Disillusioned With Racing
I am about to say something I never thought I would say.
I am falling out of love with racing.
I could quite happily walk away from the sport, never go racing again and it would not worry me one iota.
The last time I felt this way about anything was when I gave up the booze.
I used to drink for England, I virtually lived in the pub. If I missed a night, they would ring to make sure I was OK.
Then one morning I woke up with, as usual, the bird cage bottom mouth, feeling dehydrated, feeling rough and I asked myself why I was doing it?
From that day I went from being a ten unit a day drinker to being a ten unit a year drinker and I have never looked back, never regretted it, certainly not missed it.
With the drinking it was the waking up feeling rough that did it for me.
With the racing it is harder to put my finger on it. There is no one single reason for my disillusionment just a trickle of niggles.
Partly it is the realisation I am getting older and I can’t do the things I did twenty years ago.
Then driving hundreds of miles a day was nothing. Now I am absolutely knackered if I do a 300 mile round trip, do two or three in a week and I am almost done for.
Of course even the shorter journeys are not without their problem – any course that involves having to negotiate the M25 during rush hour automatically increases the stress levels.
That is only a periphery issue though – the racing experience is not as enjoyable as it once was.
Too many meetings fall into one of two depressing categories.
They either have crowds that are so small, the atmosphere – if it can be called an atmosphere in the first place – is depressing.
At a wet, winters Monday afternoon at Wolverhampton small crowds are expected. But when you go to a course like Epsom and it is almost possible to individually greet all your fellow racegoers, it makes you realise something is amiss.
This afternoon at Epsom there were 37 runners and no more than a couple of hundred racegoers – and in a course like Epsom that looks very little indeed.
Read that again – 37 runners and that on a card which had guaranteed prize money of over £54,000 and owners have the temerity to complain about levels of prize money. And that’s another part of the problem, there are too many whingers in the sport but more of that anon.
On the other extreme the courses can be filled with morons who have no interest at all in the racing and their only aim is to pour as much alcohol down their throats as possible, resulting in them becoming obnoxious bores and, as an added bonus, they will throw in a decent punch up as well.
The courses do little to stop the trend, why should they, after all the booze sales are positive goldmines for the courses. I used to hold a licence to sell alcohol and I know from first hand experience it is not only a licence to sell alcohol, it is also a licence to print money.
Lest some poor sop has to queue too long to top up the alcohol levels some courses have big signs encouraging punters to buy their beer in two pint glasses, or they provide mobile vendors to pass amongst the crowd.
And they wonder why new fans cannot be attracted to the sport.
Of course there are fundamental issues with how the sport is run. First of all there is too much racing, spreading the product too thinly.
There are serious and justified concerns around the reduction in the levy, yet what happens the number of fixtures increases so the decreasing money is spread even further.
The influence and power of the bookmakers is spreading like a cancer through the sport.
The more observant will have noticed a sudden increase in eight race cards since the beginning of September. This is not some magical change, it is a change at the request of the bookmakers so they can have more races in which to take money off the mug punters.
More is not better. The races that are being divided are low grade, uncompetitive events.
Take Hereford’s card on September 2nd, one of the first to “benefit” from prolific dividing. Four of the eight races were won my margins of ten lengths or more and the others were 5, 4½, 2 and 1½ lengths – only one of which could really be considered competitive.
There needs to be a significant decrease, not increase, in the amount of racing and that is something I will return to in a future musing.
Earlier I mentioned the number of whingers in the sport.
Wherever you turn there the pessimists whose glasses are always half empty.
Punters who when they have a losing bet, which tends to be most bets, always blame somebody else – usually a “bent” jockey / trainer / horse / official – indeed it is anybodies fault but theirs. After all heaven forbid their judgement may be wrong and they just happened to have selected the wrong horse.
Of course of the rare occasions they do pick a winner and statistically it will happen once in a while, the result has nothing to do with the skill and ability of the jockey / trainer / horse but it is down to their superb perception, skill and foresight.
Of course it is not all doom and gloom. There are the equine stars which brighten up the otherwise dull firmament.
Sea The Stars has done nothing wrong this season, yet trainer John Oxx comes in for unjustified criticism for not running him in the St Leger, a race that is palpably unsuitable for the horse.
It seems some would rather run the horse into the ground just to claim a meaningless “Triple Crown”.
Greyhound racing used to be a sport for the masses, nowadays it is staged in near empty stadia, run mainly as a benefit and numbers game for the bookmakers.
Racing is in danger of going the same way. I do not want that to happen, it is like watching an old friend go into decline, knowing there is nothing you can do to save it.
Like a passionate affair that has run its course it is better to walk away with dignity and remember the good times – far better than staying and becoming bitter and resentful.