Donn's Articles » Urgent Action Required

Urgent Action Required

Reality is organic. We are in a continual state of flux. Events conspire to change current norms, and we adapt our attitudes accordingly.

That’s the important thing, that you change your attitude as your reality changes. Best if you can pre-empt the change, if you can see it coming and prepare for it before it happens, or benefit from it when it does, but at the very least, you have to change with events, adopt as your environment dictates. Those who don’t change get left behind. The ostrich sticks his head in the sand and the other animals run by.

John Oxx said in an interview published in this paper on Sunday that Ireland didn’t have a God-given right to retain its good name for racing and breeding just because of its great love of horses. Oxx is correct, racing has no God-given rights, and Irish racing has changed irrevocably since the days when wealthy owners raced their horses against each other, or even since the days when horse and greyhound racing were the only sports on which people could really bet.

One potential ostrich moment concerns the whole issue of betting tax. There have been strong indications that the extra tax income derived from betting tax under the new betting legislation – the spring, apparently – will not be ring-fenced for the funding of racing, yet we continue to read and hear about the extra funding that the new legislation will bring. The reality is that, in all probability, racing will have to continue to rely on a government grant, even after the enactment of the new legislation, and even if the legislation is successful in significantly increasing the tax revenue from betting to the exchequer. The new betting legislation will almost certainly not be the panacea that was universally expected.

Racing still has to help itself, fight its corner. For a long time now, racing has just tinkered with the edges, which was all very fine during the good times: tents and receptions and best-dressed-ladies and bands and celebrities were where it was at. But something more fundamental is needed now, has been for a while.

The Strategic Marketing Group report is a step in the right direction, it at least has a look at the fundamentals of Irish racing, but the implementation of some of the recommendations that address the fundamentals is very slow. Facilities and prize money are important, but there are many more fundamentals that need to be addressed. Here are just four.

Firstly, there is an urgent need for a programme of education which should concentrate on current racegoers, racing’s current customers. Push the open doors. To chase to the end of the rainbow after the currently disinterested at the expense of neglecting current enthusiasts – as much of the activity in the UK seems to be doing of late – is to drop your wallet when you are bending down to pick up a penny.

Not that it isn’t important to attract new racegoers, of course it is, but not if the effort to do so turns current racegoers off or, worse still, turns them away. There is no need to dumb down the message. Racing is a fantastic sport, it is a fascinating pursuit with depth, multifaceted. Betting is a large part of racing, but it isn’t only about betting. There is so much more to racing than what’s-going-to-win. We just need to tell the story.

Secondly, Johnny Murtagh made the point last week that summer is a time of sport, that there is so much competition for attention during the summer that racing struggles. So make sure that racegoers can watch the Leinster Final or the Premier League game or the 3.50 at Goodwood.

People should not be going to the races wondering if they are going to be able to watch the match there. If there is any doubt, the best option is to stay at home. Racegoers should know for sure that the match is going to be on, in the specially dedicated sports lounge, or on the television in the bar, with commentary.

Thirdly, racegoers should not be at an informational disadvantage relative to those who stay at home by the television. Every race is live on At The Races now, the internet gives access to the latest betting and going reports and trainer quotes. That information, at the very least, needs to be made available to racegoers immediately. More than that, however, there is significant potential to provide racegoers with more information than those who stay at home, and that is ideally how it should be.

Fourthly and finally, the on-course betting ring is on a life-support machine. There is no tax advantage to betting on-course any more, and the on-course punter does not have betting exchanges, guaranteed odds, advantageous place terms or double result and other bonuses that the off-course punter has at his disposal. If people are to be attracted to the racecourse, this anomaly needs to be addressed, and it isn’t enough to just allow bets on the home meeting in the on-course betting office.

Or else we could just stick out heads in the sand.

© The Racing Post, 27th September 2011