Farewell to the Lesters?

McCoy receives his Lester

McCoy receives his Lester

All sports like to recognise the achievements of its top participants. For sports like football, rugby and cricket, it’s quite easy to fix a date when everyone can come together, celebrate success in a relaxed way, knowing that on the following day they won’t have to go out and perform.

That’s not so easy in racing, a sport in which, weather interference excepting, there are only four blank days in the calendar: the run up to and including Christmas Day and Good Friday. That’s how it comes about that racing’s awards night, the Lesters, take place on Maundy Thursday. The jockeys have the next day off.

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We now know that won’t be the case in the future, as the British Horseracing Authority has capitulated to pressure from bookmakers and some racecourses, and will introduce Good Friday racing next year with a £1m meeting at Lingfield. As a result, the future of the Lesters is in some doubt.

Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys’ Association, which organises the awards event, said, “I think it’s going to have to be a decision for our board. If there is going to be racing the next day we have a real concern as to whether we will get jockeys attending and so we may be forced to cancel it. As that’s not something we want to do, we may try an evening when the next day’s racing is in close proximity to where we have been holding the Lesters in recent years - at the NEC in Birmingham – and see how it goes.”

Understandably, the PJA would prefer a racing free day to follow the awards, and to that end has asked the BHA to free up a Monday so that the Lesters could take place on a Sunday evening. They have ruled out the Christmas period, and although there’s no jump racing for a couple of short periods in August and September, NH jockeys are recharging their batteries. Evening meetings on the flat are still scheduled for then, which rules out an event at the time of year.

Although racing is pretty pants awful on Mondays, there’s little chance of a warm welcome for Struthers’ request, as he acknowledged, saying, “I suspect our request won’t be granted, which would be a great shame and it is going to cause us some serious issues with the Lesters.”

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