Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sunny reflections

Not so good: I see that it's six days since I last wrote a chapter.  We've had the July Cup since then, but I still haven't seen that as I was en route to the ATR studios when it was run, and I made do with John Hunt's call on the radio instead.  And, by the time that I was in a position to watch a replay, I felt as if I'd already seen it.  Mind you, I'm in exactly the same boat as regards the Derby (which was run while I was en route to Lingfield) and again, although (disgracefully) I haven't seen it, I feel as if I have.

Anyway, Saturday's racing has prompted some thoughts.  It really wasn't clever having feature meetings at Newmarket (July Cup), York (Magnet Cup) and Ascot (Summer Mile) on the same afternoon.  Soccer has moved away from having all the matches at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, and instead spreads the best stuff (ie the Premier League) around so that it's split between Saturday and a Sunday, with some midweek matches too. With racing, one main meeting in the north on a Saturday afternoon and one in the south makes sense - but three big meetings?

The fact that Newmarket got a bigger crowd on Thursday (no Group One race on the card) than on July Cup Saturday explodes the myth that we have to move the Carnivals to the weekends.  That's one point - and the other is that we've been told for years that the aspiration is that Sunday ceases to be the most mundane day of the week, and instead becomes another Saturday.  There are two alternatives to the situation which we had (returning the July Meeting to its previous incarnation as a midweek meeting, like Cheltenham which seems to work OK) or move the Ascot meeting to the Sunday, where it would be what it deserves to be (ie the prime meeting of the day, rather than the tertiary one) and would also be making a big contribution to the move to upgrade Sundays, which is something pretty much everything agrees to be a good thing.

Anyway, the other point which came up in these discussions appeared when we highlighted that Newmarket with no Group One on the Thursday got a bigger crowd than its July Cup Day on Saturday, simply because Thursday was called "Ladies' Day".  And that York and Chester, with neither having a Group race on the programme, each got 30,000+ on Saturday, while Newmarket (with a Group One) and Ascot (with a Group Two) each had considerably less than 20,000.  The observation made was that high-quality racing alone is not enough to sell a race-day, and that what draws in the crowds are the side-shows (which in York's and Chester's cases presumably equals lager).  But why is this so?

It isn't the case with jumps racing, where the big meetings rely almost entirely on stageing top-class racing for their massive popularity.  It isn't the case with soccer, cricket, rugby, tennis, golf, Olympics etc.  So why is it the case with Flat racing?  I'm afraid that I just don't know.  I'm going to make a couple of observations as to why this might be, and you can decide for yourself whether they might be factors.  And I'm not saying that they are, simply because I don't know the answer.

Firstly, the short careers of the best horses might be a factor: the keen but occasional racegoer can go to each Cheltenham Festival and see the same old (equine) faces coming back again and again, but that's hardly the case on the Flat, where a horse starring at successive Royal Ascots is the exception rather than the rule.  Secondly, the fact that the big battalions dominate Flat racing might be a factor.  There are plenty of races on the Flat, big and small, where the passion seems to have been removed: it can be a few different, seemingly anonymous, branches of the Maktoum family taking on a handful of Coolmore horses, with a few more horses owned by other international owners whose racing managers have turned up to collect the trophy and issue the sound-bytes if required.

The fairytale aspect of racing, which has delighted so many for so long, has largely been removed as the handful of big battallions send out whichever of their several hundred possibilities is right on the day to fight their own private, unemotional battles.  If the participants aren't living the passionate dream, how can the audience?  Anyway, these observations might not be relevant at all.  It might just be the Flat racing, which used to be massively popular and which used to be guaranteed massive crowds any time the racing was really good, might just be different from every other sport (including National Hunt racing), but for no reason whatsoever.

I don't know.  But I do know that the weather remains terrific.  Very warm days in the high 20s, very warm nights, hardly a cloud in the blue, sun-drenched skies all day ... bliss!  Photographs in this chapter taken yesterday and today, by the way.  The first two were taken yesterday, which was lovely all day, and the remainder were taken today, which was arguably even lovelier: a beautiful misty start to the morning, as you can almost see in the third paragraph (although the mist had largely risen even by that time), leading into a beautifully brilliant day.  Bliss!


neil kearns said...

The point is that racecourses understand their audience and racing does not the big summer crowds excluding royal ascot are populated by people attracted by the words fun day or family day not a group 2 10 furlong race named after some obscure long passed lord of the land
Until someone in authority accepts that at the really well attended weekend meetings the racing is probably of minimal importance in terms of attracting audience then the apparent anomaly will continue very unfortunately the answer is probably to run the real racing in the midweek and leave the weekends to be full of cheats races (handicaps) where the stags and hens will at least be happy if they can find a winner

Cat Wood said...

Great to read the dialogue, but just LOOK at the pics! luv ya work Wath.

John Berry said...

Thanks, Cat. That's why I waffle on so lengthily and pointlessly: to give me more space to add the photographs.

Understood, Neil, but it still doesn't solve the problem of WHY the general public is not interested in the quality of the Flat racing on offer, when in every other sport (including jumps racing) the most popular fixtures are the highest-quality ones. Why has this scenario come about? What has gone wrong with Flat racing that hasn't gone wrong with National Hunt racing?