Bryony knows who her friends are
Mike Deasy on Sandown’s support for Bryony Frost, Lydia Hislop hitting out at “awful journalism”, Ascot shocks its annual members, throwing toys out of the pram and more
The greeting afforded Bryony Frost (pictured) when she got Greaneteen home in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown was telling.
In the preceding week she had gone through the wringer when giving evidence and being cross-examined in the BHA hearing into charges against jockey Robbie Dunne of prejudicial conduct and violent and threatening behaviour toward Frost.
The alleged language used has been described as everyday fare in the weighing room and is not unusual. There has also been what seems as resentment towards Frost for making the allegations.
Those who are of that opinion and demeanour need to think again. What is usually spoken about in the weighing room is the camaraderie and mutual respect that jockeys have for each other. Anything else by way of bullying or inappropriate behaviour, said or done, is unacceptable.
If Frost feels isolated among fellow riders, the Sandown crowd demonstrated the view of racegoers. Not because they were cheering through their wallets. Greaneteen was 12/1. The reception was far greater than that usually afforded to a big-race winning favourite.
It was support for one of the best and most appreciated jockeys riding today.
More sloppy journalism
Meanwhile, newly-crowned racing broadcaster of the year, Lydia Hislop, blasted Charlie Brooks for his column in The Daily Telegraph where he said that “There can be no place in racing for bullying of any description, but my memory of the weighing room is that it polices itself in a quite strident manner when youngsters do not respect its ethos or follow certain “rules”.
He then gave his opinion that “there is currently a feeling in the weighing room among many jockeys that Bryony drifts around approaching fences”.
He also alleged the BHA’s investigator at the time went on a bender in Newmarket (strenuosly denied by the BHA), juxtoposing that with the bookmaker’s self regulation, and and use of the whp.
Hislop, one of the best observers of the sport, responded with the following Tweet:
“This is awful “journalism”. Factually incorrect, insinuating, full of leaps of logic, non sequiturs and personal hobby-horses crowbarred nonsensically into one piece. Reads like it was dashed off in 10 minutes but no doubt it was well paid. I’d have been embarrassed to print it.”
Ascot’s £850 shock for annual members
“Thank you for your support and patience over the past 18 months” said an email from Ascot Racecourse to its annual badgeholders.
It’s difficult to say how the communication’s recipients showed their support as they had little choice during Covid lockdowns, with few opportunities to visit the Berkshire track.
But when it was possible to return to the racecourse, Ascot’s annual badgeholders, in comparison with some other tracks, got little by way of encouragement to pass through the turnstiles.
Sporadic emails advised them of opportunities to book discounted admission, but any loyalty by way of enhanced facilities was not rewarded
Whilst other nearby racecourses, such as Newbury and Sandown, did their best to provide annual badgeholders with something resembling the benefits of membership, Ascot did little or nothing.
Now, however, the Berkshire track has informed those who showed support and patience that, after a series of focus groups and surveys, it is “pleased” to to launch three new membership packages for 2022.
You bet they are pleased. They have announced three annual badgeholder packages, with a headline price of £850 per person (£720 for existing members) for the package which most closely equates to the single pre-lockdown package. That cost £422.
For your £850 (plus a £180 joining fee) the main benefits are, on level four, a private bar, betting facilities, seating, and external seated viewing half-a-furlong from the finishing line. Access is also available to the King Edward VII (premier) enclosure, parade ring and winners enclosure.
The original facilities were a ground floor private bar, dining, seating, betting facilities, external viewing and, on level two, external seated viewing overlooking the finishing line. There was also free car parking.
Access was also available to the King Edward VII (premier) enclosure, parade ring and winners enclosure. There was also admission to a number of reciprocal race days.
For the extra £400+ the new King Edward VII package offers a choice of two days admission to Royal Ascot, but not the Royal Enclosure; priority booking for other Royal Ascot days, seemingly not discounted; two 50% discounted King Edward VII enclosure admissions (excluding QIPCO Champions Day), although it’s not clear if the admission includes access to the members’ facilities; and free parking, tea and coffee and a racecard. There are also exclusive member’ events.
The original package had the advantage of facilities located on the ground floor with easy access to the parade ring, pre-parade ring and winners enclosure. The location of the £850 package on the fourth level distances itself from both the paddock and the betting ring.
The second package is £360 per person (plus £60 joining fee) which affords access to the Queen Anne (grandstand) enclosure. A discount is not on offer for existing badgeholders but there is free parking and racecards, transferrable guest member options, and the exclusive member events
There are also 40 reciprocal racedays (not mentioned for the King Edward VII package) but no exclusive facilities and no viewing higher than the ground level steppings.
The final package, at £99, is access to any five days racing, including one of the track’s premium days, either King George Diamond Day or the Shergar Cup, but not the Royal meeting.
With no loss of irony, the latter is described as the most “affordable” package.
To put the price options into context, annual membership at Goodwood for 2022 is £394 (exclusive of parking), Newbury £327 and Cheltenham, including the Festival, £450. Goodwood and Cheltenham have joining fees.
All include exclusive annual member facilities and reciprocal race days.
Ascot say they held focus groups and a survey to help them frame the new membership packages. I wonder if those who participated envisaged the resultant options which includes a doubling in price of the package most closely resembling the original package.
Many of the “extras” rather depend on the customer’s circumstances in order to take advantage. Those, for example, who are Royal Enclosure members derive little from access to the grandstand on two days of the Royal meeting.
Indeed, the added benefits mainly entail further expenditure, even if it’s at a discount.
Ascot’s addition of two days at the Royal Meeting comes after their acknowledgement that they were out of kilter with other tracks where membership included all the meetings they staged, not least Cheltenham’s inclusion of the Festival.
To what extent those who would normally frequent the exclusive facilities available on other racedays enjoy the grandstand enclosure’s, er, atmosphere, during the five days in June remains to be seen.
Whatever the take-up of the membership options presented by Ascot for 2022, I expect many, who know the price of everything but the value of nothing, will subscribe.
I could be wrong, but it may well lead to further expansion of those at Ascot who are there for the beer and not the sport.
Meanwhile, my attendance at Ascot next year will be severely curtailed and many I know have shared that decision. Sandown has already gained a new annual member and I’m looking again at Newmarket where I previously called the cost of new membership at £510 “a bit warm”.
Now, I am now thinking it’s cool.
The “Toff” gives the magic sign
Brightening up a cold and wet day’s racing at Newbury recently was Georgina Toffolo (the Toff), whose fame came from appearing in Made in Chelsea and I’m a Celebrity…, along with Tom Skinner from The Apprentice.
They were both there on behalf of Ladbrokes to make a video promoting the bookmaker-sponsored Christmas Festival at Kempton.
It was a full-on afternoon for the pair and included the “chance” encounter with trainer Dan Skelton who just happened to be wearing his Ladbrokes jacket.
Judging by the number of selfie requests for the two throughout the afternoon, Ladbrokes had done a fine piece of casting to attract a younger audience to get involved with the sport.
Cynics however may think such as comment is a thin excuse to use a picture of the Toff enjoying a day her time at the Berkshire track
Wouldn’t argue .
Toys out of the pram
It didn’t take long for calls for a restructure of racing’s governance after the offer from Arena Racing of increased prize money if the sport’s stakeholders agreed to some all-weather meetings increasing to nine races was thwarted.
Two constituent members of the sport’s hierarchy, trainers and jockeys, rejected the offer. It’s said that the BHA was not in favour.
Those for the proposal included the Racehorse Owners Association and the Racecourse Association.
To approve an agreement relating to prize money requires unanimous support. With the rejection the toys came out of the pram.
It led to strong criticism from Arena and the racehorse owners, with calls to change the constitution that would see a reduction in the BHA’s role, limited to such matters as licensing and integrity, and more significantly, to majority approval of such proposals as those concerning prize money.
The BHA is not perfect, its handling of the Frost v Dunne allegations and investigation has been woeful, but it does provide a levelling factor. It’s raison d’etre is to seek what’s best for racing.
And it sits on a vast amount of data to try and balance the requirements of all interested parties, including bookmakers.
If the BHA’s involvement is reduced and majority decisions are accepted, then the strongest party in racing’s stakeholder structure will dominate. And that’s the racecourses.
Their bargaining strength will be prize-money and others at the table could soon find out to their cost that a power shift is not necessarily a good thing.
If anything, a strengthening of the role of the BHA is a preferred option, albeit the decision by the competition authorities a number of years ago to remove control of fixtures from the governing body and allow racecourses to decide when they race was a well-intentioned ruling but continues to dog the sport.
Better the devil you know.