The picturesque country around Towcester in Northamtonshire in the UK is home to a Lord Esketh who donated part of his estate and some of his cash to form a jumps racing club run by a profit-making company. It races a dozen or so times each year, attracting crowds of 4,000 to 5,000, helped by free admission to all but a couple of feature days.
It has done fairly well but in recent times it has become harder to turn a profit, just as it has for many other horse and dog tracks in the UK. Bookies paying smaller taxes after decamping to offshore locations is one problem (Unibet, which sponsors The Gardens, is based in Malta). The Guardian newspaper reports that “while attendance figures at British racecourses have remained steady despite the economic slowdown, greyhound racing has not fared so well, with tracks closing or slimming down operations”.
In a startling move, Towcester will run against the tide by creating a greyhound track in the middle of the horse circuit and bringing in new fans, so improving its profitability. It hopes to get this going later in the year. The Guardian points out that “tracks with a strong local following remain successful and the management at Towcester believe that, despite their rural location between Northampton and Milton Keynes, crowds of 1,000 or more could be attracted to weekly meetings on Saturday evenings”.
But that’s not all. Towcester wants to ban whips in its jump races, or nearly so. It proposes to bring in a new set of rules. According to a report in The Telegraph, “they can pull (the whip) through from one hand to the other as often as they like and hit a horse down the shoulder with it in a backhand position. However, they cannot smack a horse down the neck in the forehand position, behind the saddle or encourage it by waving the whip parallel to its head. Failure to obey the rules in this series results in automatic disqualification. After Oct 5th, any winner at Towcester whose jockey is found by the stewards to be in breach of these rules will be disqualified.”
However, the British gallops authority is not amused, pointing out that it has already taken a lot of steps to reduce the extent of whipping and that it alone will decide when jockeys get penalised. Towcester’s plan is in the pending basket.
Still, you have to hand it to the club for initiative. At least it is reacting to a changing world in positive ways.
Penny Wise, Pound Foolish
It’s not a good start for the fledgling mob at Racing Queensland, but first some background.
Some years ago, when Townsville first entered the TAB lists, I asked the then-CEO of QGRA when we could expect the club’s results to include sectional times. “We are working on it” was the response. But it still has not happened.
On the other hand, over the past few years QGRA progressively improved the supply of this vital data for races of 500m and above at Ipswich and Albion Park (but not at the Gold Coast). That was welcome – sectionals for shorter races are of doubtful value anyway, because of their bend starts.
But, starting last Wednesday, sectionals at the two main tracks disappeared from the results pages without explanation. Ipswich (except for June 26) and Albion Park results now include only the leaders’ times. This leads punters up the garden path – it’s like a formguide which contains only winning runs.
Is it a technical problem? Clearly not, as the Brisbane club website still provides a full list. Obviously RQ cannot be bothered copying them down. Perhaps it needs to save on staff costs. Perhaps it does not regard them as important. Who knows?
Whatever the reason, it is a serious blow for form students who rely on this information. Without it, punters are dead in the water. Not just in Queensland either, as whatever RQ publishes is repeated around the country as other administrations pick up form for visiting dogs.
I suspect it is also a cultural thing. Many NSW clubs with one-turn tracks do not offer much in the way of sectionals either. SA is much the same while Tasmania is worse. In Victoria, which is progressive in theory, some clubs are extremely sloppy in digging out these times – Cranbourne, Shepparton and Horsham would be the worst. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
In other words, the people charged with presenting sectional times simply do not see it as an important job. That tells us they are not customer-conscious, even though it is the customer who pays their wages. That’s strange.
But even stranger is the RQ action to save pennies at a time when its new chairman claims a significant target is to encourage punters to bet more heavily in future. Forget it, Mr Dixon, it is not going to happen in these circumstances.
While on this subject, it is worth reporting that official Queensland form guides are the stingiest of all the states. Besides the sectional problem, they provide only the last four runs (or often only three recent ones), which is nowhere near enough, and do not include running numbers. Queries about this to RQ have been ignored.
Prodigal Son Returns
Congratulations to Adam Wallish, new CEO at Greyhound Racing Victoria. The future will be interesting.