The Sport of Kings is back!
Horse Racing and Greyhound Racing in the UK and Ireland have returned after a 76-day hiatus due to the Coronavirus Covid-19 lockdown.
But the future of track racing in our pandemic world–with its masks, social distancing and near-empty grandstands–looks very different from the one we’ve left behind.
“These will not be race meetings as you might traditionally imagine them. They will be stripped-back events which will determine the best horses in various categories, a vital factor for the breeding industry,” said Mr Brian Kavanagh, the Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland.
“Attendance will be kept to an absolute minimum and Covid-19 protocols will be strictly enforced.
“From what is happening in other countries like France, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and America we know that racing can be staged safely within the requirements of social distancing,” said Mr Kavanagh.
All staff at racecourses and dog tracks will be subject to health screening in advance and thermal temperature screening on arrival. Anyone with an elevated temperature will not be permitted to attend.
There will be mandatory facemasks for on-track personnel such as jockeys, stalls handlers, medical professionals and security staff. For the time being people over the age of 70 will not be allowed to attend races.
A dedicated coronavirus protocol officer at each fixture will enforce social distancing, while all surfaces will be regularly disinfected before racing and throughout the race day.
On the betting front there will also be some big changes.
Because there are no on-course bookmakers the method of setting the all-important Starting Price (SP) has changed, most importantly.
“Now, we will be using larger bookmakers and popular betting exchanges to determine the SP–not course bookies,” said Mark Hughes. CEO of Banach Technology.
“With no on-course bookmakers to determine the SP, I think we might even find a more efficient SP calculated from where liquidity actually takes place. And this, increasingly, means online.”
In the absence of UK racing there’s been a big surge of betting on additional markets, such as the United States and France.
“British punters turned to international racing to fill the void and the racing that stayed in operation globally saw big increases,” said Alan Casey, the head of trading at AllSported, a joint venture between TXODDS, Banach Technology and the hallowed Racing Post.
“There was a tenfold increase in the volume of betting on US racing during April, for example,” he added.
“The proof is in the numbers,” said Mark Hughes. “We can see the liquidity on exchanges is much higher than normal for these types of events. Punters clearly want to have a bet on racing, and if UK and Irish racing is not available, they will look elsewhere.”
The in-running market is also set for big changes—and possibly greater equity—in the future.
“Everyone knows that in-running in just about every sport is largely driven by fast data,” explained Mr Hughes. “People at the track have a distinct advantage with access to real-time data and therefore provide a lot of the liquidity to the exchange.
“It will be interesting to see if the absence of on-course traders will reduce liquidity.
“Conversely, we might see the removal of this advantage and a levelling of the playing field. Now, we could experience a higher volume of in-running trading from television pictures. And this could, in theory, improve the in-running market,” he wagered.
Alan Casey, added: “If you take on-course in-running traders out of the market completely it could become fairer and we could see market makers able to offer better pricing, because there would be less fear of being picked off by a man on track.”
Learning lessons from the lay-off and faced with the reality of the so-called post-pandemic “New Normal”, Mark Hughes expects a massive drive to further improve efficiency in the gaming business — and greater automation.
“The value of having a diversified product set has never been higher,” said the boss of Banach Technology. “It’s only common sense to assume that operators will look to plug the gap with online gaming, e-sports and other non-sport dependent products to keep customers engaged.”
Alan Casey predicted: “In a globalised world, future pandemics are inevitable. I think that sports that can be played or operated behind closed doors will become more and more important for the betting industry.”
Einar Knobel, CEO of TXODDS, said: “Sports betting has long been a constant feature underpinning worldwide growth in our industry. Sports will now be looked at in terms of revised risk and so one might expect operators to adjust their exposure accordingly.
“To end on a positive note, history informs us that pandemics are usually short, sharp shocks and then things revert to normal.
“Betting is the second oldest profession and has always proven it can bounce back.”