SIMON NOTT: The Racing Bug/Bugs

There were a couple of very good articles written by Lee Mottershead and Chris Cook on Monday for the Racing Post. Lee talked about alienation of ‘proper racing fans’ with post racing music meeting and Chris on racecourses keeping racegoers engaged and informed throughout the afternoon.

Both were excellent reads and made good points. One thing that Lee highlighted is that horseracing has a fairly unique draw in the people who are not necessarily ‘proper racing fans’ enjoy a day at the races. Isn’t that the majority of people that attend race meetings at the weekends? Many people still make a real effort to get dressed up for the day, it’s all part of the fun. It’s still part of my day and I’ve been lucky enough to have been going racing for almost 38 years now. I love to get the clobber on for the big meetings, it’s all part of the fun to wear pink corduroys and tweed at Cheltenham and dress like the Man from Delmonte for Glorious Goodwood. It can get some weird looks if you have to stop for petrol on the way home but hey.

The outfit I don’t enjoy is the 19th century fancy dress for Royal Ascot or the archaic class distinctions either. If ever there was a meeting that is chock full of people that are there for a ‘day at the races’ and not the racing to the detriment of ‘proper racing fans’ it’s that one. It’s also the meeting that racing scribes rarely target in addressing the issue of people who go racing and never watch a race.

I was an avid gig goer in the 1990s. The sort of music I was into, psychobilly, was a very niche little scene, it had been briefly popular in the 1980’s but was too extreme to become mainstream. King Kurt were the only band of the ilk to make Top Of The Pops, check out their performance of their hit ‘Destination Zululand’ on YouTube and you’ll see why! One of the hubs of psychobilly music in the 1990’s was a now long gone venue called The Princess Charlotte in Leicester. There would be all day gigs, but I’d probably not watch a band for the first few hours, it was all about yapping to your mates. Similarly for over a decade I went to Reading Festival, I was never one of that throng that you see on TV at the front or waving a flag. I suppose they would be classed as ‘proper fans’ much akin to those that make a point of rushing to clap in every winner at the races. I’d watch the odd band but it was mainly about being there in that festival experience. If Reading had to survive on just those waving flags all day they wouldn’t, neither would the bars or purveyors of festival food either.

As with most things in the entertainment business, people attract people and it’s self-perpetuating. If you look back through the history of horseracing a day at the races has rarely been about purely watching the horses but a bloody good day out. Eating and drinking along with musically entertainment at race meetings have gone hand in hands for centuries which I’ve no doubt attracted plenty more people that those who wanted to attend to witness the magnificence of the thoroughbreds performing in the turf.

Chris Cook mentioned racing’s perceived lack of confidence. That is something even harder to comprehend than people going racing and not watching any races. Racing as a product as opposed to a day at the races is a totally different beast. I spent many Wednesday nights at Kempton while working for Turf TV for almost a decade. The racing was often spectacular in its finishes but to actually be there as a paying customer must have been quite a depressing experience, people attract people. Very few people want to spend a night in an empty pub or nightclub regardless how good the beer or music.

Racing attracts people for various reasons. It’s a sporting event where you can dress up to the nines, the social melting pot, the gambling, the hubbub of the betting ring, the glamour, the colour, the celebrities, the still ever so slightly rakish nature of a day on the turf. That’s just for a normal summer Saturday. In a nutshell a day at the races really should be a professional PR company’s absolute dream commission, selling something that self-perpetuates and sells itself.

Those meetings that are artificially bolstered in numbers by the attraction of a post-race concert are a different proposition entirely. We know that most of those people aren’t there for the racing or even a day at the races. It’s not their fault, they just want to watch their favourite pop starts and are reluctantly plunged on mass into a totally alien world. As far as I remember the initial idea for these meetings was to attract new blood to racing in the hope that some that came as pop fans would catch the racing bug and return to the races for the racing, in future. The trouble is that racing appears to have long since stopped trying to engage those people. Either consciously or not it has instead given those that like a day at the races a big incentive not to bother with highly inflated ticket prices to cover the costs of entertainment they aren’t interested in. In doing so they have removed the very people whose enthusiasm and contribution just by attending that create the unique atmosphere of a day at the races.

Racecourses need the big attractions to maximise their potential earnings and keep the show on the road and I’m all for them. In my humble opinion they are making a big mistake and missing a trick by not offering regular racegoers and bookies non-concert tickets at usual rates. You need those that have already got the racing bug to authenticate a day at the races to enthuse those potential newcomers into the sport. After all, you can’t get ‘the racing bug’ from a racecourse full of people that don’t already have it.

Simon Nott

Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.

Simon Nott is author of: Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring
available on Kindle