A theme common to all sports these days is optimising promotional opportunities through the deeds of its stars. David Beckham is a classic case in point. Not only does he promote football globally, often through charitable outlets, but his involvement with the bidding team was seen as a key lever in London securing the Olympic Games.
The stars of any sport have magnetic public appeal. In racing, the positive effect a headline act can have was illustrated by widespread media acclaim for Tony McCoy’s 4,000th jumps winner. That level of interest is all too often reserved for racing’s aficionados.
McCoy’s remarkable achievement aside, racing has been slow to maximise such opportunity.
Jockeys are, by and large, the public face of racing. Their daily appearance in racing silks makes their profession instantly recognisable, albeit that only the most successful are recognised individually.
Only the very best of them win the annual jockeys’ championship. The same is true of trainers, yet racing is missing a valuable trick in not making more of annual accolades bestowed on them. As for owners, hands up who knows how and when our owners’ championships currently are framed?
It makes little sense to have two codes without their own distinct perimeters, much less separate Flat and Flat all-weather championships
Jump racing now has an effective platform for its champions at Sandown’s Saturday fixture on April 26, which brings the season to a close. Yet two unsatisfactory aspects immediately kick in. Its next title races commence almost straight away at Cheltenham on April 30 – itself just three days before the Guineas meeting at Newmarket, which heralds the start of the core Flat season.
By that time, the Flat jockeys’ championship will have been under way for more than four weeks after its inauguration on Lincoln day at Doncaster. And if this is already beginning to sound confusing, one might ask ‘who’ is in charge of all of this? Indeed, is anyone in charge?
Just as the jumps season closes on the last Saturday in April, the first Saturday in May is a natural starting point for a core Flat season – and with it the start of the Flat owners’, trainers’ and jockeys’ championships. It should signify a passing of the baton from one code to the other, in the process bringing clarity to what is a haphazard handover to the untutored eye.
Equally, the Flat owners’, trainers’ and jockeys’ championships have a natural conclusion on British Champions’ Day at Ascot in October, when the leaders in each category are almost certain to be on hand. That glamorous occasion is the perfect stage for presenting them with their trophies. The Flat all-weather championships would also sit perfectly within this framework, since that discipline has its own natural climax at the newly-instituted Championships Finals Day at Lingfield on April 18.
Furthermore, an opportunity to announce the start of the jumps championships would arise from closing the Flat season at Ascot. This passing back of the baton could take place the following Saturday at Aintree’s Old Roan Chase meeting.
Indeed, it can’t be beyond the fixture list compilers to delay Cheltenham’s start to its season by seven days so that, rather than a ludicrous clash with British Champions’ Day, the core jumps season opened to fanfare with a double-header from Prestbury Park and Aintree.
Although this will no doubt involve some fixture swapping by racecourses, the time has come for racing to recognise a greater good and pull harmoniously in that direction. The Racehorse Owners Association is certainly ready to play a forward role towards this end.
Establishing core seasons, when the sport is at its best, provides the ideal platform for racing to salute the best of its human players. It makes little sense to have two codes without their own distinct perimeters, much less separate Flat and Flat all-weather championships.
A clearer, simpler and rational template, for the benefit of racing as a whole, would add resonance to accolades that are not properly celebrated. Valuable promotional opportunities are being squandered.