publicly in the lead-up to Epsom could only have been interpreted as evidence that his boss was fully aware of it in advance.' Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Ferguson's avatar appears to be an image of a shark swimming in an aquarium. This may tell us a great deal… or nothing at all. Saeed bin Suroor, whose public criticism of Ferguson before another fruitless Epsom Derby prompted the chief-executive/racing manager's departure, has a WhatsApp image that must be seen to be believed.

Bin Suroor's avatar is a family photo, which is not at all unusual in the age of social media. That the image is not of the trainer's clan but rather one of Sheikh Mohammed, the Dubai ruler's son and two grandchildren is odd.

Quite what the relationship between the UAE's PM and the trainer amounts to is the stuff of speculation, but for Bin Suroor to come out and criticise Ferguson so publicly in the lead-up to Epsom could only have been interpreted as evidence that his boss was fully aware of it in advance.

Ferguson's son is assistant trainer to Charlie Appleby, who Bin Suroor clearly feels is getting the bulk of the boys in blue's best horses. In that interview, he bemoaned how late the juveniles were sent to him, and how backward they were.

Bin Suroor's complaints were understandable, yet his decision to go public has to be questioned. With what he has had at his disposal, one Group One winner in Britain in the guts of five years (Farhh in 2013) surely suggests he need look in the mirror too? Joe Osborne, the managing director of Godolphin in Ireland, will become interim chief executive of Godolphin's global operation.

The problem for the Sheikh is he has other things to worry about. The UAE has given up hope on Qatar, and the repercussions for racing could be seismic. The racing media wouldn't have taken much notice but last week, UAE authorities announced that social media posts sympathetic to Qatar are punishable by three to 15 years in jail, or a fine of at least 500,000 AED (€120,000).

Quite what Ferguson, Osborne or Bin Suroor make of this remains to be seen. But where does the operation go from here? More trainers? Fewer?

Another blow for serious racing punters

THE decision of Paddy Power to stop taking bets overnight on Irish racing - with the risible exception of a race or two - is a further indication of the death of odds compilers. The statement of Paddy himself warrants analysis.

"We are still pricing every race overnight, and a small number of these races will only be available online.

"The reason is pretty straightforward: some races have more obvious form lines than others so odds are more accurate and reliable, and ultimately we have more confidence in our prices to take bigger bets.

"But if, for example, all the runners in a maiden are having their first run, we're guessing at their chance so our odds could be wildly inaccurate.

"This is great if you have the inside track on one of the runners who has been burning up the gallops, but it can be terribly misleading if you're backing the favourite because of who his trainer and jockey are, but don't realise that he's nowhere near fit and actually his odds should be three times as big!"

With guaranteed odds, opinion in racing laying has become a dodo. What is the point? Now, rather than take a view on a dodgy stayer, layers will essentially copy Paddy Power, cut runners for no money, and let the mugs make do with what's left.

It is a sad state of affairs, but those who take betting on racing seriously must be left to ruminate. Should we abandon overnight wagering? Should we bet the following morning? Or, as seems increasingly likely, should we watch prices contract and lay horses that are over-bet by sheep?

For sure, things have changed: the days of getting a bet of any substance on in the shops are over. With models dictating bad prices on in-play betting and so on, those who actually have an opinion on a race matter less and less.

There is a theory that when Charles Byrnes landed a colossal gamble on three winners in Roscommon, Bet365 became extra cautious when it came to laying overnight. Charles may not have appreciated the monster he was creating, but this is where we are.

'Getting on' the night before is generally worth it - if you can get on. And that is becoming about as achievable as a Godolphin Classic winner.

RIDE OF THE WEEK

Niall McCullagh gave Khudos, tipped up here, a brilliant front-running steer on Saturday at the Curragh. Aware of the stamina doubts of his rivals, he rode an aggressive front-running race, burning them all off to gallop clear by 12 lengths.

GAMBLE OF THE WEEK

Sir Jack Yeats, 4/1 into 15/8 at Wexford on Wednesday, scored by six lengths for Ellmarie Holden and Donagh Meyler. Holden is a trainer making names.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"Given the recent articles in the media, it was clear my position was untenable. What matters is the future and my stepping down will allow everyone to draw a line under things and move forward." - John Ferguson's departure from the Godolphin operation is announced in an honourable statement.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

"Still chortling about Saeed blaming jocks and a dodgy batch of 2yo's for Godolphin woes. Farrh remains his only UK G1 winner in nearly 5yrs"

- Hong Kong Racing Club's Graham Cunningham (@gcunning12) has his say.

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