16th December 2017

The Go Racing In Yorkshire annual awards lunch took place on Thursday at York racecourse and I was invited to attend together with nine of the longest standing and most senior members of my team.

As you can imagine, from the way that they approach the marketing of Yorkshire racecourses, Go Racing in Yorkshire know how to put on a good show and we were given great food, copious amounts of drink, and engaging interviews and entertainment during the awards.

I felt honoured and very grateful to be presented with their Outstanding Achievement award for training 4,000 winners and it was appropriate that it was presented to me by Norman Gundill of Pontefract Racecourse, where Dominating took us past that milestone. I can’t claim that the award was a surprise as Go Racing In Yorkshire’s General Manager, Emma White, couldn’t hide her enthusiasm when organising a full table for my team and kept telling me how much she hoped I would like the trophy. She was rightly proud of what she had done and I must say a special thank you to her for that trophy, the wonderful film that preceded the presentation of the award, and her hospitality on the day at the awards lunch and late into the ‘evening’ (I’m not sure what time it was when we piled back into our mini-bus) at the ‘after show’ party.

Two days before I attended a rather more formal Yorkshire racing do, the 247th Gimcrack dinner. Again the venue was Yorkshire’s flagship racecourse and, again, the catering was superb. The dinner is, of course, steeped in tradition although it is no longer an all male affair and the number of the fairer sex increases every year.

The winner of the race was Sands of Mali, owned by the Cool Silk Partnership, and so it was down to Peter Swann to propose the toast to British racing. The response was from Ed Chamberlin of ITV and his speech was, for the most part, music to my ears. The gist of his speech was that racing needs to engage with more people and it struck me that this was exactly what I said ITV should be aiming to do when they took over from Channel 4. The only difference was that my comments were taken by many in the media to be naive and anti-betting whereas his were just seen as a call for more media access. No doubt I said it all rather more bluntly.

He praised concerts at racecourses – something that I have generally been very much against – and said he saw them as a perfect opportunity to educate people about our sport. He is right, of course, but the problem has been that  the vast majority of racecourses have made no effort whatsoever to engage with that crowd. Only at Chelmsford have I seen any effort made to involve a concert crowd, and the performers, in the raceday. In most cases the concerts have done nothing but alienate existing customers and spoil the experience for them.

He described football, ‘apart from the offside rule’, as simple when compared to racing and said we need to do more to demystify the sport. But racing, too, is simple. In football there is a goal at each end and the aim of the game is obvious to anyone regardless of how much they happen to know about the intricacies of the rules. Racing is also a simple sport with a simple, single, objective of being first past the post. We complicate it unnecessarily, in particular with the handicap system. Why do we do it? What other professional sport doesn’t aim for a ‘level playing field’. I would say that the main aim of the handicap system is to increase the randomness of results and improve bookmakers margins but many punters and , in particular, members of the racing media claim that this enhances the ‘puzzle’ for them and encourages them to bet and to follow the sport. Maybe, but there is a much bigger potential audience out there who are bamboozled by this and cannot  have any serious opinion as a result. If it was simpler, more people would have their own opinions and many of them would have a bet, as they do on football. The constant thirst for ‘information for punters’ does nothing but complicate the sport and perpetuate the myth that it is all fixed and trainers and jockeys know the likely outcome before the start. Keep it simple, I do.

He described the opportunity to interview Jim Crowley at the start before the Nunthorpe as being akin to interviewing a footballer in the centre circle immediately before kick-off. ‘Brilliant’, so long as you don’t debase it by asking the the footballer if he is going to score or the jockey if he is going to win. Overall, as I say, it was music to my ears although I was not so sure about his enthusiasm for novelty races like the Shergar Cup.

Former England Hockey team goal keeper, Roger Dakin, then had us all splitting our sides with his self-deprecating tales.

A bumper Gimcrack dinner.

Staff Area