There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Newmarket, dear reader, regarding the future of flat racing. It's a subject that is quite rightly getting a lot of press coverage at the moment, as a result of the previously discussed 'Racing For Change' initiative, which has been devised to bring racing into the 21st century.
Many of the suggestions are preposterous, some of them eminently sensible, and of course there's a further subset that are neither one nor t'other.
Everyone's got an opinion on the subject, which must be a good thing, and now some of the heavy hitters are getting involved as well. In this month's Owner & Breeder magazine (the lengths I go to in order to research these pieces!), no lesser statesman of the summer game than John Gosden has been proffering his qualified and surprisingly frank views.
Gosden is scathing in his summary of the status quo, referring to racing as "a semi-private club irrelevant to modern society". Now, whilst I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that, it should be considered in the historical context, where it was a fully private club irrelevant to the society of its time!
Mr G casts an envious eye towards flat racing's stouter, more down-to-earth brother, jumps racing, and remarks on how the natural build-up to Cheltenham and the encore of Aintree create a real sense of anticipation, theatre and drama, and logical start and end points for the season.
Flat racing has always had the premature Classics in May and June that, combined with the big Summer Festivals, mean there is no beginning or end. Instead, there's a series of zeniths and nadirs that do little to create a sense of anticipation or of conclusion.
Jumps racing offers 'closure': definitive statements of the best horse in each class are presented race by race through four days in the Cotswolds and three in Liverpool.
In the States, the Breeders Cup has now become the end of season championship and, outside of the Triple Crown, it is rightly recognised as a seasonal decider for honours. In what is now a truly global sport, the US has stolen a march on Britain and it may be churlish to try to establish a rival meeting (especially when we already have the Arc meeting in early October and the Champions meeting at Newmarket in late October).
Jumps racing is a much more insular affair, with the best of Britain and Ireland being bolstered by numerous Gallic acquisitions.Â There is no competition from US, and little from France. The British and Irish jump racing calendars have been - in the main - harmoniously integrated to ensure that runners from both sides of the Irish sea can compete at the major events in both countries. Whether by accident or design, this leaves jump racing in rude health.
Getting back to Johnny G, he suggests that flat racing might have a three tier racing calendar, with the big meetings and courses constituting the top tier (naturally enough), and the next level also being funded by the Levy Board to provide decent quality racing. However, somewhat radically, Gosden then advocates the third tier being funded outside of the Levy system, and being paid for by arrangements between the courses themselves and the betting industry.
In essence, Gosden is suggesting that the lowest grade fare should 'go to the dogs', as is the case where bookies fund the greyhound racing at many tracks to provide their staple BAGS fare. Although this is likely to meet with disdain in many quarters, in my opinion its a sensible solution to the growing fixture list (over 1,500 flat fixtures next season against just 1,200 a decade ago) and the shrinking prize pot (Â£62.5 million this year, Â£57 million next year).
More racing and less money is clearly an unsustainable imbalance, and Gosden is right that it's time for courses to 'pay their way'. That is, if they're not contributing sufficient to the Levy to justify the prize funds they require, they should have to fend for themselves in the harsh commercial reality of an over-supplied under-demanded product.
Simply, some tracks should close. Other tracks should have their fixtures cut, and still more should have their funding reduced. There's too much racing and not enough quality, and Gosden believes we need to address that.
In a damning 'balls out' assessment, the Newmarket handler pulled no punches, going on to say, "[Flat racing] will soon be a dead duck", and "It is in terminal decline now. I think it is that bad."
It becomes very apparent that Gosden is an anti-establishment voice, and he seems almost resigned to the death knells for the flat game. Having said, "We have got one year to eighteen months to restructure the fixture list; three years will be way too late", he was then asked, "Is this message understood by racing's leadership?".
The reply, quick and frank, was, "No. I don't think they get it. I find them too detached".
It is a truly brilliant interview from a man who is rightly acknowledged as one of the leaders - both in thought and in deed - in his field, and if the administrators don't take heed of Gosden's (and his peers') concerns, the summer game may well soon be a goner. I tend to agree.
What do you reckon? Leave a comment below...
On the other side of the pond, and as mentioned in Monday's post, despite drawing an Arc weekend punting blank on the blog, I drew strength from another man's greater misfortune. That man, Christophe Lemaire, missed no fewer than EIGHT winners at the Arc weekend meeting, after fracturing his collar-bone in an egg and spoon race on Friday.
Three of those races were Group 1's and, in a disarming display of both humility and sangfroid (another nice French word), he said, "You must put everything into perspective and I came back home with just a sling and my injury wasn't serious.
"It was a great shame, but it could have even been worse. You must always be ready for hard blows like that as it is part of the job and when it happens, you must keep you head up."
With more than a little tongue in cheek, Lemaire quipped, "It could have been worse, it could have been nine!"
Good work, Christophe - you're now one of my favourites!
After the weigty topic at the top, let's lighten the load with some levity - yes, it's Thursday Fun time. Today, it's the turn of George and Mildred, and I have to say I'd forgotten how funny this is. I'm going to be bidding for the DVD's on eBay!
Remember, leave a comment below if you've any thoughts on the state of flat racing, and what can be done to improve the situation...