Thursday, October 7, 2010

(Un)lucky 13

(Un)lucky 13

By Stephen Dwyer

Traditionally every summer at “the” Galway races, the fixture list for the following year’s racing is announced by HRI. Usually it is good news, there may be details of an increase in permanent fixtures, measures may be taken to combat the usual shortage of racing during the spring and all festival dates are set in stone. Last year there were 355 fixtures, that’s an average of .97 race meetings per day, almost total saturation.

Of course there are many days without racing (close to 100) and for instance last season there were seven race meetings on a Saturday evening. At Galway this year though, no fixture list appeared. To be fair, it is not a coveted manuscript like the latest Harry Potter or Dan Brown bestseller but still its absence was noted.

At the launch of the fixture list, HRI CEO Brian Kavanagh was not despondent when he announced a 13 percent fall in the number of horses in training. Even though this is a sizeable figure, it is in line with the ongoing industry-wide cuts. 13 percent is still a manageable number and the knock on effects are as follows:

1. A reduction of 10 fixtures in the racing year.

2. The racecourses that are losing fixtures are: Cork, Curragh, Dundalk (lost two), Fairyhouse, Limerick, Listowel, Punchestown, Sligo and Tipperary.

3. An increase of three racing days per year (from 264 to 267) This will reduce the number of mixed meetings, subsequently he number of calendar days with no racing has been reduced from 101 to 98.

4. The number of Saturday evening fixtures has been reduced by two to five.

Thus, a reduction of 10 fixtures is not catastrophic. Even though the number of fixtures has fallen modestly for the second year in a row, it may enhance quality and copper fasten prize money and race conditions.

To Cork, Curragh and the other seven courses that have lost fixtures, spare a thought for New Jersey. Just last week Monmouth Park finished its first “slash and burn” season, so called because its racing days were cut from 82 to 50, a reduction of 40 percent. During these 50 days, Monmouth Park paid out $50 million in prize money betting turnover topped $390 million,—an 87% increase over last year. The racetrack also boasted an average attendance of 10,651. Monmouth now plans to host a momentous 21-day meeting this Autumn so apparently it was a case of no pain, no gain.

The “Monmouth Model” of having fewer but better races is working. Quality over quantity is a proven maxim but one has to be careful to sate the appetite of the race goer without compromising on calibre.

HRI have not yet implemented such radical measures against a backdrop of uncertainty of Government financial backing and a migration to tax off-shore internet and telephone betting. The bookmakers and exchanges may be coerced into nursing the hand that feeds them.

Still, for a country with 26 racecourses, a statistic that proudly boasts more racecourses per head of population than any other country in the world, the HRI team and Brian Kavanagh will the relish the words of David Livingstone, who once said “I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s forward.”

On a footnote, the number 13 is considered lucky in China, mainly because when pronounced it means “’assured growth’”.

Who are we to argue with a population of 1.4 billion.

Perspective is a wonderful thing.

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