Turf has a punt on ways to win younger fans

Decimal odds and photo finishes on big screens will be tested to widen appeal
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The Independent Online

While there seems little prospect of any racing on turf for the next few days, it is during the years ahead that the sport really wants to come in from the cold. So it is that Racing For Change, the project charged with reaching a new audience, today launches a first series of initiatives to be introduced by the summer. If not revolutionary, they represent a commendably temperate approach to a process that soon stimulated one or two crackpot suggestions.

Perhaps the most conspicuous innovation is a trial of decimal starting-price returns, one weekend this spring. Funding is also to be made available for trainers and jockeys to undergo media training, but more fundamental proposals remain in the pipeline, concerning the promotion of different tiers of racing.

It is edifying that Chris McFadden, the project's chairman, has not embraced change for change's sake. "What has encouraged us is that, fundamentally, there is little wrong with racing as an entertainment, leisure and betting medium," he said. "What it requires is a clearer structure and better presentation of its strengths – its drama, spectacle and heritage, as well as its equine and human stars."

The main thrust of the initiatives is to make the sport less arcane to novices. Race titles and racecourse announcements will be simplified, and jockeys and trainers listed by first names instead of initials. Younger converts are to be targeted by a free membership club offering admission discounts and racehorse shares.

In the search for heightened drama, meanwhile, photo finish results will be displayed on screen simultaneously with the judge's announcement, but negotiations will continue into spring over televised stewards' inquiries. Of more practical significance to some, meanwhile, will be steps to discourage on-course bookmakers from abusing each-way terms.

In the shorter term, there is very little to thaw hearts that are cold to racing. It would be nice to think that Ffos Las could be reprieved from the freeze in time for Saturday's SIS Welsh Champion Hurdle, which would be dignified by Punjabi among others. But conditions need to improve to have any chance of racing.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Knightfire (3.40 Southwell)

Next Best: Freddie's Girl (1.10 Southwell)