Royal Ascot Trials Day

Armchair punter

Home comforts are preferable to enduring the expense and discomfort of the racecourse


This article is taken from the July 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

I’ve a confession. The last time I went racing was in 2019. I think. To be honest, it could have been the year before. It was so unmemorable that I can’t remember where or when.

Not being allowed to go racing for all that time made me realise just how much I dislike going now

The specific reason I haven’t been for — let’s say — 3 years is, of course, the pandemic. For much of that time no one could go racing, and even when courses opened up, health issues meant I still had to avoid public areas.

But a couple of months ago I took a day off work to go to a midweek fixture; what is now billed as Royal Ascot Trials Day. I’d been underwhelmed when I saw the paltry fields, but decided I should still go — if for no other reason than that I hadn’t been racing for so long. On raceday morning, however, I came to my senses: I didn’t want to go.

Not being allowed to go racing for all that time made me realise just how much I dislike going now.

For one thing, it costs a small fortune. Entry to a decent enclosure is rarely less than £25. Add to that parking — it’s astonishing how many courses make you pay — and the cost of a racecard, food and drink and you’re talking £50 minimum before you even think about betting. And that’s for one person. At those prices, even a dedicated racing fanatic such as me thinks twice, let alone the casual “walk-in”.

Even if the cost of attendance wasn’t an issue, the fact is it’s a lot easier and a lot more productive to watch it on TV at home

The Racing Post has had the excellent idea of reporting not only on the racing but on the experience for racegoers, and its “Racecourse Prices Index” is not a pretty read. It’s little wonder that attendances are uniformly in freefall. May’s Chester meeting, one of the highlights of the season, had a crowd of 35,000 which is 35 per cent down on the 53,500 in 2019. And Chester racecourse, in the middle of the city, is the easiest course in Britain to visit. Chester’s CEO, Louise Stewart, attributes this to people having “got out of the habit of going racing”.

In which case you’d think it would be a priority to lure people back into the habit. You will, however, struggle to find any evidence of this thought having entered the mind of anyone involved. Because even if the cost of attendance wasn’t an issue, the simple fact is that it’s a lot easier and, for anyone who actually wants to watch racing, a lot more productive, to watch it on TV at home. On TV, you get paddock information, interviews with connections, previews and post-race analysis from expert presenters. (Yes, even on ITV Racing, although I prefer the calm of Racing TV.)

On the course, if you’re lucky there’s a jumbo TV, otherwise it’s craning your neck in the betting hall to see a small screen somewhere surrounded by people a lot taller than you. There’s a race commentary and that’s that.

So going to a race meeting puts you in the bizarre position of being far less informed about what’s happening than not going. With added discomfort — some so-called grandstands are a bad joke — at huge cost.

Honestly, what’s the point? The atmosphere, apparently. Well, nowhere does atmosphere better than Cheltenham in March. My pilgrimage there used to be planned annually with my father. Then one day I let slip the unsayable — that I got to appreciate the racing itself far more on the days we didn’t go. It was like a light being turned on. It dawned on both of us that the only reason we were still going was because we thought the other one loved it. Whereas we would each have preferred to be watching it together at home.

The specific issue was the size of the crowd, which made the whole thing so deeply unpleasant

So we stopped going. Not from racing altogether, just Cheltenham — the specific issue was the size of the crowd, which made the whole thing so deeply unpleasant. (However bad Cheltenham is, Royal Ascot is ten times worse. At least the Cheltenham crowd professes some interest in racing.)

Now, however, I think I am done with going racing, altogether. Maybe it’s being 57 and being increasingly unwilling to put up with things that make life less comfortable than it needs to be. Or maybe it’s racing’s fault.

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