Next week’s Cheltenham Festival has long since overtaken Royal Ascot as the biggest betting event of our racing year, with 25 of the year’s top 40 races by turnover in the latest list from Ladbrokes/Coral.
All bar a tiny fraction of that money is staked with bookmakers or on betting exchanges, but an interesting rumour doing the rounds at present is that the Tote, for so many years the all-but-forgotten poor relation in British betting, will attempt to up its game at next week’s meeting with a cut to its take-out rate in the Festival’s win pools.
On a day-to-day basis, the Tote has always struggled to compete with traditional bookmakers since its creation in 1928. Big Festival meetings, however, always generated serious liquidity in the betting pools and that, in turn, gives punters confidence that the odds will reflect a runner’s chance while also offering the hope that the dividend for an unexpected winner will be much better than the SP.
The arrival of the Betfair betting exchange about 20 years ago removed many of those advantages, as an exchange has many of the characteristics of a pool operation but allows punters to take – and trade – a price. A series of hikes in the take-out from the win and place pools has also done nothing to improve the attractiveness of the Tote’s offer to punters. The rumour at the moment is that the take-out on win pools at next week’s meeting will move closer to its previous level of 16.5%, from its current rate of 19.25%.
BetFred, which bought the Tote from the government seven-and-a-half years ago, is currently in the process of selling some or all of the business to the Alizeti consortium led by the owner and breeder Alex Frost.
The suggestion of a cut in the Tote’s take-out rate at the Festival may yet prove to be no more than a hopeful rumour. There will be plenty of heavy hitters from the City in the corporate boxes at Cheltenham, however, and a little positive publicity for the Tote during the biggest betting week of the year certainly wouldn’t do any harm to Alizeti’s fundraising efforts.
Punters looking for an interest on Tuesday’s cards have several well-supported and competitive contests to unpick at Exeter, where Rosemary Russet (3.45) could pick up her first win over hurdles having done well to get within 12 lengths of a well-handicapped opponent last time out.
The Ogle Gogle Man (4.15) and Pine Warbler (4.45) also have strong claims on the same card, while Chase The Wind (2.30) and Big Time Maybe (6.00) should both go well on the cards at Newcastle and Wolverhampton, respectively.