Racing: Sunday sport lacking appeal: Greg Wood finds little enthusiasm for seventh-day racing

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The Independent Online
IT WAS the morning after the vote before at York yesterday, but there was little evidence of racing entering a new golden age. The British Horseracing Board and the leading bookmakers greeted the House of Commons's decision to permit betting on Sunday with gleeful enthusiasm. Among racing professionals on the Knavesmire, however, there was an air not of jubilation, but resignation.

Barry Hills reflected the opinion of several trainers. 'I have reservations,' he said, 'and I wouldn't be happy if it was merely taking place for the benefit of bookmakers. It must be for the racing industry as a whole.' The possible loss of time off was also a concern for many. 'There should be a day of the week when there's no racing for two good reasons,' Luca Cumani said. 'Firstly, seven- day racing could lead to overkill, and secondly, it would give everyone in racing a breather. But it has to be a very good thing to stage a spectator sport on a day when spectators can attend.'

Reactions to the vote were more polarised among the layers in the betting ring. 'I'm not looking forward to it one little bit,' John White said. 'No-one but the Big Three bookmakers wanted it, and it's the only day we get off. It's something we've been stuck with, and no-one asked us if we wanted it.' Joe Harris, however, was looking forward to a new era for the sport. 'It's great, we'll get the crowds back and it'll be the making of racing. I just hope that they divide it evenly between the North and South, and that instead of just having a few meetings, they really go for it.'

Also enthusiastic, unsurprisingly, was Tom Kelly, director-general of the Betting Office Licensees Association, which represents the big off-course bookmakers. 'We've got to be in favour of it,' Kelly said. 'We've always felt Sunday racing would be beneficial to the industry, providing there was on- and off-course betting.'

But the safeguards provided for betting-shop workers, similar to those laid down for shop workers in the Sunday Trading Act, did not meet with Kelly's approval. 'We have some reservations about the inclusion of employment legislation in the Betting and Gaming Act. We're in the leisure industry and I'd prefer to have the conditions of the leisure industry rather than the retail industry.'

There is no statutory protection at all for stable staff, seen by many as the group most likely to suffer when seven-day racing is introduced. 'It's got to come,' Jimmy Scott, travelling head lad to Michael Stoute, said, 'but I just hope they're going to treat us right and give us a respectable wage. You could find that the gateman will get more than a lad travelling with a horse worth millions. We're giving our Sunday up and our families up. It's all very well to have a day off in midweek, but then the kids are at school.'

'The whole issue has gone through without addressing the issue of protecting the employment rights of stable lads and lasses,' Bill Adams, national secretary of the Stable Lads Association said. 'It would seem that the right message got through to the 189 MPs who voted against, but it fell on deaf ears as regards the majority, who probably have no knowledge of what they've let stable staff in for. But we will be fighting our corner, and we will expect the BHB's support.'

Only about a quarter of stable staff belong to the SLA however, and for many there will be little choice when their horse is engaged on Sunday. 'A lot of us work seven days now anyway,' said a lad from one of the leading yards. 'We'll just have to do it.'