Thursday, January 19, 2017

Reasons to be cheerless, part three

Right, here we go.  Another six paragraphs.  Or I might make it seven tonight, just because.  As regards wading through this topic, I'm both boring and confusing myself, so I hate to think what I'm doing to anyone rash enough read these musings.  Still, caveat lector, as Ben Hur might have said as he weighed out for Race Four at the Coliseum (AW) one evening.  Where were we?  I think that we'd covered Kempton, so we might as well move on to Phase Two of this brilliant and cunning plan: Newmarket.  If JCR manages to sacrifice Kempton, it would clearly behove it to have an AW track somewhere else, both because AW meetings are cash-cows (despite what the panellists on the ATR Forum on Sunday might have implied) and because an AW presence ensures that the group still retains a healthily significant chunk of the fixture list.

But why, oh why, Newmarket?  This idea first came up around the turn of the century when JCR mooted the idea of having an AW track, and put forward Newmarket as its preferred site.  This was roundly condemned by Newmarket trainers on the very valid point that it would cheapen Newmarket's 'brand' (as the JCR marketing types might say).  We are (supposed to be) the historic headquarters of racing, the home of the sport for (considerably longer than) 350 years, and our prestige rests on the fact that we are (or used to be) synonymous with quality.  We're the elite!  And that perception of us is our biggest selling point as a training centre, over and above our miles of hallowed turf.  We're the Ritz in Piccadilly; we're not the Travel Tavern on the Norwich ring-road.

The manager of the Ritz, if given the chance to build an annexe and run it as a budget motel, would be little swayed by the fact that it would be a cash-cow, that running budget hotels is easy money and that there are always plenty of people wishing to stay in them.  He would rightly point out that his biggest asset was his international reputation for quality, and that it would be madness to sacrifice that.  And that is what we would be doing if we put in an AW track and served up a diet of dozens and dozens of meetings composed largely of Class Five and Six AW races in which the lucky winners received roughly a month's training fees.  We would no longer be part of the elite - and if you doubt that, just consider how Kempton's status and prestige has nose-dived since it became a vendor of AW betting shop fodder.

Anyway, that was the Newmarket view at the start of this century.  JCR listened, and Kempton became the AW site instead.  What has changed?  Only one thing, really: the AW track would now not be visible from the Rowley Mile grandstand.  Other than that, we're still back to the same problem, ie that we'd be throwing away our biggest selling point.  For what?  For supposed convenience?  To "make life better for the many hard-working horsemen in the sport" (Bazalgette, 2017)?  Honestly - it's an insult to our intelligence that this self-serving nonsense is even being introduced into the debate as any sort of factor at all, never mind the biggest selling point.

Newmarket would take on Kempton's AW fixtures.  Off the top of my head, I would say that at any Kempton AW meeting I have attended, there have been considerably more runners collectively from Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Dorset and all points west (not to mention from Epsom, from which town Kempton is a much more straightforward trip than Newmarket) than Newmarket.  So for every horse whose journey is shortened by two hours each way, there is more than one whose journey is lengthened by the same time, or longer.  This 'shorter journeys for some, longer journeys for others' is just a pathetic line of reason which should never have been introduced.

Even if it held water simply from a Newmarket point of view, it would hold so little water as to be not even worth mentioning.  The average stable lad (if there is such a thing) will look after three or four horses.  He might do 15 runners a year: the odd horse would have a double-figure number of runs, but more wouldn't run, and many would have a couple of runs.  So that's 15 trips to the races per year, spread over the 40 courses or so which hold Flat racing.  Some lads might have all their outings to different courses, and few would visit any one course more than, say, three times a year, other than in stables which focus on the AW, and there are none such in Newmarket.  So we are looking at potentially having a shortened working day up to three days out of 365 for the staff in Newmarket (while an equivalent number of lads have a proportionately lengthened working day up to three days out of 365).  Is this significant?  Why are we even talking about this?

Is this really going to "make life better for the many hard-working horsemen in the sport"?  As our Strayan cousins might say, 'Pleeeeeeeeze!'  If the JCR management really were concerned about making life easier for those who look after the horses, rather than just using them as a flimsy pretext for trying to justify the unjustifiable, then the race at Kempton AW a week on Saturday for which I am planning to enter Kilim would not be scheduled to be run at 8.45 pm.  The final afternoon race that day is set to be run at 4.35, so why wait 70 minutes until the first evening race?  Why not start Kempton's card at 4.45 and end it at 7.45, rather than starting it at 5.45 and ending  it at 8.45?  The scheme to close Kempton makes it hard to believe that it's out of consideration for the preferences of Kempton's race-goers, but it's hard to see any other reason.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

Totally agree having a load of low grade racing at HQ will only dilute the reputation of the courses and frankly i cant see any reason as to why moving AW racing to Newmarket can benefit anyone . If JCR are desperate to have AW involvement - and I really am not seeing any reason as to why they do - then for me the only two logical venues are Nottingham or Warwick both relatively centrally located and not out on a limb which HQ to most of us is - and the likely fixtures at a low level are hardly likely to have people dashing over to Newmarket to visit .
I dont know what the ramifications of this would be to existing fixtures but certainly Nottingham has some decent facilities for the likely crowds that would visit (its that long since I have been to Warwick as to not be able to comment) . Truth is with the exception of Kempton AW the rest of the tracks owned by JCR (even the smaller ones) seem to be more about quality than quantity and perhaps a continuance of that policy may be a better option than chasing low end bookie fodder