The 150-year-old system of returning starting prices from racecourse betting rings could be quietly abandoned before the expected return of crowds and bookmakers to racecourses this year, the Observer can reveal.
Instead, the system of industry SPs using information from major off-course operators, which has been used to return SPs since racing went behind closed doors in June 2020, is likely to be either wholly or largely retained, finally giving the biggest firms a permanent foothold in the SP system that some, at least, have coveted for decades.
Privately, the Starting Price Regulatory Commission (SPRC), which has overseen the SP system since 2004, remains insistent no final decision has been taken on the future role of on-course markets in returning SPs.
However, it is understood the Press Association, an SPRC stakeholder since it employs a team Starting Price Validators (SPVs) to collate betting information and compile SPs, is in the process of making several SPVs who worked on-course redundant. Instead, a limited number of new roles, based full-time in PA Sports offices in Yorkshire, are being created to oversee SP-related data.
As a result, even if the SPRC were minded to revive to the long-established system of SPs returned from the track when crowds and bookies return, the employees with the skill-set and experience to oversee it will have been lost.
Asked why the PA was apparently pre-empting a decision on the future source of SPs, a spokesperson said: As a result of the continued absence of on-course bookmakers because of the Covid 19 pandemic and the potential industry reform of the Starting Price system, PA has been reviewing the operational structure of its team of Starting Price Validators.
We are consulting with our team of SPVs on the future location of their work. Until that process is complete it would not be appropriate to comment any further.
The appearance of a stable SP, trusted by bookmakers and punters alike in the settlement of off-course bets, led to a huge boom in racings popularity from the middle of the 19th century by making a remote sport accessible to an increasingly urbanised population.
The importance of the racecourse ring in the betting market has declined significantly over the last quarter-century as an ever-increasing proportion of betting turnover on racing has moved online, to traditional bookmakers and betting exchanges.
The handful of bookies standing at some meetings pre-Covid had also led to concerns about the integrity of SPs, and the SPRC consulted with stakeholders last year on possible ways off-course betting data could be incorporated into SPs.
As the SPRC concedes on its website, however, a key aspect of SPs has always been that they are seen to be independent of the bookmakers who accept off-course bets.
That independence now appears to be hanging by a thread and the miserable industry SP returns on two races involved in an attempted betting coup last Sunday are a timely reminder of how easy it could be for a small number of major operators to tilt an industry SP system in their favour.
Online Editors