Do the powers that be want people to return to the races? This is not a trick question by the way. It’s a question I have been asking myself quite a bit in recent weeks. As normality slowly begins to resume in all walks of life, every industry is clamouring to get back to business. Every industry but Irish racing. As somebody who relies on people to go racing, I find this this is incredibly frustrating.
I have a little sympathy for Horse Racing Ireland, they have found themselves in a difficult situation. It was vitally important that racing was kept going during the various lockdowns for obvious reasons, and this objective was achieved. Bureaucracy is never easy to deal with, especially when a country is in hysterics and very few people are thinking straight. Racing continued and for that, Horse Racing Ireland deserve credit. It is important to recognise this even if it is a very bitter pill to swallow as an on course bookmaker. However, now that zoos, parks, museums etc. are all back open, surely now is the time to change tack? It’s owed to all stakeholders. Owners, who fund the whole show have been completely cast aside. They have continued to pay training fees and been treated shamefully. What happens if these people realise that they aren’t enjoying their past time? They may suddenly feel like they are being used and abused and could spend their money on other more enjoyable activities and in an industry where they feel they are appreciated. If this happens, the racing game is in big trouble. Horse Racing Ireland must realise this.
While I have certain sympathy with the situation Horse Racing Ireland found themselves in, I am not surprised by the way racecourses have reacted. I am absolutely convinced the current situation suits a certain cohort of racecourses. They continue to race, without the hassle or expense of having to look after owners, racegoers etc. They have media rights, streaming rights and financial support from HRI from the day the pandemic first struck and I am quite sure some of them have never had it so good.
Pre Covid, some racecourses basically ran behind closed doors meetings anyway. 11.30 am starts, which felt soulless, half the facilities not open and a very obvious and blatant disregard for racegoers. It got my blood boiling at the time and as I look back on it now, I realise the last 12 months must have brought a welcome break for some courses having to pretend they were doing their best to cater for and attract paying customers.
This is not a character assassination of any individual or group. As an on course bookmaker some racecourse managers and their staff go way above and beyond to help whenever they are asked. Others, unfortunately just treat us and our concerns with distain. I hope the tracks that do it right and always attract an atmosphere don’t get sucked into the comfort zone of watching the media rights money rolling in and losing touch with their local racegoer. Big corporate bookmaker’s get tarred with the brush of taking a lot out of racing and giving very little but I’m not sure it’s a very fair assessment when compared to racetracks. The large bookmakers pay astronomical levy to fund racing, their sponsorship is huge and valued. So, while they earn extraordinary amounts they pump fortunes back in. Racecourses earn colossal, eye watering sums from holding race meetings. Do they part with any of this money to owners whose horses are making all this happen? Do they pay image rights to jockeys who risk life and limb out on the track? How much of this media money is put back into prize money? The pattern becomes clear the more I think about it. I know who is doing quite well during this pandemic and it’s no wonder there is no clamour to get the turnstiles back moving again.
I haven’t done a blog in a while now. Mainly because I hadn’t very much to say and as I sit and wait to get back racing I am getting very frustrated by what appears to be a complete lack of action. I am aware there is a balance to be struck between making constructive criticism’s and coming across as a moaner, but to use an old fashioned phrase some of these courses ‘need a good kick up the rear end’.
Once people can get back racing everyone should be made feel welcome. They have been locked out for long enough. The fire in the belly must be there to attract people to go racing. There is a place for fine dining, high-end entertainment and also a place for the chip van and ice cream man. Every big festival for the next few years must have affordable enclosures for families and less well off. It can’t be seen as an elitist only sport. I feel really passionate about this. If there is any young person reading this who would like a day’s work experience as a bookmaker, please get in touch with me. If I can’t oblige on the day that suits I will do my very best to get somebody who will. A busy racecourse enclosure is just a magical place and I implore everyone to experience it as soon as they can. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, I think it also makes us step back and take a look at the bigger picture and for me the main take out of it is that while I continue to eat, sleep and breathe racing I have learned that it’s possible to both love and loathe the sport at the same time.
See you on a racecourse soon.
All the best,