Friday, 10 June 2016

Too Much Fun?

Is it possible to have too much racing in one region? When the racing season at Cartmel commenced on Saturday 28th May, much comment was made by columnists of The Racing Post regarding the concentration of fixtures in the North which included Haydock, Chester, Beverley and Catterick in addition to ourselves.  

Richard Hoiles, one of the most personable and knowledgeable commentators on the circuit said that the day’s programme “limits the opportunity for a whole swathe of Britain to attend a meeting this afternoon”. I hate to disagree with Richard, but I’m going to anyway… because people travel.

About 30% of the crowd at Cartmel stays overnight locally as part of their excursion, some in hotels and B&Bs, others with friends. This year more than a thousand racegoers stayed in the temporary camp site that we created for the duration of the May meeting. Having reviewed the bookings for the first day, it was easy to identify visitors from all corners of the kingdom – from Kent and Cornwall to Bute and Argyll. Which means that quite a high proportion of our crowd drove past Haydock to reach us. And yet do you suppose that Haydock were disappointed with their crowd of 9,881?

I have no doubt that the crowd at Chester will have included some of our local residents from Kendal and Barrow-in-Furness: the reasons why people attend race-meetings are many and varied – but being close to the racecourse is quite a long way down the list. We know - because it was one of the questions asked in a piece of research conducted on behalf of the Racecourse Association last year.

The most significant motivators were about the social aspect of a day at the races. Statements such as ‘it’s a great day out with friends and family’ are common. As a society we tend to live further apart from our loved ones than ever before, so perhaps it's no wonder we're happy to travel for our social gatherings and celebrations. 46% of the individuals that book tickets for Cartmel races live more than 50 miles away.

Comments such as ‘I love racing’ are sadly rare. But those of us who do love racing, and who are familiar with the individual charms of Britain’s tracks, get very wrapped up in the idea that racecourses compete with each other for custom. We don’t – we might feel mightily competitive, we might jealously guard our fixture slots, but our real competitors are outside the sport: they include shopping centres, pubs, cinemas and other events, whether they be flower shows or swimming galas.

I believe that there’s plenty of opportunity for five racecourses to race in the North in one afternoon; even without all the travellers, there are 2.9 million people living within 50 miles of Cartmel - and 40% of that area is in the sea. We wouldn't have room for them all. 

Perhaps the more pertinent question should be: Why don’t we stage five meetings in the South too? Which opens several other cans of worms...

How many meetings offer the optimal commercial return to the off-course betting industry; how far does the industry want to go in facilitating the off-course betting industry in comparison to other customer groups; how many meetings can be easily serviced by trainers and their stable staff; how much form can one punter be expected to study? (Answer: just one race required: our choice is Lord Wishes in the 3.50pm at Hexham this Saturday). 

The racing industry has a complicated matrix of customers and suppliers and I don’t envy the BHA in their quest to lead the development of the annual fixture process. But can you have too many opportunities to come racing in the North? I don’t think so.

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