2 April 2015 – Racing Post
The anger has diminished, the green ink has run dry. This, being racing, is only a temporary arrangement, of course – the anger has merely been diverted, the green ink carves a new course to the sea.
This time last year there was a phenomenal furore surrounding the Good Friday inauguration of the All-Weather Championships at Lingﬁeld, a veritable Battle of the Bulge onslaught with big guns on all sides railing against the affront to ecumenical calendar, the puzzle-piece filling-in of one of the few blank days in the fixture list, the inexorable tide of all-weather racing – pretty much anything anyone could be angry about, someone was angry about. Now here we are in Year 2, old hands at this sort of thing, and the outrage has seemingly vanished into the ether like so much hot air. We shouldn’t belittle the process – people love to be outraged, but it soon passes. What we have at Lingfield tomorrow is an adornment to the racing season, as potentially unnecessary as yet another Group 1 race at Royal Ascot yet, like another Group 1 race at Royal Ascot, the All-Weather Championships are what racing is all about.
What is not to like? On most afternoons, Lingfield is a slightly dingy, vaguely down-at-heel venue of the sort beloved by nostalgia fans and claustrophobics. It is perishing hard to whip up any excitement about an afternoon at Lingfield, but the AWCs have managed it. In a week when there is little else to distract us – topic to be revisited in 2017, when Good Friday falls on April 14 – the AWCs have filled a hole. And they’ve filled it not with rubbish, not with a couple of old mattresses, a defunct fridge and an armful of greasy black plastic bags, but with fertile soil the better to grow a few grassroots. There are seven competitive races, champion jockeys galore, big-name trainers, horses with more about them then the majority of our all-weather friends. It’s a very good race meeting, and the staging of very good race meetings is – or certainly should be – this industry’s stock-in-trade. It’s all come about through the lavishing of vast sums of money, of course, and here is where certain feet begin dragging.
Where money is involved, the question is always how to spend it. Should it be spread Marmite-thin across each slice of our daily bread, or should it be piled up in one place like one of those fearsome towers of food enamoured of celebrity chefs? For a balanced diet, there should be both, but that’s not always possible. The best policy would be to makes sure it reaches as many people as possible, because a little goes a long way. Is it better to add £1,000 to the fund for a thousand races or throw a million into the post for one race? The former is always preferable, but because such a good deed will go unseen by all, and because we need to make sure racing has the power to sell itself, there must always be the scope for a big splurge here and there, concurrent with the hope the allure of a truly interesting sum of money has the usual effect.
There’s nothing wrong with throwing money at a problem. We don’t still want to be galloping from Buttevant to Doneraile for just fun and fresh air and the feeling of superiority, but sure as eggs is eggs there would have been green ink splashed around when someone suggested a nice shiny gold cup and a few quid might be an improvement. It’s how you throw it and where it lands, and what it does when it lands, that counts.
It is too early to be dogmatic about the effect of AWCs day on the future health of all-weather racing and, by extension, racing. But it is a light at the end of a long tunnel, and if it provokes interest, and participation, and further investment in this sector of the game then it will have done what is set out to do. There may be mileage in spreading the net to other racecourses Breeders’ Cup-style (although the Breeders’ Cup is hardly the model of wanderlust itself, having been staged away from Santa Anita and Churchill Downs just once in the last nine years), a new novelty for British racing and one that if it were to succeed would require the sort of collaboration between racecourse groups that would make an alliance between the Jets and the Sharks look entirely plausible. But you never know.
And where will all the angst, the breast-beating, the clothes-racing be then? Most ideas in racing are greeted at best with a shrug, at worst with the six-day declaration stage for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. A short time passes, and the innovation is seen as timely, useful, valuable. Don’t we waste a lot of our time in anger? Have to stop there, I’m afraid. Have you heard about the new Flat jockeys’ championship? Can I borrow some of your green ink, please?