Free meetings in April as horse racing tries change

Even Ruby had to doff his cap to the RFC board
Even Ruby had to doff his cap to the RFC board

There’s been a lot of pooh-poohing in the horseracing industry about the suggestions that have been made to improve the sport, but well done to the Racing For Change (RFC) committee for putting their money where they’re mouth is and pressing on with plans to popularise the sport.

One of the recommendations in the ten-point plan was: racecourse initiatives to improve the enjoyment and understanding of a day at the races for both new and regular racegoers, linked to a new independent quality assessment scheme.

Well, like Ruby Walsh at the Cheltenham Festival, Racing For Change has delivered the goods by getting eight British racecourses to agree to stage free race meetings for a week in April. From 26 April to 1 May different tracks throughout the UK will be involved in a publicity drive to raise the profile of racing and get punters through the gates, who aren’t your everyday Brians or Bens.

It is a shame that the above dates only take in one Saturday and no Sundays whatsoever, because the type of customer the initiative is trying to attract is unlikely to take a day off work for the privilege of free racing, when they are not that bothered about racing to begin with.

But still, with race courses suffering hugely from the combined impact of the recession and a bitter winter, their refusal to include Sunday 2 May in the deal is perhaps understandable and, in mitigation, some of the meetings concerned are evening races. Nonetheless, they could do worse than follow the example of Towcester, which has been staging free race meetings for a long time and seen bigger crowds and increased betting revenue as a result.

RFC’s initiative would also have been better implemented in the week after the Grand National in order to feed off the frenzy generated by the one day in the year when the whole of Britain hits the bookies with a shitty stick. But it is precisely when there is a heightened interest in betting that the racecourses want to maximize profits. Tis a double-edged sword.

Anyway, anyone who fancies a free day at the races can shuffle along to the following meetings, which take in a mixture of National Hunt and Flat races, including the Group Three Sagaro Stakes at Ascot, the Listed £40,000 Conqueror Stakes at Goodwood and Sedgefield’s feature race of the year, the Durham National. So come on, let’s get behind RFC and take on the hoorays and the pikeys by bringing racing into the 21st century. Obviously, I’ll be staying at home.

Free race meetings
Monday, April 26 – Towcester and Wolverhampton
Tuesday, April 27 – Sedgefield (evening)
Wednesday, April 28 – Ascot and Kempton (evening)
Thursday, April 29 – Huntingdon (evening)
Friday, April 30 – Doncaster
Saturday, May 1 – Goodwood