I’ve recently heard a couple of podcasts that have touched upon the subject of atmosphere at racecourses, the subject brought about after the boisterous New Years Eve crowd at Uttoxeter could be heard if you were watching on Sky Sports Racing. We’re frequently told that interaction between racegoers and racecourses is improving, and crowds are still strong, but is this really the case? As someone that goes racing, probably too much for his own good if last month’s petrol bill is anything to go by, I thought I’d offer you my opinions.
Uttoxeter on December 31st last year saw a crowd of just shy of eight and a half thousand pour in to watch seven races before their New Year celebrations began later that evening. The racing wasn’t that classy, and it took place on very slow ground; none of this bothered those attending, who clearly had a good time.
Football singing broke out a couple of times during the day. “Please Don’t Take Me Home” was the cry – ironically, a Welsh football chant, since the poor Welsh racing fans couldn’t chant anything over Christmas at their tracks – and indeed, “drinking all your beer” seemed to be the main purpose of those attending.
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This isn’t an overnight thing at Uttoxeter, it’s been heading that way for some years. What was once a great track for a visit has, in the words of a couple of the bookmakers, become “a drinker’s track.” One of those bookmakers has since sold his pitch there, his business falling off badly before COVID became an issue. One bookmaker estimated 75% of that NYE crowd didn’t have a bet, stating “I take more on a weekday meeting”, which not only suggests the crowd weren’t a racing crowd, it put those that would have normally been there off.
It was a similar tale that day at Warwick, who had capped their crowd to 5,500 (4,000 in Tatts, 1,500 in the centre of the course). Whilst the lower crowd meant a bit more breathing space for all (it gets very stuffy there when they get the full 8,000) business was well down, with most of the crowd there for the social. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – racing needs to compete with all other attractions as a day out for the family – but we ought not be kidding ourselves that these crowds won’t be returning until the concerts start in the summer.
Southwell isn’t used to the sound of glasses smashing, but it’s what we had at their final meeting before Christmas. It had a few of the regulars complaining, as would be expected, but thankfully the post-Christmas meetings have been more family-friendly. It’s a tricky balance – the family crowds do tend to spend a bit of money on their food and drink, but when it comes to having a bet, we’ll be accepting a quid each-way as the minimum that day. So whilst the attendance figures will look good, and the course benefits, the business for the books isn’t there.
I’ve mentioned the concert nights. It will be interesting to see how well they perform this year. Some old favourites are doing the rounds again – Chic are strutting their stuff throughout the summer, as is Paloma Faith and remarkably Madness, who are presumably using their bus passes to get from track to track. Again, even before COVID, business had dropped off on those nights, with many only turning up for the final couple of races before the concert. They are entitled to do that, but again, we shouldn’t be kidding ourselves the crowd is there for anything other than a drink and the music rather than engaging with the racing.
I realise that to have the weekday meetings, that will draw a lesser, more “racing” crowd we have to have the big event days with a non-racing crowd, but racing is rather deluding itself if it thinks it is drawing crowds because of the sport, rather than the sideshows. We can and do get the public involved with the sport on some racedays – I often see the equicizer draw a crowd to have a go on when it’s there – but I don’t think we do it enough. And as for atmosphere, I don’t think anyone that enjoys their racing would have been rushing to join in with that Uttoxeter crowd on NYE. Would you?
Assuming Huntingdon passes theor inspection this morning, then I'll be having a small each-way bet on Adhereance in their opener at 1.00. Dai Burchell is retiring from the game in the next few weeks, and I’m sure he’d love to go out with a winner somewhere. Adherence has his first start for him after leaving Tim Vaughan today, and connections similarly moved Akkapenko last year, with Dai almost winning with him first time out, the horse being well supported and going off favourite. Adherence’s issue has been his jumping, but that’s less of a worry back over hurdles and the booking of Ellis Collier is an interesting one. He doesn’t win many but one of his four wins came after a year off, so the 280-day absence becomes less of an issue, and he’s now very well handicapped. Dai’s also got one entered up at Fakenham on Monday, his first runner there since 2016, as far as we can tell, so he’s travelling far and wide in search of a winner to go out on a high note.
Today's selection – Adherence (e/w 5 places) 1.00 Huntingdon
Good luck with all your bets today,