Ralph Beckett: What does the future hold for racing? [H&H VIP]

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  • Like many, I thought the 2000 Guineas was an unsatisfactory event in that the field split.

    Inevitably, when that happens, the groups tend to race each other, rather than all runners and riders concentrating on their own race and what is immediately going on around them.

    Having said that, Night Of Thunder was a worthy winner and I was delighted for my friend and neighbour Richard Hannon. Winning a Classic at your first attempt is some achievement, but I am sure there will be more before long.

    Miss France looked as though there was more to come when winning the 1000 guineas. She was just doing enough at the line and, with master trainer Andre Fabre in charge, she will be tough to beat wherever she shows up.

    If you exclude the St Leger “winner” Encke — who tested positive for steroids four months later — there hasn’t been a Newmarket-trained Classic winner since 2011 St Leger victor Masked Marvel.

    Impressive Pretty Polly Stakes winner Taghrooda looks to have a very good chance of changing that in this year’s Oaks.

    The future of the sport?

    The big industry announcement last week was the news that Chelmsford City (formerly Great Leighs) and Newcastle have been invited to apply for fixtures in 2015.

    Both tracks will be all-weather, as Newcastle has plans to rip up its — perfectly good — turf track and put down a Tapeta surface.

    It seems unlikely that they will be given new fixtures because we are at saturation point — 25% of Flat races in 2013 had fewer than eight runners.

    Each-way betting becomes negligible on those races, which in turn forces lower betting turnover, and has a downward effect on the levy that funds prize-money.

    So where will the fixtures come from?

    Newcastle — like a dozen other tracks — is owned by ARC [Arena Racing Company], that closed Folkestone and Hereford in 2012. So it is safe to assume it has every intention of further streamlining.

    I believe ARC will close Bath, whose grandstand was condemned and demolished last winter, and whose race programme has suffered significant downgrading in the past five years.

    As a result of a conversation I had with the CEO of ARC a few years ago, I have no doubt that the Flat track at Chepstow is doomed as well.

    And if there had to be more, I would guess that Yarmouth and Southwell’s all-weather — not least because it is prone to flooding — would be in the mix.

    Furthermore, because the fixtures are owned by the group the track belongs to, jump fixtures can be switched to Flat too. It would never happen, would it?

    In each of the past 3 years, 33% of all National Hunt races have had fewer than 8runners. That is an extremely unhealthy state of affairs, given that there is nothing to stop ARC and others switching fixtures between their tracks, Flat to jumps and vice versa.

    The tragedy would be that by losing Flat tracks such as Chepstow and Bath, we are losing the grass roots of the sport.

    If we are not careful, racing could easily go the way of the USA, where it has been downgraded to a sport where no one goes, unless to bet, and the only time they get a crowd is at the big festival meetings.

    Lastly, I fear for jump racing, not least because it is drifting away from its core period. Summer jumping now has bigger fields and crowds than many of the mid-winter jumps fixtures.

    This year, 10,000 fewer people went to Newbury’s big Saturday February fixture than 10 years ago.

    Furthermore, Wetherby, which used to be the best jumps-only track in the north, has announced it is experimenting with a Flat fixture next year.

    This is because it is worried about the future of National Hunt racing, due to the public perception that injuries go hand in hand with the sport.