Bitter this morning, with a strong northwesterly and squally showers, brightened up by lunch time though and a useful morning, grass gallops very wet but we sent 14 down there and 21 worked on the all-weather. Among those working on the grass was our “dark horse” to be featured on C4 Morning Line tomorrow; pleasingly settled for a horse who tends to live on his nerves, can hopefully go to the races soon. Just one runner at Newcastle tomorrow, The Orange Rogue in the 2.50, Lucy rides, 7 run, ground soft; this is his debut over fences, he wasn’t quite right through the autumn but has come to himself in last couple of weeks so will hopefully run well but as a winning point-to-pointer I expect him to be seen to better effect over further in due course. Lucy also rides Harry the Lemmon in the 12.40, Un Guet Apens in the 1.40 and One More Go in the 3.25.
It has been a quiet week on the racing front so a chance to travel for a couple of days. A snapshot of the state of the betting industry from 5 mins in a William Hill shop in Oxford, 1.40pm, 7 customers, 4 playing the FOBTs, 3 watching the 14 runner novice hurdle from Catterick, plus me of course, but not a customer, hmm, not great. The topic rightly obsessing the business side of racing is small field sizes, concerning for everyone and solutions must be found, they are bound to annoy because they will make races more competitive and hence more difficult to win, has to be done though (finding them difficult enough to win here as it is!). The root of the problem lies in a reduced horse population being required to service an enlarged fixture list, the latter as a result of a funding mechanism that, put simply, pays per race. To an extent this is true but I also believe the race programme is at fault; the tendency is to blame the BHA Race Planning Department but this is not fair. They are hemmed in by a combination of restrictive legacy race conditions, the practice of racecourses initially structuring their own cards (normally on the basis of repeating the previous year’s fixture) and some well-intentioned but unproven prescriptive initiatives re mares and novices etc. The result is a system that doesn’t work in terms of maximising opportunities for horses to run and thereby field sizes. The BHA have shown innovation and flexibility recently in attempting to respond to this problem, this must just be the beginning and it should be at the top of the new Chief Executive’s agenda to take a radical look at the way race programmes are structured and the way individual races are framed and the industry must allow for innovation. Far too many races appear to be structured to exclude rather than include horses.
Take a fixture close to my heart, Kelso on 11th January, three chases scheduled – one for veterans, one for novice mares and one for hunters. All there for very good reasons but all “exclusive” to the extent that there are therefore no opportunities for 80% of the chasers in our yard and therefore I would guess 80% of the chaser population. Taken individually these races are well framed to create an opportunity for a very specific type of horse but there must be something wrong when such a large percentage of the cachement is excluded from running and as a result they are almost bound to end up with small fields with the resultant gnashing of teeth. I love to run horses at Kelso and will try very hard to support these races; our owners also love to race their horses there but the majority of them are going to be disappointed when they ask me “is there anything for us at Kelso on the 11th”?