All weather racing. Jim McGrath asks: Who is it good for?

All weather racing. Jim McGrath asks: Who is it good for?

wolves photo by course2014 will see more all weather racing in the UK. My heart sinks at the very thought, writes Vernon Grant.

Efforts to dress up some future racing at the likes of Wolverhampton as meetings offering big prize money, with quality fields, could have been dreamt up by one of those wet behind the ears people you see on ‘The Apprentice.’

I will not even be looking at those racecards.

Worse. Catterick and Newcastle want to stage all weather racing and Great Leighs could be back. It is unlikely both the first two will get the green light to put down an all weather surface. And Great Leighs will have to meet stringent guidelines if that course is to open for business once more.

I have always congratulated punters who make a living betting on all weather racing. That is some achievement.

But for me it is the woeful quality of most all weather racing that increasingly leads to me to walk away from such meetings.


The majority of all weather racing is terrible, low grade stuff. Just one notch up from that pretend racing you see on screens in your local bookies.

Jim McGrath at work for C4

Jim McGrath at work for C4

Another punter who is against more all weather racing is Channel 4’s Jim McGrath.

The former Timeform and British Horseracing Board man says: “In Ireland and England there are about the same number of horses in both countries. In Ireland they have about 350 fixtures we have 1400. What’s that tell you about most of the quality of our racing?

“All weather racing came in for various reasons. Then we had regional racing which the racecourses destroyed, but kept in individual chunks. That’s at the root of why we have got so much rubbish.

“Before any of this goes ahead we need a proper root and branch examination of it.


“I am sick of people saying more all weather racing is good for the sport. It’s not.”

“Is it good for the industry? It’s good for certain sections. Trainers in Newmarket like it. Trainers in the north have expressed an interest in Catterick.

“John Sanderson, who is a very experienced businessman and I would say a friend of mine, says all weather racing at Catterick is great news for the sport. It’s not. It’s great news for Catterick.

“We’re told more all weather racing is good business. Who is it good business for?

“It’s certainly not good business, most of it, for stable lads, owners and trainers. The returns are pathetic. Jockeys are driving around the country to these venues for rides. They don’t care about winners because the returns are so bad. They need 3 or 4 rides.


The more racing we have the worse the prize money has got. Fact. We are a sport first and a business second.”

I wish that were the case, Jim. Yes, he is right, more racing has equalled pitiful prize money.

But whether those who run the sport think like Jim and I – that it is a sport first and a business second – looks open to doubt.

Whatever your girlfriend told you last night… less often can be more.

And the sooner the sport of horse racing realises that, the better the quality of the product we will get to watch and enjoy.


At the end of 2012 I sat down for a chat with Jim McGrath. We talked on camera about his passion for racing, the ups and downs of owning thoroughbreds, breeding winners and what those who run racing can do to attract more people to go racing. Should you not have seen the shorter, edited version of that interview – here it is.


  1. Phil Corry 7 years ago

    Hello Vernon, amongst several others one of the responsibilities within the BHA is Strategic Planning and Policy for Racing. I’m not exactly sure how the growing number of All Weather racing falls into this category, I’d love to hear the justification for them.

    Have you ever read the essay on Heltornic in the 2006/07 Timeform Chasers and Hurdlers? It laments the loss of the old Chase course at Haydock and in the essay mentions the thrilling duel between Night Nurse and Silver Buck in the 1979 Embassy Premier Chase Final and as follows “….must rank as one of the most exciting races ever for those that witnessed it.”

    Well Vernon I was privileged to be there that day and I have yet to witness a more exciting race since, many have come close. I accept that old memories often leave more of an impression than new ones and I backed Night Nurse at odds on that day so not speaking through my pocket – my first favourite horse Night Nurse and Peter Easterby a fantastic trainer though he didn’t quite get a Gold Cup out of the old horse.

    Haydock in their ‘wisdom’ moved the Chase and Hurdle courses to accommodate another flat track presumably to accommodate the new money – particularly the alcohol driven ones that have very little (if any) genuine long term love of the sport. Well it summed up the attitude of racing as whole in that who or what are we trying to attract to British Racecourses and maybe we should have seen the changes to other racecourses on the horizon then?

    I don’t watch all weather racing, I’m certain to a level it has a place. I don’t imagine many will remember a race like the one I’ve described above all those years ago (admittedly under a different code) and possibly that’s the whole point.

    The sport should be striving to make those memories happen over and over for everyone, however if we dilute the fixture list even further with an abundance of poor quality racing low level racing, it may well be too late for the BHA and their short term policy making.

    So the BHA and planning and policy? I’m afraid the two aren’t going forward hand in hand.

    • Author
      Vern 7 years ago

      The justification is that the big bookies are the ventriloquist and the BHA is the dummy. If the big bookies want more all weather racing (and they do) then that is what we will get. Sadly.
      I have not read that essay, no. It sounds interesting. I was on Night Nurse that year. How lucky were you to be there for that great race?
      I can only agree with your conclusions re the BHA and the fixture list.
      More is not better.
      Better is better.
      Thanks for taking time out to comment.

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