Ah… The age-old question. Many see racing as an exclusive club for the elite and as the bigger yards, owners and sponsors continue to dominate more than ever, it appears money is ever so important when attempting to become ‘involved’ in racing. Are we all suckers for the sport’s top dogs or are there genuine opportunities for the underdog and everyday person to really be part of the racing world?
It is safe to say that the majority of people become interested in racing firstly through the betting angle and disappointingly this is where it ends for the vast majority. To progress any further than a mere punter or fan means facing some severe roadblocks. Owning a horse is nigh on impossible for most, especially at the top and syndicate fees do not come cheap on the whole. A vast amount, but by no means all, of racing pundits and media alike are from a racing background and have been lucky enough to be brought up around the sport, especially those in the mainstream media and TV channels.
But, still the myth continues that racing is a sport open to everyone. One of the top moments from the Royal meeting last week was Quiet Reflection’s Group One win and the fantastically wild celebrations from the group of syndicate owners was personally the moment of the week for me. Yet, this highlights how rare scenes like this are in racing which is such a shame. The prices to enter racecourses regularly alone are enough to prevent many from racing as often as they would wish. There are clearly jobs available in racing, but they are often on the unglamorous side. An article can be written around the stable staff debate on its own, with the long hours and poor pay being brought up in the Racing Post recently. As passionate as the stable staff are about horses and racing, it is rare to find one that feels their role is justified in terms of the value they feel from those higher up.
ITV may be able to play a small role in a re-jiggle of how racing is presented to the weekend crowd and the appointment of Ed Chamberlin is a shrewd move. He may help appeal to a wider audience and perhaps even bring some of the Monday Night Football watchers with him, whilst he will not alienate the hard-core supporters due to his strong bookmaker background. However, this alone is not enough and is far from ‘involving’ more normal people at the top levels of racing.
Dress codes are commonly brought up as a problem in this debate, but here I do not agree. The smartness required at some race days is part of the sport and most meetings are very relaxed anyhow. The dress code is often part of the occasion and the vast majority of people have a suit or a dress and will enjoy making the effort once in a while. This is far from a reason as to why people may feel racing is not for them.
Money is obviously needed in racing and I am not saying this needs to be taken away. The root issue is the involvement of fans and supporters at the entry level. The availability of coveted jobs, reasonably priced tickets, the accessibility of those at the top and the chances of directly being involved with racehorses is a distant dream for the majority. Racing is far from in a crisis, but the warning lights are there and there is no harm in attempting to appeal to a wider audience. Racing is unfortunately a sport where much revolves around who you know and a lot is passed from generation to generation, again this is not a problem but something needs to be done for those not in this fortunate position. This is a tough task but things can be done at the top to allow greater accessibility. Events such as the Shergar Cup are useful in this sense and while some old school enthusiasts may disagree it is vital for the long-term prosperity of the sport.