Racing needs to stop shooting itself in foot

Racing needs to stop shooting itself in foot

A sport has to unite to showcase itself, and there remains plenty of scope for improvement in that department in horse racing. For reasons that baffle me, the industry continues to run meetings on top of each other, with races clashing on a regular basis resulting in viewers, punters and the industry itself losing out.

I was in Punchestown on Wednesday, when there were four meetings on, and the races were being run on top of each other. All I could think was that this was no good for anybody.

If you have the four meetings across Ireland and the UK eight minutes apart, so anyone could watch all the racing, it gives the viewer a preview and review of every race and, if you want to watch every race, you have somewhat of a breather between them.

On Wednesday, why couldn’t they have started Bath at 1:32pm, Nottingham at 1:40pm, Wetherby at 1:48pm, and Punchestown 1:56, completing the cycle in eight-minute intervals?

If that was the case, the first at Punchestown would have been at 1:56pm and the last at 5:08pm, and the first at Kempton could have been at 5:16pm and the last at 8:16pm, with Southwell starting at 5:32pm and finishing at 8:32pm.

The point is that it’s not a good product for viewers or for punters. Since the reduction in revenue from Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in Britain, there has been an increase in betting on horse racing, but there’s no reason that cannot be increased further, if coordinated properly.

When the four provinces in Ireland played the rugby Inter-provincials, very few people were interested, but when they started playing the Heineken Cup everyone was interested.

I know they went professional, but it was that competition which made it interesting. It’s the same in soccer: The Champions League has brought it to a different level. Whilst jump racing will never be European, flat racing may well be at some stage.

You can say I see this now because I’m working in television, and that’s probably true. When I was a jockey, most of the racing I saw was replays. I wasn’t sitting down for the day watching racing, but now I am and I’m looking at it and reading reports, especially in the UK, about the fall in FOBT money and the fall in the Levy. The finances of racing are being questioned all the time.

I accept races will be delayed. Horses may get loose, there may be a change of rider, or a spread shoe, or tack to be replaced.

All those things can happen, but I also realise, after being in Limerick last Sunday and watching Val O’Connell as clerk of the course and Paddy Graffin as starter, that racing can be started on time too. It was a perfect example. The seven races went off to time and without hitch. It can be done.

In the horse racing industry, British people use Irish stallions; Irish horses go to Britain as foals, yearlings and two-year-olds to be sold; Irish owners have horses in training in the UK and vice versa; Irish jockeys, predominately more so than the other way around, go riding in the UK. I even worked for two people at one time, sharing my time between England and Ireland.

You can say that one is competing against the other, but Bath should never be trying to compete against Punchestown. You’re talking about the same pool of people watching it, enjoying it, and maybe betting on it. So, why isn’t racing trying to line-up together? It will increase revenues both sides of the Irish Sea.

The authorities in soccer have long since realised that by going with a Saturday lunchtime match, another in the evening, three more on Sunday and another on Monday night, it increases the audience. It was traditionally a Saturday at 3pm sport, but now it’s goes from Saturday lunchtime until Monday night.

Tradition might dictate that racing must start two o’clock, five past two, 10 past two, quarter past two, but that’s outdated. Tradition isn’t progress. Racing can start at any time. It’s about making one big product which people can enjoy rather than numerous individual products in one industry competing against each other.

I understand that it’s not possible on St Stephen’s Day, when the number of meetings goes into double figures, or on any of those bank holidays or festival times when there is a lot of racing on. They are going to happen every now and then, but there’s no reason why, for the remainder of the calendar, that people can’t watch and enjoy all of it, not just little bits of it.

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