Thoughts On The UK Racing Fixture List from Martin Pennington

Thoughts On The UK Racing Fixture List from Martin Pennington

The fixture list is a subject that regularly comes up when discussing racing on social media and in person.

The standard questions are along the lines of “why are Sandown and Lingfield racing on the same day?” or “why isn’t there any racing north of Southwell?” while the former situation might be great for those doing a double-header, depending on race times of course, the latter isn’t much use for anyone in say Newcastle who fancies a day at the races.

Fixture Set-Up

Firstly it’s probably pertinent to note that the formatting of fixtures on any given day ie. Two in the afternoon, one in the evening or three in the afternoon, one in the evening etc. is designed mostly to maximise levy.

The Levy Board play a strong hand in this and have all the data to hand with regards to which schedule of races best fits a given day.

Obviously there are other concerns too, most notably racecourse attendances and the demand for racing on weekends and bank holidays which sees upwards of ten meetings take place on Boxing Day and six plus meetings on a Saturday during the summer.

Recent Changes 

While many hark back to the days of big races being held midweek, the Derby on a Wednesday for example, I feel it’s important to schedule fixtures when the majority of people are able to attend.

That the racing action will often clash with top flight football, rugby and cricket should be offset by the increased number of people capable of getting to the track without having to ask bosses for holiday days or as I’m sure has happened at times in the past invented appointments they couldn’t miss.

The recent movement of the Newmarket July Cup to the Saturday having previously been held the previous day is a major positive in my view with the meeting and indeed the other meetings held on the Saturday losing nothing for the move.

Future Changes 

There will undoubtedly be opposition to this but Sunday is the one day of the week that feels underused.

In the summer we often have it as a blank day for the Flat with just two or three jumps meetings set to take place.

This in itself feels like poor planning given the relative lack of jumps racing that takes place during the peak Flat season compared to at other times of the year and no doubt some jump jockeys lose out on rides because of this.

It would be nice to see at least one of the major Summer Festivals (Royal Ascot, Goodwood, York, Doncaster) attempt to race on both weekend days. 

I feel Doncaster or Goodwood would be the most likely to take such a step but as yet I haven’t seen anything from either course or the authorities to suggest that Sunday will be utilised as a day for high class racing.

Overseas Approach

While Ireland take a fairly similar approach fixtures wise to the UK it’s of note that their less is more attitude with regards to the number of days racing leads to bigger field sizes and within reason, good attendances at all race meetings.

I’d be reluctant to propose the closure of courses as that can be a slippery slope and choosing which to close would be a matter of personal preference for many no doubt but it’s worth considering how other jurisdictions approach the fixtures.

In France, where all betting on racing is on a Tote based system they stage a number of meetings each day including one in the morning and at least one in the evening.

These meets are split between the various racing codes – flat, jumps and trotting with the big trotting program at Vincennes in Paris running handily alongside the big jumps and flat races with number of trotting Group 1 races from November to March while the big flat and jumps races are run from April to November.

For these meetings broadcast on Equidia there is off course betting but for the very popular provincial fixtures betting can only be done on course. This may change shortly as there’s a push to allow off course betting at these meetings also.

In France you can often end up with ten or more meetings on a Sunday or Bank Holiday with mixed meetings the norm (often trotting and jumping).

I’d like to see more mixed meetings trialled in the UK where possible during the summer, courses like Wetherby and Haydock both stage flat and jumping and would be suitable with the latter already playing host to one of the few mixed cards the UK stages.

Japan has two circuits, the main JRA (Japan Racing Association) circuit and the more regional NAR (National Association of Racing).

The JRA contests are the ones that we hear about mainly in Europe with the various Group 1 races and including the Japan Cup and the Triple Crown races all run by the JRA.

One thing French racing and the JRA have in common is that both governing bodies are effectively strands of the government overseen by a government department. 

The Australian fixture list is another of interest with the meetings split into three categories – metropolitan, provincial and country.

Metropolitan racing (think tracks the equivalent of Sandown, Newbury, Newmarket, Cheltenham and Haydock etc) mostly takes place at weekends and on a Wednesday while there are only a handful of meetings at the start of the week.

A quick look at the action scheduled for Monday 6th March shows two meetings in New South Wales and one in Western Australia – that’s a very quiet day for a country that is spread across three timezones and also has competitive action on the island of Tasmania.

Tuesday’s (7th March) Australian action is another day with three meetings, one in each of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

Compare those with Saturday’s fixtures when there were 19 scheduled, including some meetings set to stage as few as four races.

The Australian program gives jockeys a chance of a break early in the week while the busy weekend program gives younger riders and those who don’t get rides at the big tracks more opportunities to ride winners.

I am not certain whether a two tiered approach ala Japan and France would work in the UK, particularly given the way the meetings are currently funded with the media rights money etc. nor whether piling the fixtures high on a Saturday would be the right approach as opposed to spreading them out through the week as they are currently but it’s interesting to note that the UK approach isn’t the only one that has seen success. 

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