Racing: Clean sweep for Sundays

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TURNING Doncaster racecourse into a bazaar provided plenty of opportunities to spend money on the first day of Sunday racing, but when Cheltenham stages the second round of racing on the Sabbath on 15 November there will be something much more attractive to racegoers, the chance to gamble with their cash.

Officials at Cheltenham have found a way of staying within the law which forbids cash betting on a Sunday while at the same time providing a dose of the stimulant that most racegoers need.

By buying a pounds 1 ticket, racegoers will be given a number which will correspond to a horse running in a race. If it wins they will receive pounds 5. The sweepstake, which will be operated by the Spastics Society and the Racegoers' Club, guarantees a return of 4-1 whether the horse is odds-on or an outsider.

'After the Doncaster experiment, we felt that this was the one element that was missing,' Edward Gillespie, Cheltenham's chief executive, said yesterday. 'With no bookmakers allowed on the course we needed to give spectators who don't have credit acounts some interest in the race. We have checked and this is perfectly legal.'

Entrance to the meeting will cost pounds 5, but spectators will actually be paying to join the Racegoers' Club, which will also entitle them to discounted admission to 45 remaining meetings in 1992. The Club will donate pounds 1 of this to the Racing Welfare charity.

The programme, which will be televised by the BBC, comprises eight races including a pounds 35,000 hurdle which has already been earmarked as an early season target for Granville Again, Fidway and Flown.

While Doncaster had on its side the novelty of breaking new ground - as well as providing children of all ages with the chance to choose between climbing on a bouncy castle or a Scud missile - Cheltenham will provide extra on-track events that are not quite so off-beat.

A race between Desert Orchid and Linford Christie, briefly considered by Gillespie, has been rejected, but a relay race over hurdles will start the programme and a flat race open to any rider who reached the age of 40 in 1992 will close it. Entrants, who will be sponsored, will include Jonjo O'Neill.

All this, of course, is to try to attract attention to the Jockey Club's campaign to reform the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act. Fun and games with a serious purpose is the theme of the day.

Nigel Clark, chairman of the Jockey Club's Sunday racing campaign, believes government support for Sunday racing 'is at last attainable'. He described the Home Office response to the first fixture at Doncaster in July as 'particularly encouraging'.

'I am now appealing to everyone in racing,' Clark said, 'both participants and supporters for one great heave.' A clue perhaps that a tug-of-war contest, with the Jockey Club fielding a team, will provide the amusement if these experimental Sunday fixtures are continued next year.

David McHarg, formerly clerk of the course at Ayr, is to become manager of racing administration at Bukit Timah in Singapore.