Tracks change their attitude to child's play

Corporate visitors are still given priority, but racing is increasingly a family day out

The weekend is approaching, the weather forecast is encouraging. A good time to plan a day out for the family, but where to go? There's that new interactive museum just down the road, or the county show. But you haven't been racing for years and the children are old enough to enjoy it now. They will love the spectacle of the horses and there will be plenty of space to run about. But hang on, will there be anything for them to do, or will they trail round after you complaining they are bored, tired, hungry, or all three?

The weekend is approaching, the weather forecast is encouraging. A good time to plan a day out for the family, but where to go? There's that new interactive museum just down the road, or the county show. But you haven't been racing for years and the children are old enough to enjoy it now. They will love the spectacle of the horses and there will be plenty of space to run about. But hang on, will there be anything for them to do, or will they trail round after you complaining they are bored, tired, hungry, or all three?

It is certainly true that 20 or 30 years ago a race meeting offered little in the way of entertainment for anyone other than the true enthusiast. There wouldn't be anywhere comfortable to sit down, let alone facilities for the family, and children were viewed with great suspicion. As a small child I had to be lifted over the turnstiles at Kempton, and I amused myself by sending my mother to the Tote window to invest my pocket money.

So does racing today provide a good day out for the family? A quick trawl through a random sample of racecourse websites shows that the authorities know they have to compete to attract visitors in an expanding entertainment market, but the emphasis is more on corporate customers. There are plenty of references to quails' eggs and champagne, very little on the availability of chicken nuggets and orange squash.

However, the answer, provided you choose your date and venue with care, still has to be a resounding yes. Although there are many high-profile, busy racedays when the children would be best left at home, there is also increasingly a trend for meetings which are marketed specifically for the family.

The bank holiday bouncy castle is almost as much a feature of the race track as the betting ring. And Sundays are not sacred anymore, at least not according to the British Horse-racing Board, who have appointed a Sunday Racing Promotion Group (SRPG), with the aim of getting families out of their churches and straight onto the racecourse.

Although Sunday racing was vigorously opposed in some quarters when it was first introduced, growing attendances (a third of a million adults and children last year, according to BHB figures) mean it is here to stay. A huge expansion is planned this year, with 62 Sunday fixtures at 43 courses. As BHB marketing executive Ginny Lemarie put it: "Sunday racing this year will really prove itself as the day out for the whole family.''

So what have racecourse authorities done to make racing family-friendly in recent years? A look at what was on offer on the busiest raceday of the year, Easter Monday, provides the answer. Ten of the 12 meetings featured family attractions. There were Punch and Judy shows (Wetherby and Newcastle), a "Big Top" (Towcester) and parades of hounds (Plumpton). Racegoers at Market Rasen presumably had to fight their way to the parade ring through the throng of face-painters, children having pony rides, clowns, jazz bands and a craft fair.

The extra activities were not confined to the small country meetings. Kempton Park, which provided the day's main meeting and was assured of a big crowd, expanded their usual activities with many other attractions, including an Easter egg hunt. The day was energetically marketed beforehand, with adverts in the local press and extensive leafleting. Earlier in the month Ayr racecourse ran a full programme of family events on the first day of their Scottish National meeting, and, along with many other major courses on big race days, provided a crÿche.

Other entertainments laid on by enterprising courses in recent weeks include celebrity show jumping, pig racing, clay pigeon shooting and a "hot air balloon spectacular". Not to be outdone, the evening racing season which is just getting underway will be luring punters in with, amongst other attractions, ABBA theme nights.

But have all these extra activities actually made a difference to the enjoyment of going racing? To find out I took my four-year-old daughter on a return visit to Kempton Park.

At first glance little seemed to have changed, and there was a sense of déjà vu when I was asked to lift her over the turnstiles when we upgraded to the paddock area. The aroma of racecourse food was the same as ever, but as children love burgers and chips they are well catered for. However, once the mists of nostalgia and swirl of betting tickets had cleared, the differences became apparent.

In the old days the clipped tones of the racecourse announcer would never have asked, "will the father of Gary Collins please report to the crÿche". There would not have been half a dozen football games taking place in the centre of the course, and the pushchairs would not have outnumbered the horses.

The place was full of children of all ages, apparently enjoying themselves and not interfering in the business of the serious racegoer. As for my daughter, she liked looking at the horses in the paddock but did not, along with most of the children there, show great interest in the racing.

She was however, kept amused with pony rides, stuffing ice cream and generally bombing around the play area. This meant of course that for a large part of the time I was watching her instead of the racing, but we spent a very pleasant afternoon together and even managed to make a little money through her suggested policy of backing horses with orange colours.

And if we had really become fed up with each other I could have parked her for a spell in the crÿche. Staffed by four qualified child carers, the crÿche (which also operates at Sandown), takes under-fives for up to an hour, and is always in demand. Apart from keeping very young children occupied, it is a comfortable place for parents to change and feed babies without feeling thoroughly self-conscious.

As to cost, going racing is one occasion when you can't blame the children if it turns out to be an expensive day. To take my daughter to nearby Chessington World of Adventures would have set us back an extra £15.50. We would have been charged £10 for her to see a mediocre QPR draw 0-0 with West Brom in a First Division football game. She came racing for free.

We have since been to Lingfield Park, accompanied by my son, and had a picnic on the grass. There was a crÿche there too, and a bouncy slide and a very good clown on stilts making balloon horses. But what really made it enjoyable was just being out in the countryside on a sunny day with the family. Oh, and watching a pretty good day's racing.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas