The (Sand) Pits Of Racing

As a large number of racing eyes pan west towards the, self proclaimed, World Championships – i.e. that overblown excess in self indulgence known as the Breeders Cup, opinion here has been divided as some celebrate and others bemoan the 20th anniversary of “all-weather” racing in this country.

I have always though the term “all-weather” to be a misnomer – after all was the first scheduled meeting not Cancelled to fog? And there have been many abandonments over the past twenty years due to adverse weather conditions.

The term “all-weather” was actually coined as a marketing ploy as the original point of the artificial surface racing was to provide an alternative in the depths of winter when the weather decimated jump racing.

Since those early days of backup meetings all-weather has spread, like a cancer, through the sport so in 2010 we have 302 all-weather meetings scheduled and, doubtless, that number will increase should we see the widespread abandonment s of National Hunt fixtures.

I suppose one “positive” is they have stopped selling the line that all-weather racing is provided as a backup for turf cancellations.

It is not – it is provided as generally low grade betting fodder, solely for the benefit of high street bookmakers.

Yes I concede it isn’t all low grade, there are even some listed races run on the all-weather but 85% is low grade fare contested not by “has been” runners but by “never will be” runners.

Take a look at next years fixture lists. Of the 302 meetings 110 are evening fixtures outside the main evening racing season – in other words meetings run exclusively for the benefit of bookmakers to provide betting opportunities for the mug and compulsive gambler in the evenings.

Looking at the attendance figures is certainly enlightening.

The figures suggest AW is not that popular with racegoers and apologies for the stats but they make interesting reading.

Here are the attendance figures for 2009 to date (up to last Tuesday)

National Hunt

No Of Meetings: 375
Mean Average Attendance: 4,053
Median Average Attendance: 2,432
Highest: 78,790
Lowest: 621

Flat Turf

No Of Meetings: 586
Mean Average Attendance: 5,733
Median Average Attendance: 3,283
Highest: 66,852
Lowest: 535

All-weather

No Of Meetings: 237
Mean Average Attendance: 819
Median Average Attendance: 688
Highest: 3,318
Lowest: 144

Size Of Crowd By Meeting type

National Hunt

500 - 1000:          21 (5.6%)
1001 - 3000:        214 (57.07%)
3001 - 5000:        81 (21.6%)
5001 - 10000:      40 (10.67%)
10001 - 25000:    12 (3.2%)
> 25000:             7 (1.87%)

Flat Turf

500 - 1000:          43 (7.34%)
1001 - 3000:        217 (37.03%)
3001 - 5000:        132 (22.53%)
5001 - 10000:      114 (19.45%)
10001 - 25000:    64 (10.92%)
> 25000:            16 (2.73%)

AW

<500:                 59 (24.89%)
500 - 1000:         126 (53.16%)
1001 - 3000:        50 (21.10%)
3001 - 5000:        2 (0.08%)

Whichever way you look at the figures the racegoing public, even after 20 years, do not like the all-weather product.

Add to the equation the exceptionally weak on course betting market. A combination small “crowds” coupled with just three or four bookmakers not being uncommon. One wonders what the attraction of the all-weather racing is.

I am not calling for the abolition of all-weather racing, it has its place, however it needs to be tempered.  It needs to revert to what it was initially set up to provide. In other words a back-up option for use in inclement weather.

One of the delights of British racing is its diversity.

Take a week in April where I went to Ayr (Scottish National), Kempton (AW), Towcester, Epsom, Fontwell and Sandown. Six courses, including an all-weather fixture, and every one completely different in character – for me that is the attraction of racing in this country.

In January when we lost all the jump racing I went to five AW meetings in one week - I had almost lost the will to live by the end of it - just down to the sheer repetitiveness of it all. The only bright note was one of the meetings proved to be the death knell of Great Leighs.    

If I lived in the United States I would despair, I certainly would not be a follower of racing where the “sport” consists of a homogenous mass of flat oval courses, where races of 1½ miles are considered to be marathon races.

Calling the Breeders Cup the World Championships is just sheer arrogance on the part of the Americans. By all means incorporate it into part of a World Series which, on a points basis, could take in top races around the world at different tracks and on different surfaces.

Until then the Breeders Cup, for me, is just another all-weather fixture, albeit with a better quality than a Kempton Wednesday evening or Wolverhampton Monday afternoon fixture.

 

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