Striking A Duff Chord

In the past few weeks I have begun to wonder if I am a Racing or an Arts Correspondent as almost every race meeting I have attended seems to have a post-racing concert attached.

In the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to see a range of entertainers from international stars like Tom Jones and The Beach Boys through to tribute bands like Mowtown In Motion.

This coming Saturday sees what is fast becoming the Grand Daddy of the lot where Ascot have no fewer than ten acts from the 80’s performing after racing. Acts as diverse as Jason Donovan, Kid Creole and The Coconuts, Paul Young, Toyah, Altered Images etc. etc.

Undoubtedly these concerts are a success for the racecourses with gates increasing beyond the courses wildest dreams. It is interesting to note that courses also seem to be reluctant to release the attendance figures for their concerts.

Sandown usually attract around 3,000 for their mid-week evening meetings yet there were easily 12,000 at the meeting where Tom Jones appeared.

Newmarket’s Friday evening race meetings with concerts attract up to 20,000.

So you can see, even after paying the performers costs, why the courses are keen to have the concerts after racing as with such a captive audience associated catering and, especially, bar takings will go through the roof.

Also where the performer is a “name” it also gives the course an excuse to charge inflated admission prices . . . .at most courses where there is a big name entertainer performing after racing you will be looking at admission prices starting in excess of £30.

Therein lies the problem. Sticking a concert after racing and inflating the prices accordingly is going to alienate the regular racegoers.

With the notable exception of Newmarket, who do make an attempt to stage some half-decent racing on concert nights, many courses seem to program frankly appalling, low quality racing to accompany the racing. Indeed you are left with the feeling the racing is an irrelevance and the racing is staged to allow patrons additional drinking time before the concert begins.

Epsom seems to be the champion at staging sub-standard racing on concert days, take last Thursday when Blondie was performing after racing. By all accounts a huge turnout crowd wise, with tickets in excess of £30 but in terms of the racing the six races had field sizes of 5, 5,4, 6, 7 and 6 respectively.

Would any racing fan, not interested in staying for the concert, pay in excess of £30 to watch that racing?

More courses have, this year, clearly demonstrated that racing is of secondary importance to the concert.

Again Epsom is a prime example. If you do not know Epsom racecourse the land in the centre of the track is common land to which people have free access. Canny locals turn up on concert nights and are able to watch the concerts for free.

To make life more difficult for these “freeloaders” who of course provide no income for the tracks, the Epsom management have this year turned the stage around so it faces away from the Downs thus depriving those of the centre of the course a free view of the concert.

That sounds reasonable but in doing so they have positioned the stage in such a position that racegoers in the stands are unable to see a fair chunk of the final furlong.

Even the commentary and press positions high on the roof of The Queen’s Stand have an obstructed view of the racing if the runners come stands side.

Epsom is not alone in the ill thought out positioning of stages obstructing viewing of the racing. There have, to my knowledge and experience, been similar complaints at both Doncaster and Newbury.

I have heard many complaints from regular racegoers about the adverse impact the concerts have on their experiences, yet the courses do not seem to care.

At Newmarket last Friday evening there was a boy band called The Wanted performing after races – the audience at the track was predominantly adolescent females. They had no interest in the racing but their presence made it almost impossible for me to work at the course. Indeed by the fifth race I gave up trying to fight through the crowds to get from the press room to the parade ring.

I can see, from a financial perspective, why courses have the concerts. They provide a welcome and no doubt substantial increase in income in these particularly tough times.

However in doing so the courses are risking alienating their core customer base, those racegoers who attend rain and shine, concert or no concert. I know of more than one racegoer who already have or intend to cancel annual memberships as a result of a courses policy with concerts.

The courses will undoubtedly retort the concerts will attract some new racegoers who would not otherwise have discovered racing. That may be true but are these numbers more than those who will be lost due to alienation?

It is interesting to see at least two courses this season Newbury (Rod Stewart) and Hamilton Park (Westlife) have been honest enough to admit the concerts are the cash cow and more profitable than racing. They held their concerts without having a race meeting attached, still attracted big crowds and everyone was happy.

Perhaps other courses should learn from their example.   

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Last Tuesday’s Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood was billed as the Duel On The Downs, in reality it turned out to be a Massacre On The Downs as it turned into a procession with Frankel putting in an awesome, imperious performance. Granted Canford Cliffs did not run to his best but even if he had there is no way he would have matched Frankel.

We have been spoiled in the last couple of years. Many thought Sea The Stars was a once in a generation horse, now it seems we have another great equine superstar to admire and watch open mouthed.


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