Free or at a fee, racing is now fun

TWO of the leading figures in the promotion of racing in Yorkshire have warned against the industry reading too much into a report published by the Racing For Change group which confirmed that an experiment involving free entry to nine racecourses had produced 40,000 newcomers to racing.

Racing For Change, a body charged with finding ways of improving the image and drawing power of the sport, persuaded nine racecourses – including Doncaster – to allow free entry in the period April 26-May 1 and have distributed the information collated during the week to all sections of the industry.

Simon Channon, the chairman of Go Racing in Yorkshire, the marketing body representing the nine courses in the region, welcomed the findings but was wary of suggestions that cheaper – or even free – entry to courses was a viable way forward.

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"It was not a surprise that 40,000 people turned up but we certainly should not jump to conclusions," he said. "The other side of that coin was that over 30,000 turned up – and paid – at York last Saturday.

"It is for the individual courses to decide their own policy and how entry charges relate in terms of prize-money, facilities and all the other things that go into making racing such a good day out.

"Go Racing in Yorkshire conducted a survey four or five years ago at agricultural shows round the county and asked people why they did or did not go racing; the expense of the day was extremely low down their list of priorities.

"Most of those who did not go racing said it was simply something they didn't do – it was not on their radar. That is the most difficult thing for racing – to get the 'virgins' over the threshold for the first time.

"I would suggest, though, that the nature of the racing public is changing and that, rather than the cost of entry, is something we ought to focus on. Pictures taken at racecourses years ago showed crowds of men in flat caps. Now it is more of a fun day out – there were lots of hen parties at York last week – and racing has moved on from being a male dominated day out with beating the bookmakers the main aim."

Graham Orange, the public relations officer for GRIY and known as "the voice of Yorkshire racing" due to his announcement from the parade ring at the region's courses throughout the year, was similarly guarded.

"The racing industry has to take note of the findings – it is no good doing these things then locking the resulting information away in a cupboard," he said.

"The experiment was a worthwhile exercise and brought good publicity for racing but I am not sure the price of entry is a determining factor in attracting new audiences to our courses, it is certainly not a panacea.

"For me the important thing is to put on racing when people can go with a group of friends and have a good time, like Saturdays and evening meetings. I was at Doncaster's 'free day' and was surprised at how many young people and children were there and there is no doubt the racecourse did an excellent job in making the local people – their neighbours if you like – aware of what was on their doorstep."

The figures collated by Racing For Change support that view. Of those interviewed during the "Week of Free Racing", 21 per cent said they had gone for a "fun day out" with only five per cent confirming they had attended a meeting because of free entry.

Reassuringly for racecourse executives, 57 per cent of those questioned said there were no areas which needed major improvement but 12 per cent were concerned at the cost of drinks at the races.

Just over a third of the 40,000 were infrequent visitors to

racecourses – attending no more than four meetings a year – while 30 per cent were making their first excursion into racing.

Channon, Orange and the board members of Go Racing In Yorkshire who represent the regions nine courses will examine Racing For Change's report at their next meeting in June.