Anyone who reads my occasional ramblings (thanks if you do!) will recall that back in January I wrote about the perception that racing is elitist and therefore may be a turn-off to racegoers as well as potential owners. A Yawning Gap? – maybe it’s the elitism not the spectacle!
I have already stated that I do not hold the puritanical view that entertainment and party-packages should not be part of racing as I believe it will bring more people to the courses. Certainly it gets bums on seats. My concern though is not for the racecourse balance sheet, but that those “newbies” are the next generation of owners, breeders and racing fans and that this potential is being missed – both at the racecourse itself and in the way racing portrays itself. These events should be sold as a RACE MEETING with after race entertainment, not a concert with 3 hours of something to be endured (sometimes sadly with copious amounts of alcohol) before the music starts!
Back in January I mentioned that the Owner & Breeder magazine had a number of pages dedicated to “Lifestyle”. It was my view that the magazine was falsely portraying a world of elitism and wealth which was not a true reflection of the vast majority of the racing world. Whilst I do not expect the editor of that publication to bother with my blogs, I would have hoped that one of the many racing experts who write in the magazine would have thought along the same lines as I do. Certainly the straw poll taken from the response to my tweet of yesterday shows I am not alone in my opinion.
The excellent initiatives underway through the TBA and ROA (both contributors to the magazine and providers of the majority of the readership through their members), this month sit alongside articles on a trainer who sees his helicopter as a “necessity”, the story of the multi-billionaire who is trying to expand the Tote betting and NINE PAGES of what is now termed “Racing Life” (they cannot be saved from themselves!) dedicated to cocktails at a 5 star London hotel, hand-made shotguns, original artworks and tailor made country clothing. How is this “Racing Life”? It has nothing to do with racing, and is all about the “Loadsa Money” attitude we saw in the recession of the 1980’s, or the “Let them eat cake” view which served the French monarchy so well! Aspiration is fine, but humiliation…really?
To be clear, I am not spouting some radical socialist ideal or saying that the rich should be stripped of their wealth. Indeed I go shooting, I own and breed racehorses and I have even enjoyed a tipple in a posh hotel but I do not flaunt this as the reason I am able to enjoy racing, because it isn’t. It is extremely harmful not just that the Owner & Breeder magazine thinks they should publish such articles, but that no one within racing’s hierarchy has seen the lack of resonance it has with the general public and said something about it. I have been in racing for many years now and it has no resonance with me – so how can it possibly with a potential new entrant? There are great articles in the magazine as I have said and I urge you to read what is a superb publication full, in the main, with excellent journalism and informative stories, but to read those, you have to leaf through the elitist message to get there – and many people will see the money and equate that with the cost of racehorse ownership and find something with which they have more comfort and affinity.
The BHA have just launched a study into inclusivity across racing. Well Mr. Rust and team, start by realising that the disposable income required to become an owner needs only be the price of a beer a day, not the cost of a stately home in Belgravia! Get some perspective, make racing seem possible, make it resonate with the public and with the new generation, speak the language of inclusiveness and not of elitism – and make sure others do too!
As the “powers that be” sit back in their Bentleys as they drive to their London club (for that is the image they portray), and see that average ownership age is now in the mid-50’s and breeders are dwindling due to retirement and / or lack of profits, that recruitment of stable staff is the hardest it has ever been, and that meanwhile the record number of fixtures for 2019 requires increases in owners and horses to cope, perhaps they will realise that good intentions count for nothing if the messaging is packaged wrongly.