Ascot risks alienating customers
Mike Deasy on racecourse’s variable standards of customer care, whip rules could put off punters, the Tote battles through adversity, Sandown attracts problems, and more
Racecourses, who’ve lost millions during lockdown, are now gearing up for full attendances from 19 July. Ascot, Goodwood and York each have major mid-summer fixtures where crowd numbers will easily run into five figures.
However, after months of racing behind closed doors, tracks have been able to have limited attendances. On almost all occasions when I’ve attended, mainly here in the south, the tracks have coped extremely well. But it’s been a mixed bag when it comes to customer communication and care.
As these scribblings have said before, keeping your existing customers is a lot cheaper than attracting new ones. My experience, as an annual member of a number of tracks, has mostly been favourable.
Arc tracks, via my Brighton badge, have done well in communicating upcoming fixtures and making complimentary tickets available, with an easy process for the mandatory online booking.
Indeed, I think my best day’s racing was at Arc track Windsor (pictured), where there was an announcement thanking racegoers for their adherence to protocol requirements.
Sandown were good too in communicating ticket availability, although emails were somewhat out of kilter with messages announcing ticket purchase deadlines, which were received before members were asked to confirm their attendance for free.
Newbury were a little slow off the mark, but they then sent out a pass-card to members, after which all they needed was confirmation of which fixtures one wanted to attend.
Ascot, on the other hand, seemed to show little or no desire to maintain positive links with annual badgeholders, apart from sending a metal badge which is of no use whatsoever.
If members wanted to go racing, they had to buy tickets on a first come first served basis. And the track decided to make its fourth-level area, with commanding views of the track, a premium-priced enclosure.
This meant there was no seating from which to watch the action unless you paid an aggressive price – the vouchers for free food and drink offering little by way of incentivisation or placation.
Where possible, other tracks provided facilities for annual members. But not Ascot.
Even when full attendance becomes possible, Ascot appears to be maintaining the premium upper-level enclosure – many racegoers will be disappointed that seating is now out of reach unless they pay top-whack.
Changes to whip use could be a betting turn-off
The public consultation on use of the whip is underway, and everyone can have their say via the BHA website.
One possibility is banning the whip for encouraging a horse and only using it for corrective purposes. Based on a Racing Hub poll on Twitter, that’s not going to go down too well with punters
Whilst 70% said it wouldn’t make any difference to their betting, 30% said they’d bet less.
My own feeling, expressed in these scribblings in the past, is to allow the whip to be used for encouragement, but to put in place severe penalties for misuse.
Whilst that doesn’t mean disqualification, which would alienate punters even more, the withholding of prize-money where there’s been a misdemeanour would impact on connections.
That hits whip abusers where it hurts.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I don’t think it’s the job of the Pattern committee to provide every horse’s absolute beau ideal circumstances at every festival or meeting”
Lydia Hislop quoted by Lee Mottershead in his special feature in the Racing Post on whether or not geldings have an advantage over colts. Agree or not with Hislop, who is chair of the BHA Pattern committee, she invariably makes her point with admirable succinctness.
Tote battles through adversity
It was highly unlikely that the new owners of the Tote, when formulating their business plan, would foresee a two month suspension of racing in their first 11 months of trading followed by racing taking place behind closed doors.
So their 2019/20 performance, just released, makes reasonably healthy reading. They had expected a £1m Ebitda loss but the impact of Covid took that to £3.4m.
Their performance was described as: “resilient during 2020, benefiting from its geographical diversity and broad mix of business channels”.
That meant the pool operator still paid £7.1m to racing and is on track to meet the full target of at least £50m over seven years, payable, via Britbet, to those tracks involved in its on-course pool betting.
But it’s the initiatives the Tote has introduced which are noticeable, not least the return to the Tote 10 to Follow Competition, introducing Tote+, taking over the running of the Irish Tote and guaranteeing the Tote win dividend would at least match the SP.
It has also successfully introduced distinctive branding and launched a new website.
All this demonstrates how moribund the Tote had become under the ownership of Betfred who got what they wanted most, the shops, and appeared to show little enthusiasm for pool betting.
With the upcoming full attendance at racecourses, where a not inconsiderable amount of Tote revenue is generated, the dividends (sorry!) will become apparent and pool betting can further increase its share of the market.
No going down under
Ladbrokes owner Entain have been thwarted in their attempt to takeover the wagering arm of the Australian Tabcorp.
Selling the business was one option which Tabcorp had been considering, but they’ve decided to spin off two profitable elements of their business, including lotteries, into a new enterprise, separating it from the loss-making wagering arm.
That doesn’t shut the door on a possible future sale but means that Entain will remain with a market share in Australia of around 10%, about a third of Tabcorp’s share.
Meanwhile the auction of the non-US assets of William Hill is underway, where Boylesports have expressed interest and newspaper reports suggest Entain may also be in the running.
However, the clever money is, as I’ve promulgated, on an investment house being successful in buying Hills from its new American owners Caesars Entertainment, and Apollo Global Management is getting most of the nods.
More problems for Sandown
Sandown’s Eclipse meeting last weekend was memorable for a number of reasons. Whilst there were just four runners in the Coral-Eclipse, it was nevertheless an intriguing prospect as to who would win out of Addeybb, Mishriff and St Mark’s Basilica.
The 1, 2, 3 was successfully called by our trends man Number Cruncher and, in St Mark’s Basilica, already the winner of the French 2,000 Guineas and Derby, Ballydoyle have a three-year-old to help ‘the lads’ get their season back into gear.
The first day opened with the two-year-old Fearby winning a Listed five-furlong contest with some alacrity and he’s already in the Racing Hub Notebook.
The second day saw a dead-heat having to be called because the photo finish was out of use. When ITV came on air, Ollie Bell informed viewers and fellow presenters that the “mirror was out”. It took some time for the ITV team to realise that he meant the mirror was out of alignment.
And there’s the ongoing battle at the Surrey track to develop spare land into housing, for much needed revenue, which continues to be blocked by the planning process.
All one can say is that Sandown seems to have more than its fair share of problems.
♦ A lingering question from the weekend was why did Sandown have six races on Friday but eight on Saturday? Many racegoers would have preferred to watch seven contests on each day with a later start for the second day’s proceedings.
On the road to recovery
One of the more harrowing events in recent days was the accident involving two cameramen at Hamilton who fell 30ft from their hoist onto the roof of a broadcasting truck. So the news that both men are now out of hospital and making a recovery is good to hear.
Racing can be a fickle thing. Ask Adam Kirby. He lost his Derby ride on a fancied runner, John Leeper, with Frankie Dettori taking over, only to ride an accomplished race on Adayar to lift the Blue Riband. John Leeper was ninth.
He then found himself back on John Leeper in a Listed race at Sandown, finishing third of five.
He’d gone a month without a win since Epsom before getting home on two-year-old debutant Chimgan at Nottingham.
I know how he feels – it’s more days than I care to remember since The Racing Hub Daily Tip last had a winner, but Yanifer lifted the gloom at Brighton at 3/1. Onwards and upwards.