Thursday, 17 October 2013

Bring On The Champions

The racing industry has invested millions of pounds in the development of Champions Day at Ascot racecourse. The fixture, which takes place on Saturday, has prize money of £3.4 million and has received a huge amount of marketing support. While the objective is to create an exciting end to the Flat racing season, the problem is that… well… it’s taking place at the END of the Flat season.  

For the second consecutive year the official going description is likely to be soft, meaning that some of the more exciting horses will be non-runners. Others have either finished for the season already or have overseas engagements in their diaries – where the climate is better suited to Flat racing at this time of year. Ascot Chief Executive, Charles Barnett, says that he is content with the October fixture slot – pointing out that an attendance of 25,000, if the weather is kind, would still be “a very good crowd”. 

There is also racing at Cheltenham on Saturday, where the prize fund is about one twentieth of the size of Ascot’s. Yet, if given TV coverage, Cheltenham’s card would probably generate a similar amount of betting interest. The crowd at Cheltenham, with relatively little marketing effort compared to that dedicated to Champions Day, will be around eighteen thousand and will consist of enthusiasts who will attend in virtually any weather, rain or shine. 

This week will see the seasonal debuts of some of the most exciting horses in training including First Lieutenant and Noble Prince at Punchestown, The New One and Rock On Ruby at Kempton and Balthazar King at Cheltenham – all of them previous Cheltenham Festival winners over jumps. The betting public will be at least as interested to see these horses as any appearing at Ascot. But of all the racing this weekend, I am most looking forward to Kelso – where Knockara Beau seeks his fifth course win at the Scottish Borders jumps track. 

Knockara Beau, if he appears, will be running off the same handicap mark as when winning in November last year. He is an old favourite of mine and will be familiar to Cartmel racegoers as he also won a novice chase here a few seasons ago. And that is the thing about jump racing: we look forward to seeing the same horses appear year after year – and when they run, all interest in Flat racing evaporates. 

Incidentally, if you fancy a trip to Kelso, we shall be taking a coach there for the fixture on Saturday 9th November. We've got together with Kelso and VisitScotland to create a fantastic package which includes coach travel, admission, a hog roast roll and a drink plus other benefits for just £20. If you are interested, you must call the Cartmel racecourse office before Thursday 24th October.

I suspect that we won’t know whether Champions Day is a success or not for another ten or twenty years; it isn’t a short term project. The fixture needs to develop a following and breed anticipation in the same way that punters are inspired by the mere mention of the Cheltenham Festival. The chances of success would be improved if  the event could be staged in the Summer, or perhaps even another country – but I wish everyone involved the very best of luck.

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