Weather can’t spoil a great Champions Day at Ascot
When you have a tad short of 30,000 racegoers going through the Ascot gates, and the TV audience peaks at 1m, it can be said that racing has a success on its hands with Champions Day.
First held in 2011, with the principal race, the Champions Stakes, surrendered by Newmarket who in turn now host the Future Champions meeting with the Royal Lodge transferred from Ascot to join the Dewhurst, there were the usual concerns from traditionalists, centring their worries on the what the ground would be like in mid-October.
Certainly, Champions Day tends to offer testing ground, not unlike many an Arc meeting, and this year the weather gods did their best to scupper the much looked forward to meeting.
Ascot having the option to use the inner hurdles track undoubtedly saved the day. Moreover, the going, heavy on the straight course, did not lead to mass withdrawals.
In fact, the five championship races averaged over 12 runners each, with every race offering the opportunity of three places for each-way betting. And the biggest winning distance was 1¼l.
Amongst the day’s champion winners were top performers Kew Gardens, who beat Stradivarius by a nose with the third 5l back, and Magical who got the better of Addeybb by ¾l.
Add Star Catcher’s short-head win and, not only did you have another worthy winner, not that any other winner didn’t deserve their triumph, but you had thrilling finishes that contributed to a great day’s sport. And the sun came out.
What using the inner course did result in was a narrow finishing straight, so jockeys would have to be on the mettle to avoid trouble and not cause trouble.
One aspect of the day which deserves mention is the excellent programme compiled by Weatherbys. With its race previews, reviews of the Champion Series races, pick of leading contenders in each race, and features on Roaring Lion, the race to be champion trainer, Oisin Murphy, and Cieron Fallon, it offered top value at £4.
It shamed lesser programmes produced on other big days when some tracks feel they can charge £5.
However, there’s one aspect of Champions Day where the organisers and I must agree to differ.
I have never thought the jockey’s titles should be decided before the season ends, the logic escapes me, and up against the champion races themselves, I think it’s an aspect of racing’s narrative which can be swamped.
If you have a top of the table tussle it should be a big racing story in its own right which gets media coverage in its own right. There isn’t the space these days for justice to be done to both the champion races and the race for the jockeys’ titles.
Jump racing has got it right with the top performers celebrated at Sandown Finale meeting where it has now become an integral and high-profile part of the day.
One other thing which grates. On arrival at Ascot station there are easily a dozen or more touts trying to sell tickets. They are a nuisance, blocking people’s way, not least because some operate in the narrow station subway.
It would be good if Ascot could follow Cheltenham’s example, and get the courts to ban touts from the vicinity of the station and racecourse.
Hills sharpen up US presence
There has been talk recently that William Hill would be making changes in their senior personnel, with speculation that their head of trading would be a position subject to change.
Sure enough, someone new is being recruited to the position.
You can say it’s calling the kettle black, but one member of the bookmaking fraternity, when asked if he’d heard anything, said he was surprised that there was a head of trading, and thought that there was only a head of refusals.
The significance is that the new occupier of the position is going to be based in the US, which these scribblings have already mentioned is where the emphasis of major UK layers is increasingly being directed.
Indeed, one layer said he wouldn’t be surprised if Hills sought to offload their shops as part of a strategy to concentrate business across the pond.
Victor’s volte face
You’d have thought someone winning £486,000 on a Lucky 31 having staked £62 would have put the bookmaker’s PR team into overdrive. Instead, at BetVictor, it probably had the bean counters reaching for the smelling salts.
It was the firm’s biggest single horseracing pay-out, and their response was to stop accepting a range of multiple bets so that customers could no longer win such life-changing sums.
Gone from the BV’s offerings are Lucky 15, 31 and 65 bets. The bets were subject to bonuses but, instead of scrapping the bonuses, the bets have been withdrawn altogether.
Or have they? The backlash has been such that the firm is said to be reconsidering it position. Maybe someone should remind them that they are bookmakers, which is something the bean-counters need to come to terms with.