The former champion flat jockey is as concerned as I am, and many others who love the sport, about the fact that so much poor quality racing takes place the rest of the week, while all the best quality races are so often taking place on the same day – a Saturday.
I agree with his every word.
In his Betfair column he says:-
It is pretty disappointing when a racing nation like ours continually dresses up its shop window for the weekend, then proceeds to stick as many market stalls as it can in front of it on Saturday, and then move it down an alleyway on Sunday. Because that is what racing at Newmarket, Ascot, York (where I’m headed) and Chester on Saturday – and, with all due respect, then moving on to Southwell, Stratford and Perth the following day – effectively achieves.
It certainly wouldn’t happen in Australia, France or Japan, to name just three other countries. Do you think that if Sky had four live Premier League football matches to show this weekend, they would let the football clubs and venues dictate to them that they would all have the same kick-off time on the Saturday, and then leave their viewers watching a Championship “Super Sunday” double-header?
Of course they wouldn’t.
Some heads would be knocked together, compromises made, agreements reached, maybe compensation paid, and a proper schedule would result for the benefit of all. But because the racecourses are seemingly calling racing’s tune, we have another ridiculous situation this weekend. And there will be one again next year, too, if nothing is done about it.
Trainers are scrambling around for jockeys this weekend, and not even declaring horses that they want to run because no-one suitable is available to ride them. It wouldn’t happen in any other sport. I wouldn’t expect to go to Arsenal on a Saturday afternoon, and see squad players after paying £60-odd quid for a ticket.
The public want to see the best jockeys riding the best horses at the best tracks, and they cannot all be at Newmarket, York, Ascot and Chester at the same time. Owners, trainers and jockeys have to be given every opportunity to race the best horses in the best races, showcasing the sport.
But, by concentrating all the good race meetings on Saturdays – with very few exceptions, maybe the 1,000 Guineas and a couple of meetings over jumps, Sundays are pretty much an irrelevance in the grand scheme of things – it is becoming a bit of a farce. And sponsors of these big Saturday races are in danger of being short-changed, too, because decent races are getting lost in the mix.
Channel 4 are showing 10 races in a 130-minute spell on Saturday, and if some of these races over-run, for whatever reason, then it will be scheduling chaos and coverage of some may start as the stalls are opening. No time for sponsor name-checks, analysis, or betting shows to help the levy.
So, who is the winner there?
I ask you, why couldn’t one or two of these four big tracks, race on Sunday? Would it have made that much difference to attendances?
My guess is – with proper organisation, notice, marketing and promotion – not much. Certainly not at places like the July Course, and Chester, who can attract crowds. But even if it did make a difference, sit down and agree some compensation with the tracks willing to switch, maybe funded out of the increased levy which would almost certainly result from the sport having the ability to promote itself properly at two of the four big meetings on the Sunday?
Maybe give the tracks some money to book a band for Sundays to get them interested and the attendances up, if that is what needed, because something has to give. Obviously, with specific reference to Newmarket this weekend, there is the option of moving the July Cup back to midweek, and putting on a lower-class meeting on the Saturday.
I cannot believe that it is beyond racing constituents to get together and do what is best for the sport.
As it happens, I am off to France anyway on Sunday to ride The Grey Gatsby, so this isn’t borne out of self-interest. But would I, and the other jockeys, like to have had the opportunity to ride at Newmarket and York on Saturday, and at Ascot or Chester on Sunday?
You know the answer to that. And so does everyone else.
It’s just that nobody seems to want – or, more worryingly, has the ability to – do anything about it, which is a crying shame.