Mike Deasy on the shortcomings of the Racing League and Goodwood’s failure to prevent violence
It’s a big week for “team racing” and I rather wish it wasn’t.
Saturday sees the Shergar Cup which, until now, was racing’s only team competition. Self-contained in a single day at Ascot, comprising six 10-runner handicaps, it has its critics.
The main gripe, apart from the generalised “racing is not a team sport”, is the field-size limit. Whether or not there’s a viable alternative without a limit that gets to the 16-runner fourth-place pay-out is open to conjecture.
But it’s just one day a year at a time when, between Goodwood and York, the sport in Britain is in the doldrums. It has the extra dynamic of the competing teams, often with overseas jockeys we don’t usually see, and the crowd it draws to Ascot enjoy the occasion. And, every race is covered by ITV Racing.
That was until the Racing League came along – an initiative designed to attract a different audience to the sport.
It has rather limped into view.
These scribblings have monitored its difficulty in attracting a sponsor for every team. You’d have thought the big guns from Newmarket would have attracted support.
However, the HQ team is the Red Team – a colour that has political connotations very much at odds with of those of team trainer John Gosden.
The Racing League did attract William Hill as last-minute race sponsors and had already got a good media deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
That means the Sun gives it prominence including a special pull-out section and Talksport carries radio commentary. The Times also gave it a gushing preview.
But there is a downside to siding with a media giant – other media outlets tend to ignore you.
With last week’s launch at Newcastle, other papers carried the racecard, but made little if any mention that it was the start of a new team event or how it worked.
Some noted in the heading to the meeting that it was “Newcastle (Racing League)”, almost as if the brackets conveyed a health warning.
Launching midway through Glorious Goodwood meant column inches concentrated on events in West Sussex. Indeed, the League’s launch was completely overshadowed by proceedings on the South Downs.
That may have had something to do with the low turnout at Newcastle of about 1,500 racegoers.
The organisers will hope that this week’s second round at Doncaster will attract more racegoers. There’s a bigger pool of racing enthusiasts in Yorkshire but the concept still needs to appeal.
Where the Racing League has done well is to get Sky Sports Racing (no longer part of Murdoch’s empire) fully on board. The likes of Michael Holding (an asset in their Royal Ascot coverage) and David “Bumble” Lloyd set just the right tone for a non-specialist audience.
To what extent Sky Sports Racing can attract viewers beyond its usual racing clientele and doesn’t alienate the core audience is key to the League reaching as many people as possible.
But being a series, unlike the Shergar Cup where the outcome is known at the end of a Saturday afternoon, means anyone with any interest in the final standings is going to have to hang on in there.
And there’s the rub. It’s a totally artificial concept with little long-term meaning. With that, it joins the British Champions Series as a label and not much more.
There have been some racing figures who want to give the League a chance – anything to attract more people to racing they say. I shouldn’t argue but I do.
Apart from anything else, I have every sympathy for those trainers who can’t get a piece of the action and the prizemoney which goes with it.
I also doubt it will grow racing’s audience. The Shergar Cup is a bit of fun but evidence that it extends racing’s reach is not in abundance.
If there is to be a Racing League it needs to learn from its mistakes.
Due to deadlines, evening fixtures limit follow-up coverage. It should operate over a shorter period, it should avoid a clash with Goodwood and York (and the Shergar Cup), and it should be more inclusive.
All of which the Shergar Cup has achieved, as has The Sky Bet Sunday Series – a lesson in how to get it right straight from the off.
The fight that broke out at Goodwood resulting in a serious injury and an arrest came as little surprise.
The fact that people enter Goodwood in single file in order to pass by a sniffer dog is a clear indication that anti-social behaviour is anticipated.
But once that preventive measure is passed, there is little or no evidence to show further measures are in place to control what fuels the violence – alcohol.
I experienced threatening behaviour and verbal abuse after a day’s racing when, queuing for a bus, it began raining. I put up my umbrella.
The people in front of me, who I was already wary of, tried to seek cover. Then one tried to take the umbrella. When I shouted at him to let go, he became abusive. You wouldn’t want to strike a match to his breath.
The police were nowhere to be seen – probably dealing with the fight. But I do question why two or more officers were patrolling the Richmond (premier) Enclosure (pictured) all afternoon.
If that reeks of snobbery, then I’d point out it was not the venue for the fight and the people in the bus queue had not been patrons of either the Richmond or Gordon enclosures.
They continued their abuse on the bus and it was a relief they set off for the pub rather than getting a train.
It did spoil the day and I doubt I was the only one who found the events extremely off-putting.
It matters not that different initiatives are introduced to broaden the appeal of racing when thuggery is allowed to undo all the good work.