A little local difficulty for York racecourse
Mike Deasy on York’s Ebor meeting title sponsor going bust, racecourses fuelling the sport’s drink problem, Ed Whitaker posts 35 years as the sport’s top snapper, runners desert Newmarket, racegoers desert Ascot, and more
A little local difficulty for York racecourse as the title sponsor of the Ebor meeting, Welcome to Yorkshire, has collapsed into administration, owing £2m.
The tourism agency had a shade over £1m assets but had debts with 67 different creditors, not least the North Yorkshire Pension Fund, administered by North Yorkshire County Council, which is owed £1.3m.
Welcome to Yorkshire, whose association with the Ebor meeting gives them a high profile on the Knavesmire, was a private sector visitor promoter of the region having taken over from the publicly run Yorkshire Tourist Board.
As well as the North Yorkshire Pension Fund, Welcome to Yorkshire owes nearly £300,000 to HMRC.
Fuelling racing’s drink problem
The fight in Sandown Park’s premiere enclosure on bet365 Gold Cup day was an incident waiting to happen. I arrived an hour before the first race and already the atmosphere could be described as boisterous.
Racecourses always say that such behaviour will not be tolerated. Trouble is, they help to fuel it. Strong beers, at premium prices, are the staple diets at the bars these days, and Sandown has also introduced lager selling vending machines.
Not only does this send out the wrong message, it is also noted by regular racegoers who are increasingly finding that, on Saturdays, the major tracks are less than pleasant venues to attend.
Rebecca Davies, the Executive Director of Hereford Racecourse, recently posted on Linked In (Facebook for suits) her course’s new vending machines which dispense beer “in small places and new places to help manage the efficient service in a modern and customer friendly way”.
Notwithstanding face-to-face service is customer friendly and machines are not, her posting garnered responses from people concerned about the vending of alcohol in this way. Among them was former BHA CEO Nick Rust who said:
“Some of the headlines from yesterday’s [Saturday] racing show our sport’s issue with perceived excess drinking is still very much to the fore.”
The Racing Hub raised the question of how the vending machines are monitored and if people were refused service how would they react? Davies said “we encountered no such problems at the weekend.”
That’s good to hear and hopefully the good people of Hereford will be sensible in their consumption of alcohol at the Arena Racing track.
But I fear it will continue to be an issue at the major tracks and Newmarket faces a though test at the Guineas meeting.
Hats off to the Racing Post’s chief photographer Edward Whitaker who this week celebrated 35 years with the racing daily.
He’s won awards not only among racing’s top snappers but also at the highest level, in competition with photographers from all sporting disciplines.
Those who witness Whitaker going about his task will see him humping heavy kit around racecourses, at both the big meetings and small midweek fixtures, to get the best shots. I doubt anybody from HM Racing Press works harder.
The dreaded bus replacement service
Something else which was unsatisfactory at Sandown on Saturday’s bet365 Gold Cup day, albeit less alarming, was the totally inadequate bus replacement service provided by South West Trains (SWT) as, yet again, nearby Esher station was without trains. Supposedly four buses an hour were due to ferry people from Wimbledon station to Esher.
The queues at Wimbledon were evidence that: first, there was a gross underestimation of how many buses were required; second, a fleet of single deckers was not the answer and; third, buses were taking far longer than the scheduled 30 minutes to complete the trip, with reports of journeys taking around two hours to get to the racecourse.
At Wimbledon station a frantic member of SWT’s support team was trying to find out where the buses had gone (the Scilly Isles triangle for anyone who knows the area was a popular theory) as there were vast gaps between services.
There were similar stories for racegoers who were travelling to Esher and back from locations south of the Surrey track.
It wasn’t the racecourse’s fault that chaos ensued but maybe they need to talk to SWT about running a sufficient bus replacement service on popular racedays with alternative routes used to spread the load.
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Runners desert Newmarket…
The Guineas meeting at Newmarket has been extended to three days, for the first time since 2003, and on a permanent basis. And there was only going to be one outcome.
Sure enough the Friday card has, at best, only 42 runners. Race-by-race the fields are 8, 4, 5, 7, 6, 7 and 5. Clerk of the course Michael Prosser calls it a “shame”. I call it a travesty.
A travesty that racecourses are squeezing the life out of the sport with too much racing. We all know it’s down to short-term financial gain at the expense of long-term and possibly irretrievable damage.
It’s spreading prizemoney thinly. It’s more than the horse population can sustain. It’s reducing the appeal of the sport. It’s diluting the quality of racing. It’s making betting less attractive.
Hopefully Ian Renton at sister Jockey Club racecourse Cheltenham, is taking note.
Regrettably, racecourses are answerable to no one. At some point they may see the error of their ways. But while we wait for them to come to their senses, if indeed they do, we’ll be seeing the sport in decline and there’s little anyone can do about it.
…and racegoers desert Ascot
If a lack of runners is a problem for Newmarket, then it was a lack of racegoers at Ascot’s Royal Trials meeting. Fewer than 500 advance tickets had been sold for a day that featured the Sagaro Stakes.
It was possibly the smallest crowd to witness a Group race and one reason for the decline could well be Ascot’s decision to double the price of annual membership and put in place a limit of 200 annual badgeholders. That leaves a few hundred who feel disenfranchised by the Berkshire track and are now giving it the swerve.
As my Racing Hub colleague Simon McInnes commented: “With the proliferation of pattern races, nothing below Group 1 is a big deal anymore unless it is a Classic trial. ‘Come and see the 73rd most important British Flat race of the season’ is not much of a marketing hook.”
A Racing Hub “legend”
I can’t end this column without a nod to fellow Racing Hub contributor Doug Campbell who has been in sterling form with his daily Best Bet selections.
This week he’s put up 16/1 winner Lednikof. A week ago it was Fight For It, advised at 33/1. And, on 16 April, Holerday Ridge went in at 80/1.
On top of that you have his 50 To Follow for the Flat and jump seasons: http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-8aE
“Superb” and “a legend” are what Racing Hub Twitter followers are saying. Wouldn’t argue.