Marketing plan lacks horsepower

BHA review centres on rebranding of the sport in quest for leisure pound

The need for racing to give the customer what he or she wants for a pleasurable day out – from a bacon butty at breakfast time to a clean, civilised loo or a user-friendly punting opportunity – is a concept easily understood and should be wholly commended. Less so, on both counts, is the idea that the elite track programme needs some tinkering in order to pander to those who cannot or will not grasp the subtle and entrancing narrative and rhythm of a season, with its steps, diversions, peaks and troughs all building to a series of showdowns here and abroad.

The British Horseracing Authority, aware that the empire under its stewardship is losing ground on rivals for the modern leisure pound, commissioned an overview of the sport's strengths and weaknesses. Nine months, £250,000 and a myriad of interviews, surveys, focus groups and workshops later the consultancy firm charged with the task presented some of its pro tem findings yesterday.

Many would have done Sybil Fawlty – specialist subject: the bleedin' obvious – proud. That racing is perceived among both professionals and public as, variously, old-fashioned, complex, corrupt, pompous and dysfunctional yet exciting, beautiful, inspiring, historic, quirky and a damn fine day out is news to no one, but at least it is now extensively and expensively analysed news.

Part of yesterday's marketing babble was the notion that racing is currently embodied by Brian – who is rather reserved, even dull, but intelligent and once you get to know him he's absolutely fine and rather interesting – but would be better served by Ben: younger, hedonistic, naughty, entrepreneurial and into the celebrity culture. Well, chacun à son goût.

No solutions to racing's disparate problems and shortcomings have yet been proposed but there was high-falutin talk of the "product" being "rebranded" as a British classic, in the same terms as success stories such as the Mini, Dr Who and Come Dancing.

Strictly, an emergence from promotional complacency is essential and professional help to tap into the sport's assets is not to be underestimated. But in two hours of talk, slides and pointers yesterday there was one word notable by its absence. Horse.

This week, the true stars of the turf show will continue to weave this season's story. Tomorrow, the first of three days at York, some of the perceived best middle-distance fillies will run ahead of the Oaks in the Musidora Stakes. Those with their hats in the ring for the premier distaff Classic are High Heeled, who beat colts on her seasonal debut but will not be risked on ground too firm; the Queen's unbeaten Enticement, who accounted for the 1,000 Guineas third Super Sleuth on the last of her two juvenile outings; and Sariska, such an eyecatching fourth when seven furlongs proved two short at Newbury last month.

The colts with Derby aspirations have their moment in the spotlight on Thursday in the Dante Stakes, a race that has been taken by three of the last five Epsom heroes and which will mark this time the eagerly awaited seasonal reappearance of last year's best two-year-old Crowded House.

And in among the early establishment of the three-year-old pecking order are woven other strands. Tomorrow at York some of those eyeing sprint honours will fly down the straight six furlongs, notably Tax Free and Equiano, renewing a recent rivalry.

On Saturday at Newbury comes the Lockinge Stakes, when the seasoned milers lay down their first markers of the campaign. The four-year-old Paco Boy is a warm favourite to silence those who have doubted his ability to shine over the distance at the top level, with the exciting Aqlaam, sidelined through injury since winning at Royal Ascot last year, seen as his chief threat.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Mirrored (3.50 Warwick)

NB: The Magic Blanket (3.20 Warwick)

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