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There’s been a lot of talk around prize money in racing and the fixture list in recent months, with a lot of the talk coming from owners, other connections and on social media.
The recent statement from the BHA with regards their intention to declutter the Saturday fixture list would seem a perfect opportunity to address both the issue of poor prize money and of too much racing on a Saturday in one go.
The statement, which came via BHA chief executive Julie Harrington stated “ensure that our best fixtures are positioned in a manner which creates a more readily identifiable top end to the sport, presented in a shop window that engages customers” in a way which “delivers tangible long-term benefits across the entire industry.”
While nobody wants to see good meetings go unsupported and unrecognised by the racing fan, situations like the one we’ve seen in July in recent times with the likes of Newmarket, York, Chester and Ascot all staging good quality meetings on the same day should be avoided where possible.
This should be particularly the case in situations that we encounter with alarming regularity during the flat season whereby there are two or three jumps fixtures and no flat action on a Sunday.
This is a particular problem during the spring and summer when multiple Saturday afternoon events can lead to Group 1 races such as the July Cup for example being “lost” in an afternoon that could have five or more meetings taking place.
The BHA proposal itself suggested that more racecourses stage meetings in a “lunchtime slot”, a “twilight slot” or “Sunday evening slot” when racing currently doesn’t take place.
I’ve no issue with those proposals however trainers often cite staffing requirements as being a major sticking point with regards to racing earlier in the day while a lunchtime slot that starts after 12pm has the potential to run into the peak of the afternoon action.
According to an article in the Racing Post by Peter Scargill among the courses that are concerned about the scheduling in the future is Musselburgh who staged a couple of highly competitive handicap events at their meeting last Saturday.
Unless the BHA are looking to push feature handicap races away from Saturday’s and towards say a Sunday evening slot then it’s disappointing to see that the racecourse at Musselburgh think their Saturday fixture will have been in danger.
Saturday is the main recreation day of the week for many and as such racecourses, along with other sporting venues such as football and rugby stadia are in prime position to capture public interest and thus attract large attendances to their events.
With that in mind I’d like to see minimum race values for all Saturday racing. Prize money is undoubtedly a hot topic at present, as it’s been for a number of years but with admission fees on the rise and Saturday attendances generally much higher than weekdays there’s no real excuse for racecourses racing for the same levels they do mid-week.
We saw with the Bath Good Friday fixture what happens when a fixture slot is decided by how good the prize money on offer is, we end up with very valuable races even at the lower levels.
While I doubt we’ll see £25k 0-60 handicaps as commonplace without a significant cut to fixtures there’s no reason why such races couldn’t be run for half that figure.
Sunday always feels like an underused day with regards to staging good quality racing.
Perhaps this is in part due to the make-up of the European racing calendar with Ireland and France both staging a large proportion of their top racing on a Sunday, thus allowing jockeys and trainers easy choices with the UK action of a limited quality generally speaking.
While there’s always the push for a return to Wednesday for the Derby or mid-week for the July Cup I’d like to see more big race action on a Sunday.
It wouldn’t have to be Group 1 contests but some Group 2 and Group 3 action would be good so that the sport can showcase high class horses and competitive racing when people are free to attend.
Sadly while I expect the BHA’s plans will be enacted in good faith I am concerned that there will be pushback from racecourses who want to keep the premium slots rather than move to racing earlier or later in the day.
It’s not hard to see a situation whereby there are five meetings on a Saturday afternoon with two starting at midday, two starting at 2pm and one starting at 4pm for a twilight fixture.
This would still leave a congestion of racing between 3pm and 4pm when a number of the big races are set to be held.
The above situation would require changes from racecourses to race programming, assuming that the two 2pm fixtures are the ones that are set to stage the big races.
Staging the big races earlier or later on the card would be the most obvious solution, once the 12pm fixture has finished.
However the movement of the two 12pm fixtures to 11am starts would in this scenario almost certainly see them concluded before 3pm.