Racing Commentary: Time for Turf to brighten its ideas: Wolverhampton's enterprising all-floodlit cards should make the sport's rulers open their eyes

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a mixture of maidens, claimers and low-grade handicaps, but the card at Wolverhampton on Saturday night amounted to much more than the sum of its parts. Britain's first floodlit meeting attracted more than 3,000 spectators, and racing took a small, but confident, step into the future.

There remains a Luddite tendency in the sport which would like to bury Richard Muddle, Wolverhampton's renaissance man, six feet under his beloved Fibresand track. Too late. Trainers, jockeys and racegoers have all welcomed Wolverhampton's enterprise, and other courses will be eager to follow Muddle's example. Could it be that, as one trainer predicted recently, within 10 years, racing on grass will be a thing of the past?

No, is the simple answer, but Bill O'Gorman's overenthusiastic prophecy does at least force us to consider where Wolverhampton's innovation may lead. Prospective buyers of United Racecourses - Sandown, Kempton and Epsom - are being reminded of Kempton's suitability for an all-weather track, at the expense of its National Hunt circuit. Add floodlights and Saturday night meetings, a 20- minute train ride away from central London, and the financial arguments are difficult to answer. No more King George on Boxing Day, of course, but you can't buck the market.

It is a serious problem for those who wish to drag the industry into the modern world, where ever-increasing leisure options no longer guarantee its support. You cannot embrace progress, while baulking at its implications. The radical change which racing needs cannot be achieved without pain. The only hope is that it can be kept to a minimum.

For that, racing needs a governing body with a clearly defined vision of the future. The sport is not short of innovators. Yet the bright ideas are all at the grass roots.

The British Horseracing Board, which replaced the Jockey Club as racing's ruling body last year, might have been expected to set off at a sprint to establish its new authority. That might at least have distracted attention from the club's misguided attempts to prevent jockeys doing their jobs. But, with the exception of a vague campaign for Sunday racing, what has been achieved?

Racing is a business which employs thousands, but it seems to have no business plan. Small wonder that the bookmakers get away with unbridled greed. Their shareholders expect nothing less.

A well-run corporation of equivalent size to the racing industry would elevate its innovators. Its competitors - and despite talk of partnership and mutual interests, that is what the big bookmakers often are - would be treated as such. And it would expect its highly paid executives to produce quantifiable results, or else.

The lack of purpose is so total that it is contagious. While Wolverhampton is demonstrating the potential and pitfalls of progress, which debate was thought worthy of a full page in the Racing Post last week? Not the spread of floodlit racing, nor even the whip rules, but Ascot's decision to replace the Queen Alexandra Stakes at the Royal meeting with a 10-furlong handicap.

The only interesting point in the argument is that both sides are talking nonsense. Ascot's contention that the race is won merely by 'good hurdlers' is not supported by the form book, but the course's opponents offer little more than reaction to change. If the Queen Alexandra should continue as it is just because that is the way it has always been, we might as well go back to tape starts in Flat races and jockeys wearing spurs.

That such a trivial dispute can suffocate matters of genuine importance would be comic, were it not so alarming. Run both, or move the Queen Alexandra to the King George meeting. Problem solved. Now can we move on to the real issues please?

(Photograph omitted)

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