The wind of change blew through Kelso Racecourse on Wednesday. It was just a shame that it had to blow at speeds of up to 77mph.
On the day that One For Arthur, the 2017 Grand National winner, became the first horse to parade in the new Parade Ring and Winners Enclosure, a number of other ‘firsts’ were being recorded around the racecourse. One of them might have been the World’s first airborne Clerk of the Course, if only we’d found a bigger rain-mac for Anthea Morshead. As it was, she managed to keep her feet planted firmly on the ground – which is just as well, as a lesser Clerk might have sent everyone home, which would have been no fun at all.
Perhaps the most significant ‘first’, for the sport of horseracing, was the introduction of new pool betting technology to service the on-course betting market. Having demolished the old Tote control room to make way for the new Parade Ring, we had no option but to become the first track in the country to commission new equipment installed by britbet, the racecourse owned betting company.
britbet was conceived to replace the old ‘Tote’ system of pool betting, with a view to safeguarding revenues which have helped to sustain racing since the creation of the Tote 90 years ago. Having been annexed by the Government, who passed legislation to nationalise the Tote, racing’s betting business was sold to Betfred in 2011 together with an exclusive right to offer pool betting in Britain for seven years.
The britbet solution was devised to ensure that future profits stayed within the sport at the end of that period, giving rise to the slogan: “By Racing, For Racing”. Negotiations have continued, between britbet and the Tote, that may yet result in a long-term joint venture between the two. In the meantime, britbet has started to roll out new equipment while selling the familiar Tote bets, with the stakes being combined within a single pool.
Seeing as the operation was running under the old Tote brand, many customers would be hard pushed to identify much difference. But the observant might have clocked the new screens, which display the winning dividends to racegoers in a simple, intuitive, format, while also displaying the runners, riders and the coloured silks of each jockey.
Fibre optic cables have been installed throughout the racecourse, linking new betting terminals to a wireless network, enabling britbet staff to take bets at any location – particularly useful on a day when high winds had racegoers diving indoors.
The new terminals are very easy to use – as evidenced by the fact that your humble correspondent was privileged to be allowed to sell the first bet using the system, £20 which regrettably went the way of most of this column’s weekly selections.
This week’s tip is for Flying Pursuit, who runs in the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup on Saturday. One of the fastest run races of the year, here’s hoping that Flying Pursuit flies like the wind…