As everyone knows, to own a string of racehorses requires a lot of money. Seriously large amounts of money. Cash pits full of large denomination currency. Horse racing’s face is Royal Ascot, Epsom in June, the swank of Dubai and private executive jet planes.
Well, it’s not exactly like that but that is how the ignorant general public view our sport. That it embraces all walks of life is a secret only known to those who work in or have a passion for the sport.
But there is a lot of wealth in racing. That cannot be denied.
Which leads me on to the report in the Racing Post today about the in-fighting at Musselburgh racecourse that could lead to its demise. Yes, Musselburgh, that beautiful racecourse set in beautiful surroundings praised by everyone for its efforts to provide a good racing surface, good prize money and a superb atmosphere. The racecourse ‘bigged up’ only this past weekend by the I.T.V. commentators.
The tawdry dispute, as much political as it is sporting, does not really interest me. If I was the powers-that-be I wouldn’t just threaten to take away their temporary licence I would get the rival factions in a small room and bash their heads together. Racing at Musselburgh may not be in imminent danger of coming to an end but if the situation is not sorted by the end of June the B.H.A. have said they will not extend the present temporary licence and as was the case when a similar sanction was imposed on Great Leighs the lights may go out on Musselburgh for years on end, if not forever.
I am fully aware that racecourses are businesses and are owned by individuals, corporations or companies to make a return on investment. But during my lifetime we have lost too many racecourses, with the threat of losing Kempton Park on the horizon. Racing’s rulers need to come up with a contingency for fighting such threats and when necessary stepping in to save racecourses from closure. As I said at the beginning, racing is awash with people of great wealth. And not only wealth but good people with racing’s best interests at heart.
If the wealthiest owners in both flat and National Hunt racing were to be summoned around a table, perhaps at Portman Square, and if we take for granted their willingness to band together for the good of racing, would they collectively have the spare cash to, just for example, buy Kempton Park or to offer the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee a deal to end the ‘crisis of governance’ or the ‘civil war’ and remove the possibility of Scotland losing yet another racecourse?
Of course what is required is for the B.H.A., the Jockey Club, bookmakers and the other big hitters in racing to have in place emergency funds to either buy up racecourses threatened with closure or to invest money in racecourses in exchange for shares and rights within the existing ownership of any individual racecourse.
Racecourses provide green open spaces, oases in an increasingly tarmac and concrete jungle. In years to come, after my lifetime, especially with the surprisingly large number of golf courses closing and recreational parks being sold for housing, racecourses set within a town environment will provide a function for society outside of its role as a place of sporting entertainment. They will be corridors of green, lungs for the urban landscape. We cannot lose even one more racecourse.
At the moment the situation is ass-about, with the Jockey Club owning so many of the country’s best racecourses whilst being a 100-million quid in debt. Racing needs to slap listed status on its racecourses, to have, if not control, a protective hand on the rudder of self-interest and not leave to chance the future of our sport.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.