Is a Cheltenham Festival fifth day worth the risk?
Mike Deasy on the risk of adding a fifth day to the Cheltenhm Festival, hope for the jockeys’ insurance scheme, mixed advertising messages from bookmakers and cutting a hat down to size
Whether or not somebody was flying a kite on the prospect of adding a fifth day to the Cheltenham Festival, it quickly got people saying if they were for or against.
If anything is to be learnt from a quick Racing Hub poll amongst its Twitter followers, who I think we can categorise as racing enthusiasts, 83% were against extending the meeting to five days.
There are a myriad of reasons why enthusiasts would be against the change. Fatigue for both on and off-course observers, especially the former, and dilution of the Festival’s quality are top of the list.
If staying with seven races per day, finding seven more meaningful contests, worthy of Cheltenham Festival status, doesn’t appear that simple.
Suggesting that matters regarding an extra day have been thought through, word has it that the Gold Cup would continue to be run on Friday.
But what about the other three feature events? If one of those were shifted to Saturday, that leaves a day looking somewhat underwhelming.
And, can the Prestbury Park turf support another day’s racing?
For some racing fans a day’s sport on Saturday would be attractive if they are unable to attend during the week. But then it comes up against Uttoxeter’s biggest meeting of the year featuring the Midlands National. That, and rugby’s Six Nations is in full swing.
Of course, the driving force for adding a fifth day is increasing revenue, both through racecourse admission and catering sales, and from betting. But is there an untapped source of leisure spend readily available to make a fifth day viable?
How many Saturday visitors would transfer their attendance from a weekday?
Cheltenham has had to find new sponsors for some of its races – some were signed-up quite speedily, others took a bit of time to find. One assumes that however many races are run on Saturday, sponsorship is a pre-requisite to make the numbers work.
There are trainers who are keen on the added opportunities to win decent prize-money, hence the need for the contribution from sponsors. But it still leaves the impression that this will be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Perhaps the new races could be brought in from other tracks, to the probable detriment of other fixtures.
One would hope that the considerable profits already made by Cheltenham, helping to sustain other courses in the Jockey Club portfolio, are not redirected into funding the fifth day.
There’s a tightrope to be walked and one slip could have damaging consequences in an already precarious situation.
Those in authority at Jockey Club Racecourses will need nerves of steel to see the fifth day through and one would hope that they err on the side of caution.
Indeed, it would be no bad thing if they decided the risk is not worth taking.
Hats off to Ascot -1
Ascot are stepping in to provide a month’s emergency financial support package for the PJA administered jockeys’ insurance scheme.
The scheme lost its long-term sponsor, the Stobart Group, and the PJA has been providing the funding itself at around £500,000 a year. That, however, has not been sustainable and the scheme was due to end last weekend.
Hopefully, with the help from Ascot, there’s still time for the industry to find a way of funding the scheme. Surely a sport the size of racing should be able to arrive at a solution and continue to provide the men and women who risk life and limb with a vital financial safety net.
Getting the message right
Like the Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot sees bookmakers investing a large chunk of their promotional spend to maintain market share and attract new customers.
Some of the smaller operators, whose budgets can’t match the high-profile exposure the big players enjoy all year round, vie to make their presence felt when interest in racing is at its peak.
Mansion House adopted a 1960’s look to their advertising featuring the enticing smile of Hayley Turner with psychedelic graphics and typography. And, they majored on a strong ‘welcome aboard’ offer.
Joe Jennings, like a lot of bookmakers, big and small, threw the kitchen sink at their special offers and calls to action but they clearly had an eye on the football market as well. A case of trying to do too much.
Fitzdares went for a “cheeky” approach, with not a lot more than the headline “Kiss my Ascot”. There’s nothing wrong with cheeky, Paddy Power have been doing it for years. But there is a certain degree of knowingness with PP – their flip approach is part of their imprimatur.
For the relatively new boys on the block, the Fitzdares’ “Kiss my Ascot” was a volte-face compared to their approach adopted in March. Then they continued to centre on their “World’s finest bookmaker” message. After all, if they don’t say it nobody else will.
The dominating image was a close-up action shot in black and white of horses jumping a fence – all very moody.
The copy championed their bespoke service.
If there was anything quirky about Fitzdares’ Cheltenham campaign it was where they placed their advertising, ranging from the green welly audience of Country Life to the red welly readership of the New Statesman.
But “Kick my Ascot” disappointed. It wasn’t at the cutting edge of wit; it was confusing in terms of brand positioning and was weak in value proposition.
Fitzdares will know if it worked but I think they missed an opportunity to press home their Saville Row approach to bookmaking and, instead, were down with the pound stores.
Hats off to Ascot – 2
Last month these scribblings suggested that Royal Ascot’s dress code should include a rule that meant ladies’ large hats, a menace if you find yourself standing behind one when trying to watch a race, should be banned.
So, whilst it was unfortunate for the lady in question, the wearer of a towering millinary concoction was refused admission due to the height of her hat.
Maybe this column has readers in high places.