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The Weekly Blog

Core to the Sport’s Heart

Thank heavens for the Mansfield family – without whom Thursday’s Ladies Day event at Perth Racecourse might have been a very dry affair with a much less interesting crowd.

According to Wikipedia, Lord Mansfield invited the organisers of Perth races to relocate to Scone Palace Park in 1908, following the introduction of a law banning the consumption of alcohol in North Inch Park where the races had been previously staged. The crowning place of Scottish Kings, Scone Palace has seen a fair number of celebrations through the ages and the locals evidently know how to throw a decent party.

Not that attendance at Perth’s Ladies Day was restricted to local residents. Yes, there were plenty of young racegoers there from Perth and its hinterland, but there were also dozens of coaches from places like Dundee, Arbroath and Aberdeen. This is where young people from the north of Scotland come to engage with our sport – contra to the opinion offered by proponents of the industry’s “Premier Racing” strategy: that new racegoers from across Britain engage first with the sport’s most prestigious events.

This notion, frankly, is toffee. Utter banoffee toffee, with a capital “B” for tollocks.

While it’s undoubtedly true that novice punters are likely to engage first with high profile events like the Grand National or Royal Ascot, someone who places a bet is no more likely to become a racegoer than a visitor to a variety of other outdoor events. Research has demonstrated that visitors to an agricultural show are far more greatly predisposed to attending a racemeeting than punters interviewed while standing in highstreet betting shops.

So, while curating an intriguing betting product for the off-course betting market is a vital element of the sport’s business plan, attracting local people to highly social horseracing events like Ladies Days – across all of the regions of Britain – should surely be at the heart of the sport’s strategy.

The current two-year trial of Premier Racing is not only failing to capitalise on many of horseracing’s best opportunities, it’s also damaging some of those assets by reducing the amount of funding for prize money and forcing some popular fixtures to commence at unattractive times of the day for racegoers. This weekend’s selection is Iorangi de L’Isle, who runs at the artificially delayed (late afternoon / early evening) Saturday fixture at Bangor on Dee.

For anyone who witnessed the large, vibrant, crowd of racegoers enjoying the sun at Perth this week, the key to promoting the sport is obvious: support the delivery of fun events on a regional basis: like Kelso’s Ladies Day a week on Sunday, and Cartmel’s Whit Holiday fixtures on Saturday, Bank Holiday Monday and Wednesday.

The “Core” tier of racing shouldn’t just be labelled as anything and everything that’s not “Premier” – because a significant proportion of those fixtures are core to the sport’s heart.