Racing: Dearth of runners fails to help McCoy

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The Independent Online
THE MANAGERS of Newbury racecourse were enthusiastic supporters of the controversial bypass which finally opened 12 months ago, on the basis that it would make the track much easier to get to. Take a glance at their cards both today and yesterday, though, and you would never guess. A mere 25 horses lined up at the course yesterday, to race for added prize money of pounds 42,300. Today, the situation is hardly any better, with only one more runner due to chase pounds 35,500. This is, quite clearly, of little use to anyone.

Well, hardly anyone. The connections of most of the horses concerned will be delighted, since only three runners in yesterday's contests failed to win some cash. Today, the 1.50 is the only race in which, barring accidents, every competitor will not earn prize-money. And Tony McCoy, meanwhile, started racing yesterday seemingly looking forward to one of the best chances he will ever have to go through an entire card.

As it turned out, however, his run got no further than the second race yesterday, when even the champion jockey's talents could not get the 13- 8 chance Hisar home in front of Serenus in the novice chase. Despite a series of well-fancied rides, he won only one of the remaining five races.

Such considerations aside, though, small fields are a disaster for most of the industry, from courses which cannot persuade as many racegoers through the gates, to off-course bookies whose punters will find something better to do with their money than back a series of long odds-on shots.

"It will have a huge impact on our turnover, probably cutting it by about 30 per cent," Simon Clare, of Coral, said yesterday. "People are turned off by short-priced favourites, and it is even worse for us when this happens on jump cards, because they are generally not even competitive five-runner races.

"There will be two market leaders and three outsiders, and the money which is bet will go on the first two, which on days like this tend to win. So not only will turnover be hit, but our profitability will be minimal too."

It is the turnover figure, rather than the unusual number of winning punters, which will bother everyone else. The Levy, which passes from punters to racing via the bookies, is calculated on turnover. If it drops by a third, then so too does the Levy yield from that particular meeting.

The circumstances of the Newbury meeting are unfortunate, in that Mark Kershaw, the clerk of the course, is reluctant to water in case a sudden spell of rain then ruins the ground for the Hennessy meeting at the end of the month. In future, the meeting may be reduced to a single day, or abandoned altogether, and few bar the canny owners and trainers who have made entries this week would be likely to mourn its passing.

Fortunately for the turnover figures, this weekend's Murphy's meeting at Cheltenham seems to grow stronger by the year. As well as the Murphy's Gold Cup itself on Saturday, there are strong supporting cards either side, with a race over the cross-country course on Friday and a valuable handicap hurdle on Sunday.

There is also a strong entry from Ireland, with Tony Martin, who won the Cambridgeshire last month with She's Our Mare, prominent among the trainers with runners at Prestbury Park. She's Our Mare herself, in fact, will attempt to underline her versatility in the Draughtflow Hurdle on Sunday, while Linden's Lotto, who won the Sporting Index Chase over the cross-country course 12 months ago, will be back to attempt a repeat.

British bookies are reluctant to price up the handicap hurdle at present, pleading uncertainty over the participation of Martin Pipe's once-raced novice, Lord Lamb. Cashman's in Ireland have no such worries, though, and make Lord Lamb their 9-2 favourite, with She's Our Mare on 5-1. Star Rage and Sir Talbot, both former winners of the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, are bracketed together on 7-1, and it is 10-1 bar.

There was encouraging news yesterday concerning Brendan Powell, who was moved to an intensive-care unit at Torbay Hospital over the weekend after breaking several ribs in a fall at Newton Abbot last week.

"I have spoken to his wife, Rachel," Peter Shoemark, Powell's agent, said yesterday, "and she said Brendan has had a good night. Basically he is a lot better. He has been fairly poorly, and has had tubes in draining his lungs, but one has now been removed. He must be in a fair bit of pain; they say rib breaks are one of the worst things that can happen. I don't know how long he will be off, but the main thing is that he is improving."

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