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Punters having their say as Haigh pillories the Post 17/03/2009
Chris Cook

Those of us who enjoy betting on horse racing are, in theory, extremely well served in having our very own daily paper to entertain us and stand up for our interests. But the extent to which the Racing Post performs that latter function was called into question last week when one of its most senior journalists quit in a blaze of acrimony.

"I've been convinced for a while now that the paper is nothing but a cheerleading tip sheet," Paul Haigh wrote in his resignation letter, adding that he had become "ashamed" to write for the Post, whose agenda, he felt, was now dictated by the bookmakers. Presumably shocked by the strength of Haigh's language, his former editor, Bruce Millington, denied the allegations as "absurd and untrue".

In particular, Haigh said he wanted to pursue an investigation into the extent of corruption in the sport but was dismayed when his offers to write on this subject were ignored. His belief is that the Post team now prefers to minimise coverage of such awkward matters for fear of driving the readership away from racing, simultaneously denting the business of their main advertisers, the bookmakers.

Haigh further insists that Post writers have been told not to say anything negative about fixed-odds betting terminals, the machines in betting shops that offer casino-type games. These have proved lucrative for bookmakers, but compete with racing for punters' money. Lower levels of betting on racing mean less income for the sport through the levy on bookmakers' profits, so Haigh argues that the Post is conniving in the undermining of its own sport.

Still, Haigh concedes that "it's tough for them and they can't afford to antagonise their advertisers". The relationship between racing's daily paper and the bookmakers is always likely to be a close one, though it is still a little surprising to find Racing Post data and tips being offered through the website of William Hill. One firm, at least, is not running scared of the paper's ability to find winners.

The Post has a large and talented team, and does a lot of things very well. Those punters who were able to get their hands on a copy of The Sportsman in the short time before that ill-conceived rival closed down will recall how easy it is to make a mess of such a venture. And if the Post is worried about falling circulation and wants to improve its website, that hardly distinguishes it from many another newspaper.

But the reaction to Haigh's parting shot, as represented in racing's online chatrooms last weekend, clearly showed that his concerns are shared. The Post has run a sustained campaign in recent weeks against the BBC's decision to cut back its racing coverage – it would surely be popular if it were to adopt a similarly clear, aggressive tone in covering other issues of concern. A series on corruption would be an excellent starting point.