Northern racing has been in trouble ever since the economic downturn took full effect.
Owners, trainers and other factions of the industry have felt the full force of monetary pressures
It has been mainly in the jumps industry where the money troubles have struck most. Even trainers with a jump racing history are focusing their efforts on younger horses primed for sprints and middle distance races on the flats, rather than risking them over hurdles and fences.
Wetherby Racecourse’s decision to trial flat racing this summer only shows that the flat industry is the area of the sport that is booming.
It is a significant step in the future of jump racing, especially in the north.
When I met Leyburn trainer Ferdy Murphy last year, he warned the future of jumps racing in the north was in doubt.
Crippling costs were hurting his business due to falling prize money. And it was no surprise to hear he had sold up and moved to France to breed horses
In the other spectrum, worldwide, flat racing is flourishing. Given the number of Middle Eastern royal families and British multi-millionaires involved, and the enormities of the horse breeding, prize money and interest in the sport is up.
Certainly in recent years, a day at the races has switched more from the sort to a leisure industry.
Summer running will allow Wetherby to provide the sun-glossed champagne day rather than the dreary prospect of a burger in the winter rain. It would have significant benefits to the local economy in Wetherby,
June’s trial with give the course a perfect chance to see the longevity of what flat racing can offer there. However, the course has to be careful not to alienate their winter schedule if the summer trial is successful.
The course has been on the jumps scene for its entirety. People come to Wetherby for its Boxing Day special and the thrill of what the race over barriers provide.
Wetherby can’t afford to have its winter attendance affected because the crowds average across the season. Otherwise, the costs of holding the extra racedays will outweigh the revenues brought in.
The summer racing also needs to be an addition to what is currently offered and not something that takes away from the spirit enjoyed already at the meetings.
With York and Ripon, the nearest courses, both flat, there is already plenty of competition to attract trainers, and more importantly, the punters.
But in a sport of gamblers, it’s a risk worth taking.
PS: Congratulations to Knaresborough Town Football Club. Saturday’s League Cup final was one of the most thrilling matches I have ever seen. Both sides went hammer and tongs at each other, and it was a credit to semi-professional football. No fan left Valley Parade feeling short-changed, and for Knaresborough, it was a page in the history books. Brian Davey and his troops deserve every bit of their post-match champers.