It’s been a long, hot summer; and a very strange one too.
The Cheltenham Festival last March feels like it happened in a dream, and it very nearly didn’t come off at all. I was there for the Gold Cup, and the Ryanair Chase the day before, and (even if I knew then what I know now) I’d go again if I had the chance.
None of us will see many dual Gold Cup winners in our lifetime, and I’m lucky enough to have witnessed 5 now (Arkle, L’Escargot, Best Mate, Kauto Star and Al Boum Photo) over the past 55 years, but I’ve only been in-attendance to witness the feat with my own eyes with Al Boum Photo.
With horseracing closing-down in March after the Cheltenham Festival, we lost the festivals at Aintree and Punchestown and, as such, horses with championship aspirations have missed vital top-class races which are imperative in their education.
Going into the 2020-21 jumps season “proper”, there are a lot of questions to answer, not least how is horseracing going to finance itself with no spectators! I’ve been saying for as many years as I’ve been writing this blog that horseracing is due a restructuring, and the current crisis is almost certain to accelerate that restructure.
What I’m hoping is that the “powers that be” are recognising this likelihood and are planning for it.
Having attended Warwick races last Tuesday (as an owner) I had 1st-hand experience of the situation on-course, and there was much to like. Given the vast amount of outdoor space available at a racecourse, I really cannot see why limited numbers of spectators can’t be safely accommodated – when I watched the races from the stands there were never more than 5 other people stood with me, and the 500 who attended on the Monday would have been easily accommodated safely.
The one thing that probably will never return (without a vaccine for Covid) is on-course bookmaking. As much as I hate to say it, that factor has died.
Right now, if I was in the BHA I would be negotiating with the Hong Kong Jockey Club about using their “tote” software and business model and looking to either purchase (or acquire a significant shareholding) of UK Tote Group Ltd; or set-up their own BHA “tote” as an income-stream for horseracing.
If the BHA are not thinking ahead, then I can see dire consequences coming, and coming fast. Chester racecourse has already declared that without spectators, they are not going to open for business in 2021. We can expect many more tracks to come to that same conclusion very soon, especially the winter jumping tracks which – let’s be honest – are already operating on a shoe-string budget. Without tracks you cannot race. Adding more meetings to courses wont help the matter as the ground (especially in winter) won’t be able to cope. The last thing we want to see is injuries to horses caused by running them on poor ground due to overuse.
Reduced prize-money is a double-whammy. Last Tuesday, our club horse Jungle Prose won just £2,274 coming home in 1st in the bumper. After fees and commissions, what is left is barely enough to cover 3-weeks training bills – I sometimes think I’d be better-off owning a greyhound at nearby Hove.
This season, I will be writing my usual weekend blog, and probably a review of the weekends racing on a Monday; with the aim of putting together a portfolio of wagers for the Cheltenham Festival in March 2021. It seems to have worked well over the past couple of seasons, and I can also hopefully spot the occasional winner on a Saturday afternoon.
I’m also tinkering with the idea of posting a Saturday “tip-sheet” available by donation-only, and I’m trying to locate a payment portal with a link that I can attach to my twitter feed; any suggestions would be gratefully received (via twitter: @wayward_lad).
There’s a couple of meetings today, but there's nothing much to recommend.