Racing needs an emphatic Enable win and needs ITV to show it
As Brough Scott pointed out in his racing column in the Sunday Times, the past month has witnessed some great sporting weekends. And, with some of the best cricket, golf and tennis seen for many a year, it can be a struggle for racing to get a look in.
Hence the importance, he wrote, of Enable winning Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Saturday in some style. Enable and Frankie Dettori, “will be bidding to keep racing on the map.”
“She ought to win, but what’s wanted is a take-me-home-in-the-memory performance.”
Scott continued: “it now comes down do what happens to Enable and her pilot in those two-and-a-half hectic, hurtling minutes across the Ascot turf. It always does. Wish them well, for there’s a lot more than victory on the line.”
In the context of what we’ve seen over the past fortnight or so, this Saturday is one of the quieter sporting days, and it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the mid-summer Group 1 middle-distance championship race is the highlight of the day’s events.
Racing is fortunate, therefore, that the drama will unfold on ITV’s main channel, helped all the more by Dettori being a regular contributor to ITV Racing’s coverage – imagine Roger Federer joining the BBC’s tennis team ahead of a Wimbledon final to assess his chances just before going out on court.
The Frankle mantle is waiting to be picked up, and Enable could be the racehorse to do it.
It is therefore frustrating, and somewhat ironic, that an extension to ITV’s contract to cover racing beyond 2020 is yet to be forthcoming. There is, seemingly, one racecourse that has yet to agree to the continuation of ITV’s coverage.
If only there was a highly placed person with a love of racing who could suggest to the racecourse, with which she is associated, to stop procrastinating and agree to what’s best for the sport.
♦ With Brough Scott hoping that racing benefits from an emphatic Enable/Dettori win, it’s a shame that ITV’s Ascot coverage was not included in the Sunday Times guide to the week’s TV sport.
An inevitable departure
It was no great surprise to learn that the Curragh’s chief Executive Derek McGrath is soon to leave his post. Not a lot has gone right since the track began its major redevelopment nearly three years ago. The catalogue of problems and mistakes was too long for survival:
- An overspend of €16m, taking the cost of the Curragh’s redevelopment to €81m
- A parade ring that was too small
- A missed deadline for the first scheduled fixture after completion
- Declining to announce the daily attendance figures for the 2,000 Guineas meeting
- Facilities for owners and trainers which were clearly too small
- Holding the Derby meeting over three days, with only around 6,000 people in attendance across Thursday and Friday
- Shunning an evening fixture for Friday’s racing
- Having totally inadequate bar and toilet facilities on Derby Day resulting in long queues for both.
It was the Derby fiasco which was the last straw, with more than a veiled threat in comments from Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh on various disappointing aspects of the track’s biggest day of the year.
There was also something else which was probably more damaging – the decision to maintain racing at the Curragh whilst the two-year redevelopment took place. Just like saying that Derby Day suffered from “teething troubles”, it had the air of arrogance about it.
And, when people made their way to what was a building site for the first fixture, whilst the demolition and construction work was in progress, the facilities on a wet day were left wanting.
Improvements were made by the next meeting, but by then far too many people had been alienated, either by what they’d experienced at the Curragh or by the fact that transferring meetings to venues fit for purpose, not least Leopardstown, was ignored.
I remember a taxi driver saying to me, on the way back from the Curragh to Kildare after last year’s Irish St Leger, they’ve spent millions of euros and they now just expect people to turn up. He wasn’t far wrong.
The irony is that the Curragh is now a splendid venue, and such issues as bar and toilet facilities are easily rectified if you put in place sufficient temporary arrangements.
So, Derek McGrath is on his way out, and Pat Keogh takes up the position whilst remaining CEO of Leopardstown. But, others on the Curragh board should also be doing some soul-searching and, if they are deciding to stay, they now need a trip down the road to Damascus.
Let’s hope that they, or a new guard, go on an effective marketing offensive to win racegoers back because, otherwise, there will have been a lot of money wasted, some of it public.
A word of praise for GWR trains who, at long last, seem to realise when racing is taking place at Newbury, and run services accordingly. But one suggestion – please stop changing the platform for returns trains to London at the last minute so that hundreds of passengers don’t have to go back over the footbridge just as the train is pulling in.