Be Bold & Target The Old

The recent whip debacle has provided further proof, if any were needed, that the BHA leadership could not organise sexual congress in a brothel with £50 notes strapped to their generative members.

The latest disaster is a recent reduction in the number of permissible strikes of the whip, an issue which has hitherto not been identified as a problem and which has inevitably caused widespread consternation amongst jockeys. The whip, according to the BHA, is a symbol of everything that is unpalatable to the general public. ‘If only use of the whip could be eliminated’ ponders racing’s leaders, then droves of new racegoers will come pouring through the gates of racecourses. A picture of Rachael Blackmore waving her whip in a poster advertising the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival has been duly sanitised to remove the offending implement from public gaze. The result resembles something not dissimilar to her giving hand relief to an invisible Robert Pershing Wadlow.

Racing is a sport that has zero confidence in its product. Its leaders have no understanding or love for the game. It is presided over by professional administrators – people who produce nothing and are accountable to no one. Its leader refuses to be interviewed by the mainstream racing press despite repeated opportunities to do so. She looks and behaves like someone who would be more at home serving jam roly-poly to infant school children. The old Jockey Club had many faults, but their inherent privilege and wealth ensured that they had no interest in the furtherance of their careers. Their role was as custodians of this great sport – their mission to ensure that the next generation inherited an industry in a better state than the previous incumbents. These new administrators are simply interested in their next career move. You can imagine Ms Harrington’s updated CV with its florid references to leading ‘British Horseracing through the most challenging time in its long history’ when the time comes to seek a new position.

Make no bones about it, those charged with marketing the sport faces a task of unprecedented difficulty. The declining economy and plethora of other activities competing for the leisure pound both serve to underline that a more innovative and imagination approach is essential. Understandably, the BHA have decided to target a new generation of fans with ex-footballers and reality stars being co-opted to appeal to this new demographic with minimal success. The whip campaign is an integral part of this activity. Young people, we are told, will not attend race meetings because the whip is an unpalatable aspect of the sport. Talking heads such as Bruce Millington claim that young people have confirmed this view to him. Whilst I do not doubt this anecdotal evidence, I doubt that removal of the whip will cause them to become diehard fans. 

This is racing’s problem in a nutshell – it is trying to appeal to people who will never have any interest in the sport and worst of all, it is pandering to those who want to see the sport abolished. Like the anti-gambling lobby and its obsession with social harm, the likes of PETA have no interest in animal welfare – their agenda is to eradicate horse racing. Whatever concessions are made to these groups, it will never be enough until the sport is no more. An industry that is confident in its product would never countenance such nonsense. But as we have seen, our leaders have no belief in the core product.

The obsession with youth and the next generation is a strategic cul-de-sac. Racing has always been a sport for older people. Just look at the winner’s enclosure whenever a syndicate horse has competed and what do you see? Middle aged and retired people. Those of us who were bitten by the bug at an early age can remember us being practically the only young people amongst crowds of older attendees. People find their way into this sport later in life. When you are young, the demands of career and family make it difficult to attend the races. When you are retired or are middle aged with a degree of autonomy in your job, you have both the time and money to participate. Young people have neither.

So, if racing wants a quick bang for its marketing buck, it would be better served by targeting the ‘grey pound’. It should be advertising aggressively in SAGA literature, the RHS, the National Trust and everywhere where older people tend to congregate. It should look to form partnerships with these bodies armed with highly competent sales staff and media campaigns. The young people will follow in due course. But if racing is to continue and even flourish, old people are the future.

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