Falling flat – all-weather racing. Do we want more of it?

Falling flat – all-weather racing. Do we want more of it?
Lingfield Park. Photo: Vernon Grant

Lingfield Park. Photo: Vernon Grant

There are punters who love all weather racing. They can’t get enough of the stuff.

I respect any punter who makes a profitable living from only betting on all-weather racing. There are many ways to deprive a bookie of income. Whatever works for you is good. But it’s not for me.

For many years, I offered selections at meetings staged at the likes of Southwell and Wolverhampton. I stopped doing so a few years ago. Any profitable punter should base their choices on statistics – where do they do best when it comes to backing horses that return a profit? I’ve tipped many a winner on the all-weather but, over a year, it was not sufficiently worth my time studying what became increasingly ‘trappy’ cards at the likes of Lingfield.

Removing my profitable punter hat for a moment, I do not enjoy watching all weather racing. Let’s be honest. The majority of it is crap!

It’s not, as some may allege, that I am a snob when it comes to racing. I know only too well that there is now plenty of crap racing taking place daily on turf. It’s just that the proliferation of all-weather events has made me less keen to watch or get involved in such meetings. And clearly, when it comes to racecourse attendances, I’m not alone.

On Good Friday of this week there will be much hoop-la-la about the second year of racing in the UK on that day. Last year racing broke new ground (or plumbed new depths, depending on your opinion) and staged meetings for the first time on Good Friday. Big prize money was put up in order to attract trainers, owners and the public to go racing, rather than spend the day at B & Q.

Lingfield was packed. A sell out. Racing authorities celebrated. All weather supporters said “I told you so” every five minutes. Did one swallow lead to a spring, summer or autumn of top quality all weather racing? No, of course it didn’t.

Is anything that attracts new racegoers to the sport good news? Yes, but only if they come back. Boasting one off big crowds on a bank holiday is one thing. Offering facilities and putting on racing good enough to ensure people come back for more is critical for the very future of the sport.

Mark Johnston criticises plan to stage jumps racing at Chester

Mark Johnston. Photo by Vernon Grant

Mark Johnston sends horses to all weather meetings. He’s a canny fella. If the prize money is good enough, Johnston will send his horses any distance to compete. But he’s noticed that it’s not only punters like me who are not attracted to all-weather racing.

Johnston says: “We shouldn’t look gift horses in the mouth and Kempton Park’s initiative to give six entry wristbands to owners of entered horses, whether the horses run or not, must be welcomed. The sad fact is that most owners don’t go all-weather racing, even when their horse does run, never mind when it doesn’t. And the same can be said for most race-going members of the public who, apparently, made eight million visits to racecourses last year. How many of those attended all-weather meetings, I wonder?

“Do we want more of this? The racecourses clearly do. As long as they have a media deal which pays as much for a Class 6 handicap at Wolverhampton as it does for the Grand National or the Derby, they think they have a licence to print money and all they need is to put on more and more low-grade, low prize-money races. Hence they are all clamouring for an all-weather surface and as many fixtures as they can lay their hands on. It really doesn’t matter to them whether people pay to get in or not. Gate money is just more icing on the cake.

“Where will it all end? It isn’t really too hard to imagine. Just take a look at BAGS greyhound racing.”

Mark Johnston is right. Racing is in danger of going to the dogs. Literally.

Nobody will ever convince me, writes Vernon Grant, that racing on an all-weather surface can be as exciting, or true, as racing on turf. I grew up believing racing is meant to take place on turf. Nothing I have seen in the subsequent decades has convinced me otherwise.

The growth of all-weather meetings may be good news for racecourse income but, as Mark Johnston says, that revenue is not based on the public attending. There are all-weather meetings taking place in front of one man, his dog and a couple of on course bookies. More all-weather race meetings actually equals fewer on course spectators.

Those who run racing are taking the easy option. Those who run racecourses, undertandably, are simply concentrating on trying to stay in business. Wouldn’t it be better for the sport long term to offer better prize money, attract more owners and stage more meetings on turf and fewer on a synthetic surface?

Owners and breeders Vivian and Heather Pratt say: “Understandably many owners agree with their trainers that they do not want to run in races with very low prize-money. To encourage new owners and racegoers to the sport it is imperative that prize-money is increased. It is owners that keep the racecourses in business by providing the runners and they contribute substantially to the prize-money via entry fees. It is a worrying trend that so few sponsors outside the betting industry are involved in racing nowadays.

“Thirty years ago National Hunt racing was suffering through poor prize-money, but now flat racing is the poor relation. Even top courses such as Newmarket and Newbury fall into this category. Why does Newmarket have only 39 race days this year, whereas the new  (all-weather) track, Chelmsford City has 58 meetings?”

Wolverhampton races. Photo by Wolverhampton Racecourse

Wolverhampton races. Photo by Wolverhampton Racecourse

No doubt I will once again be labelled a snob for looking down my nose at all-weather racing. And those punters who make a nice income from betting on racing at Southwell will be quick to remind me of that fact. I say to them once again: Well done you.

I still study race meetings staged on the all weather track at Kempton Park, a course that has long been profitable for me no matter what surface the horses race on. But would I pay to watch all-weather racing there or anywhere? No thank you.

That doesn’t make me a snob. It makes me a purist. Those of us who grew up believing flat racing should take place on grass are, like the great sport of racing itself, being marginalised.

1 Comment

  1. To blog Vern

    Agree with every word. Luckily we’ve hardly had a day off this winter so I haven’t had to resort to AW Racing and it’s largely passed me by.

    As it goes I don’t agree with Good Friday racing but accept it was always inevitable, hopefully soon we will have a turf raceday that is the centrepiece.
    There is no future in AW Racing and we are treading a dangerous path increasing the volume of it.

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