Racing: Club push service on Sunday: Paul Hayward on moves to ensure that the historic meeting on 26 July will prove a success with both punters and politicians

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The Independent Online
WITHOUT betting, the truism runs, horse racing would be as popular as beer-mat collecting. Thus the chances of success for Britain's first Sunday race meeting later this month increased yesterday when the bookmakers, Coral, confirmed that they will issue ante-post prices on the event they sponsor to help raise awareness that history will be made on Doncaster racecourse.

To the same end - and to promote the cause of Sunday racing - the Jockey Club is to place advertisements urging the public to lobby Parliament for a change in the law so that racing with cash betting can take place on the second of the two leisure days. Lord Hartington, the senior steward, will further publicise the letter- writing campaign in the 70-page magazine Doncaster has produced for the meeting on 26 July.

'However many people turn up on the day,' David Pipe of the Jockey Club said yesterday, 'the success of it depends on the effectiveness of the message put to Parliament. Even if 30,000 attend it will only really work if people write to their MPs to ask for Sunday racing. This is an ideal moment.'

That, Pipe says, is because the Home Office have promised a review of the Sunday trading laws to remove the kind of anomalies faced by the racing industry. The bookmaking community's insistence has always been that Sunday racing would generate illegal gambling if betting shops were closed, even though there has been little evidence of that in Ireland. Britain is the only major racing country to close down half way through the weekend.

'The government have said they'll be dealing with it (Sunday trading) in the autumn so we really mustn't miss this boat,' Pipe says. 'It's our one chance.' The Jockey Club have persuaded 15 MPs, including one junior minister, to visit Doncaster on Sunday week, while Coral, who have also helped with Doncaster's 'promotional costs', have enlisted a further five.

The threat of private bets being made and taken has forced the Jockey Club to assemble an unprecedented security operation made doubly complicated by the likely abundance of mobile phones. The legal option for racegoers is to phone one of the High Street firms to bet on credit, with a Switch or Delta direct debit facility, or by drawing on a deposit placed during office hours the day before.

Pipe says: 'There will be notices all round the racecourse saying that no (direct) betting is permitted. There will be uniformed and plain- clothes police. There will be closed- circuit television monitoring and a team of betting intelligence officers.

'And it will be made quite clear that any bookmaker taking bets is liable to arrest, might lose his licence before a local magistrate and may appear before the Jockey Club disciplinary commmitee with the threat of being warned off.' Even the George Cole character in the St Trinian's films would probably take notice of all those perils.

While the Jockey Club concentrate on policing and policy, Doncaster are attempting to offset the lack of gambling ambience with - it says here - a 'feast of family entertaiment'. 'So often when racecourses talk about families,' Charlie Murless of Doncaster, says, 'it just means a bouncy castle and a man on a pogo stick.' Hence Desert Orchid and Red Rum. Hence 'the human fly' and the Virgin Atlantic Balloon (hot air is never short on racecourses).

'Our job is to get horses and people here,' Murless says. 'The politics are very important but unless we get horses and people there is no point in pursuing the politics of the matter.' Given that Doncaster believe 10 million potential customers live within an hour's drive of the track, the task is easier than it may sound. A subsidised bar is being set up for stable staff, so if horses are seen leading themselves round the parade ring for the later races we ought to show forbearance.

Most leading owners can be expected to support the Sunday experiment. 'I wouldn't tell our trainers where to run the horses, but I certainly hope they'll support it,' Sheikh Mohammed's racing manager, Anthony Stroud, said yesterday. 'I think it's encouraging. A step forward.' Stroud also added the hope that staff will receive compensatory time off.

'The message has got to reach the powers that be,' Malcolm Palmer of Coral says. 'People should be allowed to do as they wish on a Sunday.' Applying that ideal to stable staff may yet provide the biggest challenge.

(Photograph omitted)

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