Thousands given free taste of Turf

Racing for Change initiative lures big crowd to Ascot but trial of decimal odds goes down badly with bookies

Unlike several thousand others, it seemed safe to assume that Andrei Arshavin had not been tempted here yesterday by the prospect of free admission.

Sure enough, it turned out that the Russian football star was a guest of one of Ascot's new sponsors. But the people at Racing For Change, responsible for nine free meetings round the country this week, will be encouraged that Arshavin was by no means alone in appearing to enjoy an agreeable sample of life on the Turf.

Admittedly, they might acknowledge as no less typical the mystified looks worn by several prominent racing men, when their attention was drawn to the presence of one of the world's more famous footballers. But then that is precisely the challenge embraced by Racing For Change: to dismantle the barriers around the sport – whether these reflect its own, arcane ways, or the insular outlook of its professional community.

The dilemma remains, of course, that the sport's existing audience will be affronted by any crude new motorways through a cherished landscape. Sooner or later, presumably, they will be invited to exchange five furlongs for 1,000 metres, though a trial of decimal odds yesterday suggested that it will not be any day soon. The betting ring is a notoriously conservative environment, and only five bookmakers agreed to the trial. Charles Barnett, the Ascot chief executive, proved less reluctant, eagerly striking one of the ring's first ever decimal bets on the favourite for the opener. Generally showing at 4-11, Zebedee was instead offered at 0.36 and Barnett duly made £3.60 on his tenner.

At the risk of discouraging novices with precisely the sort of technicalities dreaded by Racing For Change, 0.36 itself represents a confusing departure from established decimal markets already familiar through betting exchanges and the Tote. These always incorporate the stake so that 2-1, for instance, is represented as 3.0. In effect, 0.36 was neither fish nor fowl, being a decimal representation of fractional odds.

Be that as it may, the trial went down so poorly with those bookmakers prepared to take part that it will be interesting to see how Racing For Change goes about persevering with the experiment. One, Barry Johnson, grumbled that he had missed out on the turnover on adjacent boards. "I gave up a day for an experiment, because I wanted to help," he said. "But it's been a complete waste of time."

Regardless, there is no arguing with the arrival of 19,215 people for a meeting that drew only 8,257 last year. Free admission, of course, is not on the project's overall agenda, so for this week to prove a lasting success the curiosity of newcomers needs to have been stimulated sufficiently to pay at the turnstiles next time.

And the seduction that works best will be precisely the same as that which first won the hearts of the sport's aficionados. Anyone discovering a frisson of pleasure in the acceleration of Zebedee, for instance, would surely like to see how he fares back here at the royal meeting, probably in the Norfolk Stakes. Who, moreover, could fail to be intrigued by this man Henry Cecil, who saddled Aviate to win the next race? Especially when they learn, as they should, of his dizzy rise and fall and the brave, precarious redemption condensed by the fact that Aviate is only one of three fillies in his care with the potential to become his ninth Oaks winner.

Cecil expects Aviate to improve considerably for her reappearance, and is confident that she will stay a mile and a quarter – though a longer trip again at Epsom would be another matter. With Principal Role heading to Newmarket on Sunday, and Timepiece to Lingfield on Saturday week, Aviate is likely to go for the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes at York on 12 May. Dansili, her sire, is not a conspicuous source of stamina but his son, Illustrious Blue, promptly flourished for an experimental run over two miles in the Moss Bros Sagaro Stakes – in the process completing an indelible hour in the life of his trainer, William Knight, who had just won a listed race with King Of Dixie. Here was one young man, at any rate, who could get used to days like these.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Gamesters Lady (6.30 Brighton)

Has not always seemed the most dependable creature but looks transformed since joining this stable in the winter, with three wins over hurdles.

Next best

Katy's Secret (2.40 Folkestone)

Began season needing just one more run to qualify for a modest handicap rating, and received little help from an inexperienced rider on her reappearance. Frankie Dettori will be more proactive.

One to watch

Issabella Gem (C G Cox) was set plenty to do in a strong fillies' maiden at Sandown on Friday, running green before staying on well for second, and is likely to prove useful over middle distances.

Where the money's going

Fencing Master is 10-1 from 16-1 with Totesport for Saturday's 2,000 Guineas.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most