I confess the news did not excite me. I’ve gone right off all weather racing. Not that I was ever on the edge of my seat anticipating it. I can live with all weather racing at Kempton Park (though I do miss turf racing there). Southwell is favoured by lots of punters, though not this one. I ignore Lingfield, where racing has become a lottery.
And Wolverhampton? Well nothing would persuade me to watch, attend or take any financial interest in all weather racing at that bad excuse for a racetrack.
Recently bookie Geoff Banks confirmed to me what one jockey had told me in the past. Don’t be betting there. I had long given up doing so before they advised me not to.
In my opinion racing at Wolverhampton gives the sport a bad name.
But what I think doesn’t really matter. What those at the heart of the sport have to say about all-weather racing does.
Some trainers have refused to race their horses at the Dunstall Park course. There have been growing concerns over the polytrack surface and the so called kickback. In October the course carried out maintenance in an effort to prevent the surface balling up when winter temperatures plummet.
John Gosden says: “Arena Racing Company have to look at the situation at Wolverhampton very seriously because there are a great number of trainers deeply concerned about it from the viewpoint of the welfare of horses. ARC were trying to do something with the track to reduce the kickback, but the problem is you can’t just start creating hybrid tracks.”
Trainer Ron Harris, who has had 600 runners there in the past 5 years, is now also boycotting Wolverhampton. He believes the old and new surfaces are not bonding and he is not alone in blaming the surface for injuries to his horses, including Spinning Ridge. That horse snapped a tendon on his first run on the new Wolverhampton surface.
Harris says: “He had 108 runs and had never been lame in his life. The difference in the surface, the jockeys have been saying, is that you hit a firm patch then a soft patch. It’s not consistent all the way round.”
With so many trainers refusing to race their horses there, it seems bizarre that Wolverhampton will stage the new all-weather championships.
Trainer Mark Johnston says: “Arena Racing Company are about to throw their new £2 million extra’ All-Weather British Championships into the melee. I say ‘about to’ but I am sure they have already done it. They started on Saturday October 26th and they will finish on Good Friday, April 2014.
“I think that, once again, they may have forgotten to inform the participants of the rules but, no matter, we’ll pick it up as we go along or, more likely, we won’t and in six months time nobody will care anyway.”
So is Mark Johnston against more racing?
He says: “We all want to see opportunities to ply our trade on as many days of the year as possible; we all want to see British racing in British betting shops rather than foreign racing or that, abominable, cartoon racing; we all want to see all-weather racing dragged up out of the gutter and staging some interesting cards; and we all appreciate the need for the sport to have some ‘narrative’ (latest marketing buzz word) for the less well-informed spectators.
“But the changes come at us in such a rush and often appear to lack any sort of coordination or forethought. The championships, in particular, appear to have been drafted on the back of a fag packet and have had too much input from those with more than a little self-interest.”
Trainer Mark Johnston looks into his crystal ball and predicts the following.
He says: “I can guess what will happen next. ARC, and others, will now press for two flat seasons and two distinct set of championships, one for turf and one for all-weather. At first glance that makes a huge amount of sense but I can guarantee that they will overlap, as they already do, and the turf season will include vast amounts of racing which takes place on synthetic surfaces but, bizarrely, will count towards the turf championship.
“That is why I have always said that, unless all-weather racing is going to be considered as a separate code within racing (like Flat, Hurdles and Steeplechasing), where horses could win a race on the all-weather and still be considered a maiden on turf, and so long as all-weather racing takes place throughout the year, then the championships should be combined and should, logically, run for the calendar year.
“The jump championship can start and end in April quite comfortably but, when you start a flat championship on November 11th, you have horses running as two year-olds and three year-olds in the same season. Nobody seems to think, or care, about things like that.”
He’s spot on there.
I very much doubt that I will take a great interest in all weather championships, no matter how much money is thrown at the idea. But I shall take a watching brief. If the quality of the racing is good, straight and true; I may get involved.
But if it means more dross funded by the big bookies, for their own benefit, then I’m more likely to spend a Friday or Saturday evening watching ‘Dances with Wolves’ rather than racing at Wolves.
Here, via BetRacingNation, are the views of two men known to speak their minds. Bookie Geoff Banks and John McCririck