Racing: Quantity not quality the basis of 2004 fixture list

Non-stop action from 2 February to 18 December is revealed in the 2004 fixture list published today. Racing is scheduled every day except Good Friday in that 320-day period as a total of 1,340 fixtures - 70 more than in 2003 - have been planned.

Those 70 extra dates will be part of the British Horseracing Board's year-long trial of regional racing, with 55 being run on the all-weather tracks and the remaining 15 on turf.

All three all-weather courses, at Lingfield, Southwell and Wolverhampton, will hold regional racing fixtures - catering for horses of the lowest grade - while turf tracks to stage the meetings include Brighton, Beverley, Carlisle, Folkestone, Kempton, Warwick and Yarmouth.

There is a huge increase in Sunday racing, with nearly double the number of fixtures that were scheduled for this year. A total of 132 meetings will be run on 47 Sundays, up on 70 fixtures over 24 Sundays this year.

There is also an increase in the number of evening meetings programmed, with 223 fixtures pencilled in compared to 167 this time. A "matinee" or morning fixture will also be introduced on each Saturday in September and October.

Bank Holiday fixtures have been cut dramatically in 2004, with just eight fixtures on Easter Monday as opposed to 15 in 2003. There will be only five fixtures on Spring Bank Holiday and just seven fixtures, down from 11, on August Bank Holiday.

This change is to fit in with the stricter criteria contained in a contract between bookmakers and racecourses for live picture coverage.

Alan Delmonte, the BHB's communications manager, explained: "Some of the courses racing on a Bank Holiday would not receive funding under the picture deal. So, in conjunction with the racecourses involved, we offered them alternative slots where they would receive funding. Not all courses have taken up the option and under the deal some courses will be racing without funding."

Jump meetings make up 40 per cent of the total number of fixtures with 536.

Away from the sheer number of fixtures, a big change in the calendar is the cutting of the Newmarket Guineas meeting from three days to just Saturday and Sunday.

Chester's May meeting, which features the Chester Cup and Chester Vase among others, has also been changed, with the prestigious fixture now running from Wednesday to Friday rather than Tuesday to Thursday.

Ruth Quinn, the BHB's racing director, said: "The 2004 fixture list is the most racegoer and punter-friendly programme ever produced by BHB. It will bring great benefits to the sport, through more racegoing, betting and racing opportunities and increased income."

She added: "We wanted to incorporate as many new betting sessions as we felt the horse population could accommodate."

The big bookmaking firms will be very happy with wall-to-wall racing in 2004 but it will certainly be less popular with low-paid sections of the industry, notably stable staff and betting shop workers.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Star Sensation

(Haydock 3.05)

NB: Delegate

(Brighton 3.45)

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