RFC fails to clear the fixture hurdle
Industry leaders' plans to 'premierise' bloated schedule short on detail and scope
Wednesday 24 February 2010
The application of a branding iron to horseracing's collective rump was always going to prompt winces of discomfort, in some, and shrieks of agony, in others. But while Racing For Change (RFC) retains every right to prove a necessary ordeal, for now it remains hard to know what kind of imprint will be left once the weals have healed.
Yesterday a series of industry leaders addressed a conference in Westminster, but when it came to specifics they could offer little more than contrition, over the rate of progress, and confidence, that it would be worth the wait. As Rod Street, the RFC chief executive, wisely reiterated yesterday, it would be fanciful to expect some kind of "big idea" to transform the sport's future. On the other hand, the most ambitious of their endeavours still seems deficient not merely in detail – which, in fairness, remains contingent on the negotiated co-operation of others – but in scope.
For while the RFC managers have recognised their most fertile opportunity in a bloated and incoherent fixture list, there is little evidence that its improvement – a process condensed by that ghastly mantra, "premierisation" – is being perceived as anything other than a branding exercise. If the idea of constructing coherent tiers in the fixture list is to be taken at all seriously, it must surely extend to tough decisions on the funding and survival of racing that does not pull its weight. That may yet come. As things stand, however, the marketing men's faith in cosmetics appears to remain devout.
RFC is commendably wary of alienating its core market, and Street assured wary professionals that their familiar cycles will probably survive. To the world beyond, however, he promised a new calendar of blue-chip racing both on the Flat and over jumps. "We will no longer try to explain to the outside world that the jump-racing season starts in April, less than 24 hours after it ends," Street said. "And that the Flat racing season starts at Doncaster in March a couple of weeks before the world's greatest steeplechase is run and before the jumps season ends, culminating in a finale in November, after its many of its champions have been finished racing. We will simply say: 'This is when the really good stuff begins and ends."
Street identified the period between the November meeting at Cheltenham and the Festival itself as a new "British Jumps Championship" for next winter. (Aintree is being treated as a case apart.) On the Flat, meanwhile, he confirmed that a new, British climax is being sought for the European season. "The long-term aim is that we develop a new, world-class occasion at which the participation of Britain's best horses and leading owners, trainers and jockeys is not in question," he said. "The objective is that the premier season's finale is a 'must-attend' racing event with international appeal, ensuring that the best horses seen throughout the summer are there."
Elite Flat racing, of course, is increasingly international in character. Little wonder if there remains a chronic lack of precision. Less nebulous proposals include the transfer to Saturdays of traditional midweek championship races, and a themed showcase handicap to be run in the same time slot every Saturday.
Consumer research has apparently disclosed utter befuddlement, in the broader public, about our best racing. "We need to tell them what it is, when it is and why it matters," Street said. "It needs a distinct look and feel and a dynamic presentational format. Racing's current products are perceived to be confusing, irrelevant and in presentational terms, boring."
But while better "window-dressing" may well get more people into the shop, on its own that remains a pejorative expression. RFC cannot be judged until it also gets into the stockroom.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Satwa Gold (4.25 Lingfield) Had to be dropped to a seller to show he still knew how to win, but has thrived for his new trainer.
Call Me Mulligan (5.05 Ludlow) Chased home a useful sort when tried in cheekpieces last time, and no fewer than four subsequent winners have already emerged from down the field.
One to watch
Pillar Of Hercules (Ferdy Murphy) Looked ready to exploit a falling mark at Kelso last week, travelling well before his stamina ran dry.
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