Sunday, 16 July 2017


' I still feel that any market with just one player is not going to be a healthy one' . These the words of the editor in chief of The Sportsman when the plug was pulled on the publication in October 2006.

The paper had only been introduced in March of that year, designed as a rival to the Racing Post. Many of us will know that it was Nell Gwyn day 1986 that the latter was introduced, a portrait of Sonic Lady's head on the front page. None of us have a clue what the content was on the front page of the first edition of The Sportsman.

The insistence from the relatively young editor in chief that if the backers had hung tough a bit longer the paper would have been a success cannot be given much credence. The paper was never in the correct mode to have established itself.

First impressions like a first track on an album or a first chapter in a book are hard to erase and what made The Sportsman  different from the Racing Post was an emphasis on sports betting in general with horse racing treated as just one of the most important of many different sports.

This was underscored on the run up to the first publication with prospective readers being told that they could look forward to reading views from the likes of Alan Brazil and Andy Gray. This was never going to tempt the bread and butter Racing Post customers to change or to even give the new publication a fair chance.

And if Alan Brazil was writing they'd certainly hope that it would be on footy matters as opposed to his adopted sport of horse racing. They'd seen enough of how knowledgeable some of these ex -players really are on their new sport such as Bryan Robson on Question of Sport looking blankly at Nashwan winning the King George, neither recognising the race or horse who was a strikingly familiar creature in appearance - I've never been a Rugby fan but even I could recognise Ellery Hanley on the field in an instant.

Rightly or wrongly we fear change and while the popularity in sports betting was already affecting racing at this time it was still a shock to the system to be told that the sport was not now justifiably worth a publication of its own.

For many this was reason enough not to entertain the new offering. In fact the only remnants I have from the publication are the DVD's such as the one containing past Grand Nationals, perhaps acknowledgement after all that despite the title they were putting racing first.

And for the expanding number of punters who prefer other sports to racing and who have demoted racing to just another sport in the betting pie, they have no requirement for a daily publication.

What cannot be doubted with the benefit of hindsight is that if we could have envisaged how stale the Racing Post would become we would have supported the new publication even if it ultimately had been in vain. We may have even half warmed to it it but even given the time that the financial backers weren't prepared to give, no amount of tinkering would have increased circulation to the target figures desired.

I recall having a drink on the walk to York racecourse on the day Septimus would win the Dante.The pub was packed with fans, plenty with The Sportsman though more with Racing Posts.I commented to someone reading the new publication that I didn't think there was much for those at the established daily to agonize over.

He was having none of it  and replied that he actually preferred The Sportsman though I did get the disguised impression the chap was becoming tired of the direction the Post was going in and it was merely a protest buy. I now wish I had done my little bit and bought a copy each day but it was on a hiding to nothing.

After reading the Post daily right from day one with the exception of the odd Bank Holiday or strike I ceased purchasing it a few years back. It's very much uninspiring stuff, does not serve the interests of the punters who are the lifeblood of the sport, and contains some bizarre offerings with Lee Mottershead's suggestion of Tour De France time trail competitions for horses in between races being the latest.

If we like racing we'll either go the paddock between races or watch a race on the TV from one of the other meetings, maybe having a drink at the same time whether soft or alcoholic. That routine should not be undone.

The Kindle has not killed off the paperback, 3D TV seems to have fizzled out, there is a resurgence in vinyl, so don't believe for one second that printed versions of newspapers have had their day. But with regards to a daily horse racing newspaper we are going from a one player market to an empty market. Sadly, racing is not popular enough anymore to justify a daily publication.

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