Can racecourses do more?

The excellent RacingTV interview with Steve Cauthen revealed that at the age of eighteen, he made the front cover of TIME and Sports Illustrated. He beat Muhammed Ali as sportsman of the year. Those campaigning stallion prospects please note: a defeat does not prevent a truly great athlete from being universally considered “The Greatest!” What Rachael Blackmore and arguably Hollie Doyle have achieved is even more significant in the wider scheme of things, but racing has lost its footprint.

The school holidays have started. Every course that is not expecting to hoist a “full house” flag should be issuing five hundred tickets to admit a family of four with children under fourteen for a tenner. Every course should have a dozen Shetland ponies available at a pound a ride. What is the point of charging for empty seats? I would like to see racecourses be as evangelical about attracting newcomers to racing as they are accommodating to stag parties and music followers. Increasing racing’s revenue through betting turnover is widely perceived as the most important target, but in my opinion attracting new followers supersedes it.

We have taken the customer base for granted for a long time and it has aged significantly. A paying customer is now usually deprived of the opportunity to look at a stripped horse in the pre-parade ring and rarely has the chance to see the horse canter down to the furlong pole before returning to the start on the round course. These are two of the things that I have looked forward to since I first went racing. The industry view is that racegoers have gone for a bet and are not bothered with these traditions. Are we so sure that insiders alone appreciate the horse and paying customers are merely gamblers? That seems to show a disregard for less affluent public and an utter lack of confidence in our horses.

Do people watch football because they have had a bet, or have a bet because they are engaged with the football? Consider how media coverage has changed towards these two sports over the last forty years. Are we not guilty of allowing our fruit to wither on the vine?