The major changes are as follows:
1. Good Friday racing will happen. The BHA has spent months faffing about on a phoney consultation, which it described as “fully assessing the opportunity.” It’s now come out into the open in supporting the principle of Good Friday racing, but has not yet confirmed where it will take place. Lingfield and Musselburgh, both tracks to have pressed for racing on that day, must be the front-runners.
Personally, I’m really disappointed by this decision, though not in the least surprised by it. Good Friday is the date of Lambourn and Middleham stable open days, and racing then must put both of those at some risk. You couldn’t blame owners for wanting to take opportunities of suitable races for their horses, and inevitably that means trainers and stable staff will be away at the races. With decent prize money at the meetings guaranteed, that could mean some stable stars absent, and an inevitable diminution in which horses are on show, and possibly which stables take part.
The open days took some time to establish themselves, and initially met with some resistance from the people most affected, the stable staff. Now they love them, not least because it’s a time when families engage really closely with racehorses. The open day is a breeding ground for the next generation of racegoers.
I don’t have a lot of time for one-time trainer Charlie Brooks, but he realised the significance of this at one Lambourn open day. “ Etched in my mind is a seven-year-old girl patting Carved Opal on the nose and whispering ‘you beat Rose Ravine at Wincanton by four lengths, didn’t you’ into his ear. He, like the vast majority of the horses, loved the attention.”
Now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s look at some other changes.
2. A clear end to the jumps season. Hooray, hooray, hooray. OK, it’s only four days, but how can anyone begrudge Tony McCoy a few days to celebrate another jockeys’ title? The last day of the season will take place at Sandown, as usual, with the Bet365 Gold Cup, fondly remembered as the Whitbread by old-timers like me, as the centrepiece of the card.
That’s a real race, which Mill House, Arkle and Desert Orchid all won in their day. What’s more, it will take place on an all jumps card, with the Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes, brought forward a day to an all flat Friday.
This does create a slight anomaly, in that the new jumps season will start on Wednesday 30 April with….. the final hunter chase meeting of their season. It will be at Cheltenham, though, and there is a good feeling that the season starts at the home of jump racing.
That break has been achieved with the co-operation of Kelso, Ludlow, Towcester and Wetherby, all of which tracks have traditionally had a fixture in what will now be blank jump racing days.
3. A proper summer jumps break? The one-week August break in jump racing will now run for nine days. However, the BHA has not made it clear whether the subsequent September break has been dropped.
4. Rebalancing the fixture list. The closure of Hereford and Folkestone racecourses last December released a dozen or so meetings back into the calendar. These were largely taken up by all weather racing, and partly contributed to smaller fields at all weather meetings in the early part of this year. For 2014, 21 all weather meetings come out of the calendar, 15 of them in the first three months of the year, to be replaced by 13 jumps fixtures. That’s good news, which takes the balance of fixtures to the 40:40:20 ratio between flat, national hunt and all weather racing.
Northern jump racing benefits with a doubling of meetings next September, up from four to eight, and an additional card in October.
In addition, the BHA confirmed its earlier announcement that it would establish a British Champions Weekend, which involves a change of date for Newmarket’s Dubai Future Champions’ Day, with the Middle Park Stakes and the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes, moving to the day before QIPCO British Champions Day.
There are also measures to establish minimum levels of prize money on Sunday cards, and to further enhance the quality of racing on Saturdays.
All in all, the BHA has come up with a wide-ranging set of measures, most of which will gain widespread support. Good Friday racing is sure to be the most contentious. What’s you view on it?