For many racehorse owners, the most pleasurable part of the ownership experience comes before a horse even reaches the track – when dreams are still blossoming and hopes flourish beneath the warm rays of optimism.
Last week I bumped into David Stevenson, the retail entrepreneur who once owned a string of fabulous old fashioned chasers trained by Gordon Richards and subsequently by Len Lungo. Patience was the name of his game and he commented, “There’s nothing like finishing a good fourth in a novices’ hurdle at Kelso, to fuel dreams that the horse you own is going to make up into a decent chaser in years to come.”
This week’s selection is Aye Aye Charlie in the George Harrow Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso on Saturday. Don’t blame me if he finishes fourth – just put him in your notebook for the future!
Of course it’s wonderful if your horse actually wins a race – not just because of the excitement it generates, or for the reward in prize money, but also because it enables the hopes and dreams to continue. Unfortunately, however, only a small percentage of owners can go home with a winner, so it’s essential that the industry ensures that every owner enjoys their day – which is why the Racehorse Owners Association recognise a limited number of racecourses with their Gold Standard Award.
The good news for racehorse owners in the North of England and Scotland is that they have the best racecourses in the country. And that’s official, because ten of the fifteen racecourses to have been awarded the Gold Standard, by the ROA this week, are in the North. Four of them: Ayr, Hamilton Park, Musselburgh and Perth are in Scotland.
Ayr Racecourse effectively set the gold standard when they started to treat the connections of all runners to a free lunch before racing. Other racecourses followed – like Musselburgh, Perth and Hamilton Park. You’ll note that Kelso is missing from the list of Gold Standard tracks as, in the twelve months prior to the awards being made, the course didn’t have a dedicated hospitality facility for racehorse owners at every race-day. That’s something we addressed at the start of this season and all owners, with runners, now have a dedicated hospitality marquee at their disposal all day.
But it’s not all about the food. It’s about the small things too, like preferential parking and a personal service that recognises the contribution that racehorse owners make to our sport. Everybody appreciates a warm welcome. Which is why, this week, I’ve subjected myself to the seasonal flu jab.
That’s right, no one wants to catch a stinking cold or flu from a feverish Racecourse Manager, who insists on shaking everybody’s hand as they enter the racecourse. And now is the season for awards dinners and festive lunches, which means that the flu virus will soon be rife. I’m not a fan of injections, but no task is too daunting in the quest to provide the best experience for our racehorse owners.
The ROA will soon be unveiling a new initiative – a quality mark which can be attained by racecourses who satisfy a number of objective, measurable, criteria – but which may have missed out on the Gold Standard. No doubt it will include inoculation for key racecourse personnel and will be known as the ROA Cold Standard.