Free And Windy
Towcester racecourse seems to be gaining something of a reputation as a maverick racecourse. Be it breaking ties with the Racecourse Association, suggesting they stage their races without whips or being the first course to offer free admission as the norm as opposed to an occasional offering.
Their announcement that they wish to stage races without whips from October this year has been met with derision in most quarters and it will be interesting to see if the proposal actually has legs and actually come to fruition.
By contrast their free admission policy has been widely welcomed especially by racegoers and it has undoubtedly seen an increase in the numbers at the course.
I say free admission policy as it is interesting to note the admission this season has not been a free as in previous seasons.
This year Towcester decided to charge admission for all of their May meetings and the effect on attendances has been most interesting. Although it has to be added this analysis is based on observation rather than hard facts as, unusually, Towcester have been very slow in releasing their attendance figures for May.
I have attended two of the three May meetings held so far and the crowds, if that is not too much of an exaggeration, are almost the lowest I have seen there all season – this at evening meetings which, in the past few years, have been extremely popular.
The only meeting with fewer attendees was the additional fixture in January, which was staged at short notice with very little publicity.
The weather for the May evening meetings was not inclement and the reduction in numbers can only really be attributed to Towcester’s decision to charge admission.
The irony is Towcester were only charging £10 admission, which still compares favourably with other courses. The trouble is racegoers have now come to expect free admission at Towcester and when it is not there they vote with their feet.
Indeed some racegoers took their protest a little too far. I heard of one potential racegoer who had driven 100 miles to get to the course only to turn round and refuse to pay the £10 admission. It may have been a protest on a point of principle but having spent so much on petrol it seems churlish not to pay £10 admission.
Now Towcester have not covered themselves in glory on this one as their website highlights the free admission and whilst admittedly noting the paid for meetings in May the detail was, how can one put it, subtle and easily missed.
The argument in favour of free admission is the loss of gate money is mitigated by increased revenue, i.e. profit, from the sale of food, drink and racecards etc.
Again no figures are forthcoming but I wonder if the gate money taken by Towcester at these paid meetings made up for the costs of additional gate staff and the loss of revenue from sales of food, drink and racecards?
Talking to one person at the course they were saying their takings were markedly down at the paid meetings, when compared with the free meetings.
People do like to feel they are getting “something for nothing” and once they have had something for nothing they react even more strongly when it is seemingly taken away, which is why I think Towcester have been badly hit by their decision to charge admission for the May meetings.
It will be very interesting to see what the courses policy will be in the 2011-2012 season.
The Racing For Change ‘free racing month’ in April saw an additional 63,000 racegoers attending, with research indicating half were new racegoers.
What does this prove?
Well it certainly shows people like a bargain.
Will it ultimately attract more long term racegoers?
Research carried out by RfC indicates 80% of those who attended are ‘very likely” to return again, with a further 16% quite likely to return. On the face of it impressive figures, however I am minded of the old adage “lies, damned lies and statistics.”
How was the question actually phrased? Was it just are you likely to return again or was it are you likely to return again, even if you have to pay £15 admission? I would suggest the answer to the former would elicit a much more positive response than the latter.
In the world of athletics for a sprint record to be ratified there are strict rules about permitted wind speeds which may or may not assist the athlete. For example if a following wind is greater than a certain amount then a record will not stand.
In the past few weeks several track records have been broken in racing yet many have been wind assisted. Now I agree only a few anoraks really care about course records but many form students do pay attention to times, be they sectional times or whole race times.
There are already some complex formula applied to factor in going conditions when it comes to time assessments, but there is nothing in place to take account of the wind.
If the wind is deemed capable of assisting a human athlete, who has a relatively small surface area when compared with a horse and jockey, then surely wind must be a major factor in horse racing.
Currently the form book has vague comments like “wind, brisk, half against” but what does that mean – very little in fact. More often than not it is a finger in the air job, literally.
Yesterday at Brighton we had a huge debate about the wind and even though it was blowing a gale the impact of buildings made it difficult to accurately assess direction, yet alone speed.
Would it be too much to ask the racing authorities to invest some money in wind measuring equipment so a definitive reading can be taken for every race? It is not rocket science, athletics meetings manage it and I am sure their budget is smaller than racings.
Would it not be more meaningful to invest in something like wind measuring equipment, which has a tangible benefit, rather than investing in gimmicks which may or may not attract a few more racegoers.