Richard Hannon has 61 horses entered across the six race meetings on Saturday and he’s having some grief finding jockeys for them all. An unhappy Hannon is a man to be avoided, as he’s not a man to hold back when it comes to letting people know what he thinks.
Just now, it’s the management team at Newmarket who are the object of his anger. The July Cup meeting is taking place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday again his year, after moving from its traditional midweek slot a couple of years ago, first back a day, and then a further day last year, so that the Darley July Cup itself is run on the Saturday. It’s a change that looks sure to become a permanent one.
Hannon was fuming about it yesterday, saying, “It’s a joke and it’s all bloody Newmarket’s fault. It was complained about last year and now they’ve made it worse this year. There are loads of big handicaps where loads of jockeys are going to be needed. Riders are going to struggle to get from one meeting to the other. It is terrible race planning, awful.” Yesterday, the Racing Post estimated that 131 jockeys could be called on to ride on Saturday.
The additional pressure has largely come about because there’s been some jiggling of the fixture list to bring forward Ascot’s King George meeting by a week to 21 July. If it had stayed on its usual Saturday the Olympics would have knocked it off the BBC schedule. The knock on from that is to run the Super Sprint a week earlier. And the same day has major fixtures at York, where it is John Smith’s Cup day, Chester’s mid-summer meeting, and evening cards at Hamilton and Salisbury.
The case for scheduling so many competitive races on the same day focussed very much on racing as a business rather than a sport. John Maxse of the British Horseracing Authority set that out clearly. He said, “While the strength of this coming Saturday presents some challenges, the fact is that for each of the racecourses in question there is a strong commercial reason for racing that day, so why should they move when they attract and entertain large crowds and generate income for the industry?”
Michael Prosser, Newmarket’s clerk of the course, emphasised the international dimension. He said, “The ethos for Racing For change is about putting your jewels where the public can see them. What’s important from our point of view is the international coverage. It’s vital and a very important revenue stream. We know that Hong Kong and other jurisdictions around the world are broadcasting the card.”
James Brennan, head of marketing at York didn’t see any problems either. His view was that the John Smith’s Yorkshire Cup “has been successful for 52 years. Over 40,000 people came last year when the four afternoon meetings attracted more than 100,000 people to the sport, and you have to think that is a good thing in big picture terms. We understand the logic Newmarket and Racing For Change subscribe to and why wouldn’t you put on a leisure activity on a day when most people have the ability to follow a leisure activity?”
Not all those involved in the racing business are as comfortable with that. It’s the bookmakers who think they might suffer, as David Williams from Ladbrokes explained. “What we really don’t like to see in the racing schedule is feast or famine, and what there appears to be here, superficially at least, is a great feast on Saturday. There is only so much money to go round, and this is just an example, we fear, of overload. This will not mean that punters turn up in betting shops with more money than they would ordinarily turn up with.
By loading so much activity on one day you are robbing Peter to pay Paul. What we saw last year was that the midweek turnover was much decreased and it wasn’t substituted by loading those big fixtures on to the Saturday.”
Turning back to Richard Hannon’s problem, the Super Sprint always has 20 or more runners, and Hannon invariably targets it mob handed. He had four runners lat year, and six in 2010. This year he has six entries, and as far as jockey bookings go he’s happy that his lightweight horses will be ok, with Kieran O’Neill set for one of them.
It’s easy to have some sympathy with Hannon’s frustration, but he hasn’t exactly helped his cause by supplementing Strong Suit to the July Cup when it’s clear that the ground isn’t really going to suit. The trainer acknowledged that, saying, “Strong Suit likes to hear his feet rattle, but he ain’t going to get that. As long as it’s good it won’t bother him.”
That entry pretty much commits Richard Hughes to an afternoon in Newmarket, as least until 3.00. Then, Hannon says, “We’ve got to get him down to Salisbury for the evening. I’ll have a lot of runners down there and I want him there as well.”
Of course Hannon is right to press for what he sees as the best jockey bookings for his horses. But we shouldn’t forget that last year the heavy demand for jockeys helped create the circumstances for one of the stories of the season with Hayley Turner making history on Dream Ahead as the first female jockey to ride a Group 1 winner outright. Without that pressure she may very well not have had that opportunity.