Why Leonna Mayor believes initiatives like the £2m Racing League are vital for the future of horse racing

Team Yorkshire captain and TV presenter Leonna Mayor says it is vital initiatives like the £2m Racing League are a success for the future of racing.

Mayor, 31, was speaking after the launch of this season’s event at Doncaster at a time when crowds are falling, prize money is being criticised, fields are small and trainers are quitting.

She had a dual role on Town Moor, running the Yorkshire team who finished second in the table after the first round of races and also a roving reporter role for Sky TV who are televising the event alongside ITV 4.

She said: “I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed it last year too, to be honest, it had a nice atmosphere.

“The racecourse itself wasn’t maybe quite as busy as we had hoped, but Doncaster is a huge course and swamps the people who are there.

“On Thursday people are working and so on, but when you are in it, I think it is awesome.

“There’s a nice atmosphere, everyone gets into the competitive spirit and the managers are all from sporting backgrounds and want to beat each other.”

There is £300,000 on offer at each of the seven weekly fixtures, with organisers hoping that will lure owners and their horses to the Racing League, while the teams themselves are battling it out for £50,000.

“I know a few people don’t like the team thing and we have had the odd owner who says they don’t want to run their horses in other colours, which again, I completely get, if that is their opinion, but you can’t have everything,” she said.

“If you want 25 grand in prize money and horses are picking up six grand for third place there has got to be a give somewhere to be able to offer that kind of reward.

“I was stood with a few owners - Grant Tuer’s horse Emaraty Hero - and of course they’d have loved it to win, but the second it went over the line one of the owners said ‘it’s six grand for third’ and that’s a massive difference in those kind of races.

“You wouldn’t get a quarter of that usually and they are thinking of running it again at Newcastle later in the series.”

For Mayor, to keep the sport going you need more owners staying or getting involved and it is vital they are rewarded.

“Somebody commented on Racing League being ‘money down the drain’ on social media and I replied ‘what to the owners?’ “I don’t think it is money down the drain - we are giving it to the people who deserve it and the ones paying the training fees.

“You look at some of the horses running at Doncaster and they had won £12,000 or £15,000 for winning three races - it isn’t good enough. They are not getting anywhere near paying their way even when they are winning and then it just becomes an expensive hobby.”

The competition held a ‘jockey draft’ for the first time this year and Mayor selected Cam Hardie, David Allan, Paul Mulrennan, Oisin McSweeney, Joanna Mason, Dougie Costello and William Carver to represent the White Rose.

She said: “It was not easy organising it all and sharing out the jockeys because I chose them in the draw. I didn’t necessarily please every trainer - but I think it worked out okay overall.

Mayor also has 15 trainers to call upon and Great Habton’s Tim Easterby provided her with the most horses at Doncaster including the victorious Mattice in the five furlong handicap under David Allan, with another Easterby inmate Albegone, third, for Cam Hardie.

“I was really chuffed to have a winner. The horse that won they quite like him. Will [Easterby] had said early on it’s a nice big horse and they had high hopes for it - so I was really pleased.”

Mayor, was born in Stoke-on-Trent and started riding ponies before learning race riding at local trainer Brian Baugh’s and then heading off to Newmarket where she rode 32 winners before retiring.

She started working for William Hill TV and did six years there before a trial with Sky paid off and eventually ITV got in touch and she now works for both.

She also has a strong social media presence on Twitter and Instagram and says racing needs new ideas to grow.

“Racing League should attract a younger, different or varied audience. We need new people.

“Overall people seem to like it. I have seen a lot of feedback on social media, a lot of it is very good and out of the hundreds of comments a few say they don’t like it, but some would say they don’t like it if you offered them a bag of gold...”