So horse racing has been identified as a boring sport. We have all seen the UGov poll published this week and, as expected, many people have had much to say in defence of the sport they love – or hate depending on, of course, personal tastes.
I would rather watch paint dry than watch Formula 1 racing. That said, when I was in Singapore on a rainy day a few years ago with nothing to do, and no freshly painted walls to occupy my time, I watched some Grand Prix or other and remember there were a few crashes, some bad visibility and an excited commentator and, guess what, F1 suddenly became exciting – for 30 minutes until the rain in Singapore stopped and the pool seemed a better option. And that is the point: all sport is exciting when there are exciting things going on, and it’s tedious to the extreme when there isn’t.
Racing might kick itself and say the poll shows the sport we love to be dull more times
than it is exciting, but remember it is still the second largest spectator sport in the country – yes people actually get out of their armchairs and GO RACING! Football is the most popular of course and this is much to do with the TV coverage and newspaper column inches of course, but it is also because you can buy a £2 football and, at any age, dream of being the next Beckham, or impress your mates with your ball juggling – even if in reality you are an estate agent from Bradford!
Racing does not have that “anyone can do this” affinity. To become part of the sport the public perception is that you have to be a multi-millionaire, or an Arab prince, or “Lord Monocle of Pass the Port”. The attempts of the racecourses to attract race-goers has to be applauded. Even if to the purist, Olly Murs and a best dressed child competition detracts from the racing. What now needs to happen is the myth of racing being elitist needs to be tackled, and ownership become a possibility. This is where racing beats football – you are highly unlikely to own a football club but you can own a horse (or part at least).
In Australia around 60% of Aussies own part of a racehorse – albeit the tip of an ear. In the far-East, albeit fuelled by betting, the crowds are massive and the interest huge – and shared ownership common. Even in the Arab states where there is no gambling (although despite being a non-gambler I find this reduces the element of jeopardy) a night at Meydan or Jebel Ali is packed to the roof. But racing is seen as an inclusive sport in these places, whereas in the UK it is not.
The rise of syndicates and clubs in the UK and Ireland is a boost much needed to increase this interest. Many trainers rely increasingly on them to stay in business. At last many racecourses have increased the owners’ ticket allocation to meet increased shared ownership. Even the BHA have streamlined the ownership process and made it easier to police the quality and standard of the growing numbers of syndicate bodies – and have a levy system now fit to deliver rewards to the grass roots.
But the very agencies who should be fighting hardest do not. For all the good changes, the BHA has a policy, as encapsulated in the rules on balloting out, that lower grade horses should be discouraged from running. Good for the sport? Well it is if we want to keep the riff raff out, but there are many sub-50 rated horses who, when pitted against each other, will make for exciting racing, and low cost ownership options. – as well as swell the levy through betting income.
Great British Racing ; Rod Street and his team – I have yet to see any tangible benefit from their efforts. Certainly they have the Champions Series but that is Qipco doing all the hard work and making it actually happen. I remember being at a “do” at Ascot once where GBR were holding a small gathering. Everyone of those attending it were already owners, and when one young couple approached the cordoned area, they were intercepted by a woman who looked at them like they had stepped in something the dog does and told them “This isn’t for you”! Well who is it for if not exactly those people?
Even the superb Owner & Breeder magazine has, in the last few months, dedicated pages of print to “Lifestyle”. This is a publication which is the gateway to racing yet perpetuates the idea of millionaires and Faberge eggs. Stop it!
We are quick to turn our nose up at the drunkenness we see at Royal Ascot, and rightly so. But has anyone stopped to think that these young and, I agree unruly, people are acting like this precisely because they feel like outsiders. I love to feel special as an owner, but I also resent that racing portrays its participants as champagne swilling, helicopter owning, winter-in-the-Caribbean chinless wonders. Tell that to the trainers up at 4am, or the breeders knee deep in muck, or the grassroots owners worried if they can pay the mortgage as well as their £100 a month racehorse share. Aspiration is great but setting unreachable goals and packaging a sport so that it appears that owning a Rolex and driving a Merc are prerequisites will only harm the most exciting sport I know and love. The only yawning then is not about boredom but the gap between what racing is seen as and what it should be.