Firstly, all credit should go to the relevant parties involved in putting together a revamped programme to replace the lost races at Newbury from last weekend, chiefly in this instance it seems, the racecourse, the BHA and Channel 4. Although attendance and viewing figures, as well as betting turnover will likely be significantly reduced, it’s a pity that the value of the main races have fallen quite so much from what they would have been run for on Saturday, but in a season that has been blighted by abandonments, something is better than nothing.
When suggestions of a replacement meeting were first mooted, it seemed either a Sunday or Friday date were the two options, Friday getting the nod, possibly because of the possibility of terrestrial television coverage. This got me thinking as to how at present, the fixture list with regards Sundays could be improved.
The premier races in Ireland and France are usually run on Sundays, races like the Prix Ganay, Jacques Le Marois, Irish Derby, and of course the Arc and it’s supporting card are all on the seventh day. Compare this to Britain where we have a very different system. In 2010 on the Flat, there were just five pattern races contested on a Sunday, namely the One Thousand Guineas and Dahlia Stakes at Newmarket, the Supreme Stakes at Goodwood and the Diadem and Cumberland Lodge at Ascot. I’m not suggesting that we need to be switching all of our pattern races to Sundays, however, there are a number of busy Saturdays where it looks common sense to me split these meetings over two days to maximise the opportunities for the general public to enjoy them.
For example in 2011 on Saturday July 9th, there are six Flat meetings, including afternoon fixtures at Ascot, Newmarket, York and Chester. The following day there isn’t a single Flat meeting but three Jumps cards at Perth, Southwell and Stratford. Wouldn’t it make sense to switch one of those Saturday afternoon Flat fixtures to Sunday and replace it with Stratford’s Sunday meeting? Not only would this allow racing fans/punters to follow the Flat action in more detail, but there has to be a good chance that would increase attendances at both Southwell and Stratford as, given their proximity, they are competing for some of the same customers.
This is by no means an isolated incident. Epsom on Derby Day is forced to compete against four other afternoon meetings, including Musselburgh’s most valuable day of the year. Wouldn’t it be better to switch one of the supporting cards to Sunday to back up Perth and Worcester’s jumps meetings?
Obviously it isn’t as straightforward a case of simply being able to switch the fixtures at the drop of hat. The reason courses can offer the best racing on Saturdays is probably linked to terrestrial television coverage and being able to attract higher contributions from sponsors as a result. There’s no quick-fix answer to increasing racings television coverage back up to the levels it was achieving 10/15 years ago, and I’m sure Racing For Change have enough on their plate at present without me suggesting more them to do. However I do think this is an area that should be looked at.
The BBC have shown with their commitment to the initial Champions Day contract that they aren’t ready to turn their back on racing totally just yet. I’d like to see a stronger programme of racing provided on Sundays that could encourage terrestrial broadcasters to forego repeats of black and white films and Hollyoaks (okay thats a lie, we need to keep the repeats of Hollyoaks, but you get the point). By switching some of the current Saturday cards, I do think we can provide higher quality racing to attract a television audience, by putting on races with significance for the rest of the year rather than the current levy fodder that can’t be distinguished from the racing we see virtually every day of the week.
There are people better placed within the sport that can probably list numerous reasons as to why such suggestions are far-fetched pie in the sky. Still, if you don’t ask...