Racing Quango

I am writing this on Monday 11th October 2010.

Yes I know it isn’t the usual thing to begin an item with the specific date it is being written, however in this case it is significant.

Earlier this morning I popped over to our local supermarket, the one where the colour orange predominates. It is a modern supermarket with two floors of underground parking and some snazzy moving walkways to whisk you from the car parking to the store itself.

I was half way to the store when I caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye, I was hallucinating surely?

But I wasn’t – looming in front of me was a 12’ tall, fully decorated Christmas tree.

There was worse to come, when I reached the shop floor the entire supermarket was festooned with Christmas decorations and, yes, it is only October 11th

Christmas seems to be beginning earlier every year.

OK I know winter is approaching as the evenings are getting darker noticeably earlier.

Also this weekend heralds, what for many is the traditional start to winter, Cheltenham’s first meeting of the season.

This weekend also sorts out the National Hunt followers from the flat followers as Newmarket hosts Champions Day, or at least the last Champions Day in its current format.

This year, as in previous years, it is a no brainer as to where I will be this weekend – it will be amongst the rolling hills of the Cotswolds rather than the open plains of Suffolk / Cambridge.

Although actually it isn’t quite true about it being a no brainer as, originally, I was not going to either. It was going to be a week long holiday, taking in Amsterdam and Brussels.

However with both sets of parents giving us assorted health concerns we have decided to remain in the UK. So Cheltenham it is.

Next year, however, it will be a major dilemma as to where I will be.

Next year Cheltenham’s first meeting of the season will not clash with a Champions Day in name only it will (no pun intended) be clashing with the Real McCoy, the new all singing, all dancing Champions Day at Ascot, featuring Britain’s most valuable card ever staged.

Part of the Racing For Change initiative it is designed to provide a fitting end to the flat turf season and, in theory, I have no great issue with the initiative.

However I do have a couple of concerns with regards the timing.

Firstly is it the most intelligent planning decision to have such a major fixture on the same day the jumping season has its first major fixture?

Some, but not all, racegoers are polarised into the flat and NH camps. There are many like both codes equally, or almost equally. For people like me, having two big, contrasting, meetings on the same day will produce a major dilemma as to which meeting to attend.

I have a suspicion I may have to compromise and do Cheltenham on the Friday and Ascot on the Saturday.

My other concern, and it is one I have touched on previously, is the proximity of the meeting to the Arc meeting at Longchamp.

For me we already have a championship day here in Europe, held the first Sunday in October where Longchamp stage six Group One races – culminating in the Prix de l’Arc deTriomphe.          
Could having the British Champions Day just 13 days after Longchamp end up diminishing both?  

Part of the fixture changes relate to having a “narrative” throughout the season, to this end a champions series of races has been formulated.

To me it looks suspiciously like the ill-starred Sovereign Series in just another guise.

More worryingly a new company called British Champions’ Series Limited (BCS) is being created to oversee the marketing and media rights for the entire series.

Is this not an incredible waste of money and does it not add yet another level of unnecessary administration into a sport which is already bloated with far too many vested interests.

Frankly the industry should be looking at rationalising not further fragmentation.

By creating BCS are the powers that be suggesting Racing Enterprises, who are supposed to be marketing the sport are not capable of marketing the Champions’ Series.

Or is it yet another example of unnecessary expense to line the pockets of the marketeers?

Another criminal waste of money along the lines of Racing For Change, money that could be better spent, for example, on prize money.

Looking at Racing For Change, what has all the money invested actually returned.

As far as I can see the only “benefit” I have seen has been the larger number cloths.

We had a week of free racing, by all account well received by courses and punters alike, yet what has happened to that … or are we awaiting responses from focus groups?

Then there was, in my view, the excellent suggestion to look at decimal odds. In the end there was a half-hearted “experiment” at one meeting, which was doomed to failure.

One enduring, and I mean enduring in the painful sense, aspect of Racing For Change is the “enhanced” on-course presentation. Usually hosted by Derek Thompson, Matt Chapman or, for reasons which defy all logical explanation, James McQuillan.

These are aimed to enhance the racegoing experience – take it from me they don’t, for every person the approach attracts you will alienate many more. Choosing two of the most Marmite characters in racing, Derek Thompson and Matt Chapman, for these presentation roles is a short sighted decision.

Those who like them will accept what is happening, those who do not will be alienated and driven away. Unlike the television where you can press the mute button or switch off, on-course the only escape is to go home.

It seems Matt Chapman has been employed to host Towcester TV, making his first appearance last Wednesday.

Now if you meet Matt when he is not near a microphone he is a pleasant, personable enough chap.

Put a microphone in his hand and I am afraid his ego takes over and he becomes unbearable. His performance at Towcester was, to say the very least, excruciating last Wednesday and, despite it being my local course and very convenient for me, I’m afraid I shall not be returning to Towcester as long as Matt is doing the course presentation.

Perhaps racing should take a note from the coalition Government who are cutting back on Quango’s – perhaps racing should begin the cull with Racing For Change and, even better still, put BCS out of its misery before it even sees the light of day.    

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