Sunday, 3 December 2017

THROUGH THE EYES OF THE MODERN 'RACEGOER'


Papering over the cracks is an exercise that those in denial over the true decline of horse racing are very efficient at undertaking.The emphasis is all on audience, whether it be the inebriated, sometimes unruly sorts who fill the coffers at the 'cult ' courses, or this imaginary mass of fresh born interest watching on terrestrial television.

Those of us who work daily among large floors of colleagues will know how inappreciable the sport truly has become. Reality chips away bit by bit until we suddenly stand back and think , 'Christ, this really ain't that popular anymore'.

A couple of years back I was chatting with a regular, everyday punter.Years ago, he would have visited the LBO everyday.This has now evolved to a mixture of online activity, with live visits mixed in to take advantage of concessions.

It was York Ebor week. 'What have you backed ?', I inquired. The answer was not the one I'd been expecting for he proceeded to give out details of his bets on lower league football. Sighing, I pointed out that I meant the horses. ' I know you did,' he replied, before agreeing that years back he would have been looking forward to the racing, ' But it's different now', he added,'there is more choice.'

This fiftysomething man was brought up with the customary betting link to horses, supported by greyhounds, along with the novelty of the long list on the fixed odds.The common and normal sight was the father of the household involving himself with racing and betting. He may have gone the football most weeks, but the betting was almost all on horses.

This is where the link is now broken. Anyone under thirty is now more likely to have been brought up in a household where betting is linked predominantly to football.This was a development that started to take hold in the mid 1990's.

And we can be even more certain that these under thirties, many of whom will already have young families themselves, will clearly put to bed once and for all the notion that a customary link still exists whereby betting is mainly all about horses.

In fact the person in question will often speak of his own adult son, revealing that he religiously backs Jason Day blindly, and has done for years.He'll recount his son's football bets from the weekend. His son does not bet on horses. He himself talks more of Jamie Lovemark than Jamie Spencer.

Trying to introduce someone to the sport can be pretty futile too.I took a drinking buddy to the races for the first time about ten years ago. I'll call him Gaz. To try and sell the sport to him I had to put a an angle of added interest on, as Gaz had not the slightest inclination to pick up knowledge about the sport.

So I took him out of his comfort zone of the bars and around the paddock. I began pointing out known racing people with comments such as, ' he's a crook', 'she's there because of a rich father ',
'he's a bit of a pysco', ' he's slept with that ones wife'.

It was hard work and not in the BHA  manual of how to introduce new people to the sport. And I soon discovered that my efforts were futile.

In one of the races, Gaz had backed a chaser who was held in second place approaching the last.
Clearly not familiar with expected racecourse protocol, he suddenly yelled,' Break a leg you bastard!'  leaving me gobsmacked and embarrassed.

Believe it or not this is an intelligent  person who at the time was working in the Probation Service with responsible roles, including articulating reports to magistrates. He is in a fairly well paid position now in another branch of the Civil Service.

This lack of respect, feel, care and understanding for the sport is not the remit of reprobates, but sadly also the norm across the respectable part of society as a whole.

Gaz does however does form a gang of three or four drinking buddies who have the Thursday of Aintree in our calendars every year. Between visits all of his bets are on football or rugby, and as far as I know he has no plans to take his son to the races, and does not watch racing when at home. The fact that he continues to go each year may in the BHA's eyes class him as being 'won over' by the sport.That could not be further from the truth.

Back in 2014, he was unable to attend so our party consisted of a gang of three. Chris has no interest in the racing, but will attend once a year. He likewise will not have a bet on the horses in between his annual visits. His yearly punting is on the odd combination of football, Grand Prix racing, boxing, and poker. He latched on to Leicester City relatively early in the season when they won the Premiership, backing them at 66/1, eventually laying off.

Phil is a dyed in the wool, long term racing fan. He sketches horses in his spare time, always has his camera with him at the racecourse, asks for the odd autograph, and will often take his wife and two primary school sons racing. He would make a good role model for the sport but unfortunately he is very much the exception to the rule. Besides, that he has no inclination to drink himself into a stupor would perhaps not please racecourse management at some of our venues.

On this particular day there were some curious conversations.Chris was offering post race summaries consisting of comments like ' my horse was winning but they still had to go around one more time ', while Phil would be discussing the progressive position in the pecking order of Craig Nichol in the Nicky Richards stable.

Perhaps, the best effort you could make to appreciate just how insignificant the racing per se is at the cult venues, is to go on an outing with a large work party

I did just this on a visit to one of these new trashy York fixtures on the day Bayern Munich beat Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League Final.

One of our party had a connection to a pub so conveniently organised for the premises to be privately open at 9 am for us to enjoy a hearty breakfast. Then straight into a minibus and off to York, the cans of beer already being cracked open.

Stopping for a short break at Hartshead Moor service station, one of our party was already vomiting in the car park. Arriving at the course after missing the first race, the whole party positioned themselves for the rest of the day inside the bar, making no effort to watch a race live.Some of these 'racegoers' did not even bother having a bet.

 A pure drinking fest.The evening in the center of York was enjoyable, the racecourse experience not. We later heard that a young  racegoer who had been sliding down the banisters in high jinks had fallen right down the stairwell to the ground floor.He never survived.

Indeed, racecourses have always had their share of drunks showing just a smidgen of care for the actual sport. But there can never have been a time when such a high percentage have no interest in it whatsoever, and who will not even cast an eye over a racecard between visits to the course.

This is the beginning of the tremor taking hold. It has come from the masses being weaned off betting on horses and will truly set in when the last real generation of racing fans disappear.

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