Thursday, 8 June 2017


‘Racing is not a proper sport’ a football obsessed work colleague once told me. ‘It’s all about betting and the other sports aren't’.

However harsh those words may sound the statement is undeniably true. I  hesitated, then responded by pointing out that there are many fans who will visit the paddock at the races to get close to these magnificent thoroughbreds that make the sport so unique .Others with an equally keen interest in the human participants will loiter around the weighing room autograph hunting. To all these it involves far more than a bet.

I gave an example of a pal of mine who once approached Aiden O’Brien on a Dante day at York to obtain his autograph. That same person once cut out a headline page and picture of Jodami and sent it to Peter Beaumont and never even had the manners to include the return postage.The trainer kindly signed the article and posted it back
I remember myself as a teenager in the 1970’s scurrying along excitedly besides the likes of  Pat Eddery, Willie Carson and Greville Starkey while they signed my racecards.

‘So my friend ‘, I replied to this person who had just made this severe but accurate statement about my sport, ‘ It’s  about more than just betting’, to which the response was ,‘ But that's not the norm. It's only a small minority of you. You don't count in the grand scheme of things'.

It was a debate I could not win. The powers that be that run football and cricket see betting and all that it brings with it as an unwanted ally of their product. For many of them the trouble that it brings is not worth betting linked sponsorship in sports where sponsors are aplenty.

For racing betting is the lifeblood of the sport. Without the stream of revenue from it racing would cease to exist as we know it. 

I once read a post on a popular racing forum by someone from the point to point community. He was of the opinion that the future of racing was safe, that point to point meetings have healthy attendances with strong representation from the younger generation.

Unfortunately such a community does not represent a snapshot of anything near the larger populace. For racing to survive on its present tier the sport has to be able to compete with football, cricket and the other televised sports. Its share of the betting pie is diminishing year on year.

A further deterrent for the emerging generations is that it offers no tribal appeal. Well, perhaps you could cite the Irish at Cheltenham or the Brits at Longchamp but this is not the same as your own football , rugby  or cricket team.

Not surprisingly given the venue's record on poor innovations and disastrous changes,  Haydock Park  tried the tribal theme in an attempt to get new blood interested and fill its coffers for the day. This came in the ridiculous form of  jockeys wearing the colours of football teams. Needless to say it did not wash.

For someone choosing a sport to follow a potential winning attribute for racing is that it escapes the omnipresent existence of football. Creating a false sameness between the sports will turn people off. The established racegoers have indeed boycotted these events for years.

Another point is that a racing stable does not have a catchment area that it represents.There may be the infrequent occasion where a big race winner is paraded through a local village but the yard will not have a travelling support or believe the runners represent them. This may sound daft but for younger generations sports that offer a sense of belonging appeal most.

This brings me back to the colleague who lectured me on the status of 'my' sport. He is a long,long standing season ticket holder at a very famous English Premiership Club. Because he lives only three miles away from the stadium he believes he  has more of a right to support 'his' club than what he terms 'glory seekers' who travel many miles to  'attach ' themselves to the club.

He is continually barred from forums for supporters of his club and it got to a point on one forum that his use of the term 'Out of Towners' had him immediately removed. He then reappeared under a different username and invented the wind up  'distancely challenged' which again had him chopped once they eventually caught on what the expression meant and interpreted it as an insult.

His posts caused some of the most nasty responses I have read on a forum that is intended for posters who are part of the same tribe. Whether people should get so infuriated by someone telling them that they should support a club nearer to them, or are less of a supporter than someone else is questionable. It does nevertheless demonstrate the importance of belonging and being part of a clan which many seek in following a sport.

Racing cannot offer them that. You never for example hear of someone who lives in Six Mile Bottom claiming because of location that they are a bigger John Gosden fan than someone residing in Newcastle Upon Tyne. This is because unlike in football, cricket or rugby, John Gosden is not representing the people of his local area.

Racing needs to drop this futile idea that it can gain lost ground on the big team sports by inventing non-existent comparisons and instead concentrate on the strengths of its own traditional format which never did need any real tampering with in the first place.

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