The Racing League returns at Doncaster on Thursday night with a new and improved format for 2022.
In its inaugural guise, there was 14 teams running under the banner of various team sponsors, with Team TalkSPORT overcoming a 41-point deficit heading into the final night of action at Newcastle to lift the trophy.
But that has now been slimlined to seven regional teams who will battle it out for both glory and the £50,000 winner-takes-all first-prize.
The format for 2022 will see seven races per night across the six weeks of action, with a maximum field of 14, two runners each from the seven regional teams. Over 125 trainers have signed up and assigned to the seven squads, who also have seven jockeys to pick from and a team manager, whose responsibility it will be to peruse through the entries and make any team selections.
“We’ve got quite a few changes and I’m looking forward to seeing how those pan out.” said Racing League CEO Jeremy Wray.
“They came largely from feedback from last year’s event. We always said that last year was all about putting a starting flag in the ground and then we were open to how we take it forward. We were as open as possible and one thing that came through from a lot of courses was, if you had a regional element, people can engage with it more and get to know their team.
“I’m actually quite excited by the format we’ve come up with. Two horses per race per region. William Hill have tried pricing it up and they can’t work it out which is what you want, a completely open tournament, and I can see any one of the seven teams winning which is great.
Wray is also pleased to see an increased number of trainers signing up to take part this year, with the winning prize-fund set to be shared among the winning region’s roster of trainers.
He continued: “Last year people thought we had been a bit selective when picking the trainers, but we hadn’t.
“We had written to all of them, but quite often in the first year of these things, people decide to sit on the sidelines and watch before getting involved.
“What is great this year is that we went through quite a thorough process to make sure everybody had an opportunity. We wrote via Weatherbys to simply everyone who had a licence, including the jumps trainers, and I’m delighted we’ve got 125-odd trainers who want to participate.
“Putting them into their regional homes took a bit of sorting, but it has worked out well and the fact you have such a pool of horsemen who want play is great.
“We’ve had to slightly cut back on the number of jockeys involved. We had a jockey draft and there’s 49 jockeys, seven in each team, so it’ll be fun to see how that plays out. So there is quite a few improvements which will hopefully add to the excitement of the whole Racing League.”
In a huge boost for the profile of the Racing League, the six Thursday night fixtures will be broadcast not only on Sky Sports Racing, but terrestrially via ITV, something the organisers hope will add to the credibility of the tournament, as well as attract a new audience to racing.
“It’s huge (that ITV are involved),” said Wray. “I’m delighted that Sky Sports Racing are still with us, who really pushed a lot of technical initiatives and cameras in our first year and they are still keen to work closely with us.
“But there is no denying the audience that ITV provides and the ideas that they bring – some of the ideas we’re going to introduce this year have come directly from their input.
“It just adds an extra layer of creditability to the whole tournament when you have a terrestrial broadcast partner who is prepared to dedicate a three-and-a-half-hour programme to something new which is great for us.”
A further improvement for version two of the Racing League is an increased prize pot to £2million, which equates to an extra £200,000.
There will be over £300,000 on offer at each of the seven meetings and with Racing League contests open to horses rated no higher than 90, Wray is hoping the significant bounty on offer can lure owners who are often running for minimal amounts away from the typical feature race days.
He said: “Prize-money has got to be the hook for so many owners for whom racing is an expensive sport, they love it and if the Racing League is an opportunity for them to extend the runway of their involvement a little bit, then that’s fantastic.
“For a lot of the horses that are held in partnership, where the colours are not quite as sacrosanct, and with the economy of horse racing being what it is then it is a huge boost.
“Arena have been great; they have boosted the prize-money and taken it over £2mILLION and it is a bit of a standout for a mid-week fixture. A Thursday evening and you’re running for over £300,000 per night over the course of the six weeks.
“The owners are very much very involved and still get all the perks of ownership. Certainly, the owners who won last year very much enjoyed it and caught up in the whole tournament aspect of it all. Something we thought might actually hold owners back turned into a real positive and hopefully we will see more of that this year.