Racing at Ffos Las today faces a clash with a home Wales Rugby Union Six Nations tie for the second time this season. The attendance will be a major factor in the course deciding whether to seek to change the date of its February card, featuring the revived Welsh Champion Hurdle and the West Wales National, for next season.
Last month fewer than 1,500 turned up to watch one of the more prestigious fixtures at the track, which is near Llanelli in South Wales. Director Mark Kershaw reckoned they would have had as many again had the rugby not been happening at the same time. Two years ago the attendance was close to 2,500, but Wales had played at home on Friday evening rather than Saturday afternoon.
Stressing how important the ball game is in the Principality he said, “In south west Wales, and in fact across the whole of Wales, the following for the national game is immense and Wales playing at home is the major event to the majority of people. Although we were showing the rugby, there’s clearly nothing like watching it uninterrupted. Both our Champion Hurdle and West Wales National attracted some cracking horses, and we need to build on those races, but we must quietly have a think as to when they should be run if we’re going to continue to clash with the Six Nations.”
This afternoon, billed as Six Nations Raceday, the two sports almost follow on one after the other, as the rugby does not kick off until 5.00pm. By then there will be only one race remaining at Ffos Las, so a mass exodus before that would not be surprising, even though the whole of the Six Nations decider will be shown at the course.
Similar clashes in Ireland have led to changes in the scheduling of races, most recently last month when the Hennessy Gold Cup meeting at Leopardstown was brought forward to Saturday to miss competing with the Ireland v England rugby match.
Ffos Las might be well advised to seek a similar arrangement in the future. The course wants to build up the new Champion Hurdle, and that means putting up decent prize money to attract a good field. That’s harder to do if you can’t attract the punters through the turnstiles.