Tuesday 1 August 2017

The Seven Sins of Racecourses and a Segway into Grass-Roots Owning Optimism

When preparing for this blog I had a think about the worst ownership experiences that I’ve endured. I remember back in management consulting days that for some unknown reason everyone talked about the “seven secrets of success”, so I thought I would build this blog around “seven sins of sloppy, surly service”. Regular readers of this blog will know that I suffer from the irritating habit of a love of alliteration – one of Hughes’ horrible habits. Maybe there should be an Owners for Owners award, and I’m definitely open to suggestions as to what the prize should be. I’ve done them in alphabetical sequence.

Catterick and its meal vouchers: on New Year’s Day my wife and I trekked all the way up to Catterick to watch Future Gilded win – which was fabulous. They had run out of meal vouchers. “Don’t worry”, they said at the O&T Desk, “they’ll see you right”. I went off to enjoy an exquisite Catterick lunch, queued for ages and then was refused service. Back to O&T desk. Still no vouchers and was told to go back and mention the name of the attendant. Back to the queue. Still a refusal to serve me. Sent off to “the Office”. They found me a voucher. Third time lucky, back to the queue. Bingo – served a beautiful, cold, gristly bap. A delightful owner experience.

Ludlow and its Owners’ & Trainers’ Admission: off to Ludlow for the first time and followed signs to the car park, then to the Owners’ & Trainers’ entrance on the inside of the track. Bounded in and presented my PASS card, they commented, “We don’t see many of them”. Told that I was at the wrong entrance – despite the sign. Equally told that I was in the wrong car park, and to get into the “right” one I’d have to drive back out again and proceed some distance to the other side of the course. However they relented and let me in. The first of our owners I bumped into on the course hadn’t been so lucky and had been asked to pay. Fortunately I had printed a copy of the email I had sent to the course listing the names of the owners who would be there. Again I was sent to “the Office” to clarify the situation. Their response was that they hadn’t received the email. Funny that. Every time I go to “the Office” brandishing an email, I’m told they hadn’t had it.

Plumpton and its Owners’ car park: arrived at the Sussex Riviera in a monsoon, tried to park the car, pointing to the ROA badge on the windscreen. The attendant refused to acknowledge it and wanted to see “the badge”. He made me get out of the car to find it in the boot. It wasn’t a badge but the PASS card he wanted. Allowed to park in the middle of a swamp. As with Ludlow I’d followed the signs correctly but arrived at the “wrong” car park.

Southwell and the winner’s room hospitality: half a dozen owners and friends travelled up to Southwell for the last race on the card. The horse won and we were taken to the winner’s room to celebrate with a glass of fizz. We were given the smallest quantity of champagne that I’ve ever received and, like Oliver Twist, I dared ask for more. After receiving another thimble full, the jobsworth then raised his arm, pointed to his watch and said, “Drink up, I’ve got a home to go to”. Charming.

Wincanton and prize-money: like many tracks, Wincanton is inclined to put the money into one or two races at the expense of the others, so the prize-money is derisory. Our horse came 4th in a really competitive, 17-runner handicap hurdle that will have driven a tremendous amount of Levy money. Our return? £238.

Wolverhampton and its lino: as far as I’m concerned, the least enjoyable race track in the world. To stand on its artificially surfaced paddock on a wet Wednesday evening in mid-winter is as dire as it gets.

Worcester and “family fun” days: what a dread phrase! Probably only rivalled by its “Ladies’ Day”, a term used extremely generously to describe the participants. A most awful experience.

And yet, despite all of this, I adore going racing and am still optimistic about the sport – which is where the segway comes in (or segue, as my wife would have it). There was a really encouraging announcement recently that grass-roots racing is going to receive an extra £9.7m in 2018 as the BHA tries to halt a decline in the number of horses taking part in races at Class 4-6 level. Richard Wayman, the Chief Operating Officer for the BHA, stated encouragingly that: “Although there has been growth in total prize-money in recent years, much of this has been at the top end. The returns to our sport’s participants further down the scale are simply not sufficient at present to be sustainable. Targeting grass roots with extra funding will help racing’s participants to maintain their involvement in the sport and keep more horses in training.” Hear, hear.

I’ll raise a glass of Champagne to this, while eating a pork bap on a family fun day on my next racecourse visit, once I’ve found the correct car park and been allowed on to the course. Champion!

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