Do I Not Like That . . . Never on a Sunday: Julian Wilson is a firm opponent of the decision to allow betting at racecourses on the Sabbath

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The Independent Online
LIKE most Christians, I re gard the concept of horse racing and betting in England on a Sunday as a desecration. It is quite alien to the teaching of the Bible.

Racecourses are not giant theme parks. They are areas of thrusting, competitive business. You play with real money, and on the racecourse itself it is a case of 'devil take the hindmost'. There is no room for Christian charity. Betting on horses is not like a game of whist. It's a tough, ruthless business pursuit. At this rate, they'll soon be opening the Stock Exchange on a Sunday.

We learn that the industry is now expected to operate for seven days a week - there will be no 'break' day. This seems the final nail in the coffin for the family life of those who work in the industry.

Most young stable-men with a home and mortgage have working wives. Sunday is the only chance they have to spend the day with their wife and children. If one of their horses runs on a Sunday they will be away all day and possibly even overnight.

How can children be expected to grow up with the more commendable standards of behaviour of 20 to 30 years ago? Sadly, an English racecourse during the summer is no longer a suitable place for a young child.

At the 2,000 Guineas meeting at Newmarket, young men were wandering around the members' enclosure with lager bottles in hand. On the top floor of the members' stand, there was panic caused by the crush before the big race.

At Bath, Haydock and Chester, there are summer days - during the football recess - when Tattersalls is akin to the terraces of football clubs. Unfortunately, many people equate going racing with getting drunk. Alcohol and sun are a lethal mixture. It was noticeable that there was no mention of alcohol in reports of last Tuesday's Commons debate.

As we've seen in Ireland, racing on Sunday will involve substantial extra and quite deserved payments to stable and racecourse staff. People who work in shops get extra money for working on a Sunday, and of course stable lads must get compensated. These extra costs will be passed on to owners in the form of increased training fees. I can see it costing an owner pounds 30 a week more to keep a horse in training just as a result of Sunday racing.

As a racehorse owner myself, I do not consider it necessary to have racing on Sundays to facilitate us. Anyone who can afford to own a racehorse can generally afford to take a day off to watch it. I think having Sunday racing for the benefit of members of small syndicates is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

If we are to have top-quality racing on a Sunday, then there will also be problems altering the European programme so that we get a niche for our serious races. Most of the top jockeys already work on Sundays with regular commitments abroad, so it will not be of particular benefit to them.

The racecourses will most certainly benefit, from extra bodies through the turnstiles, although on big days they are already too crowded. But will the industry as a whole profit? Remember that 95 per cent of betting takes place off course. Around pounds 10m is bet every working day. Will anything like that sum be bet off-course on a Sunday? I doubt it.

How much thought has been given to traffic conditions on Sunday nights? The meeting of racecourse traffic and day trippers on a Sunday evening must be the ultimate motoring nightmare. The novelty value will soon wear off.

But saddest of all is that the Church of England seems to have been an also-ran in this debate.

(Photograph omitted)

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