Championship Horse Racing – Great Idea Or Non-Runner?

Newmarket-based trainer John Gosden

For those yet to hear the news, we have another innovation in the wonderful world of horse racing to look into and it goes by the acronym of CHR – or Championship Horse Racing for those who want to know more. It does start with a pretty impressive website which will garner plenty of attention (all moody and black and white), but we decided to dig a little deeper via a long (and informative) conversation with Chief Executive Jeremy Wray, who could not have been any more positive or helpful.

Firstly I have to confess – novelty racing is not something I am generally in favour of (its worked as it is for 300 years so why change it), so I started with a negative opinion. I still think using the word Championship for a list of handicap races isn’t correct, but I have now had the reasoning behind the whole thing explained to me in better detail and I can now see that it MAY be a change for the good for once.

Despite a very long conversation with the man in the know, the finer details are still to be ironed out but there will be a total of 48 handicaps raced on Thursdays with £100,000 or more in prize money per race and equally split over three disciplines that we shall call short medium and long with the actual distances to be agreed. They have to be handicaps to avoid upsetting the Pattern system so that answered and they will be run at what are being described as Group One tracks, so top-class facilities all round then.

There will be 12 teams, each sponsored by a “household name” for want of a better term (no details as yet I’m afraid), and each with a “stable” of 30 horses that can be played in a “Fantasy league” style for those interested in that sort of thing. The teams will be known before this all kicks off next year and can be split in whatever way the Team managers/Sponsors see fit – one stable or more, one geographical area or length and breadth of the Country (minimum of 5 horses per trainer) and so on, with the horses actual owners more than adequately compensated by the boosted prize money.

Each team will have 4 nominated jockeys that cannot be changed (I’m thinking they will build something in regarding injury or suspension but that wasn’t mentioned), who will ride in the team colours for the evening making it crystal clear who is who for the racing newbies, and no doubt matching the marketing material that will be everywhere. This should ensure that racecards are easy to read, making the sport more open to those who tend to only attend music nights or perhaps the Shergar Cup. This will include pit-lane style areas where fans can meet the trainers and jockeys between races – after all, there will be no need to change silks between contests for a change. One other thing worth mentioning at this point for us punters is that with one horse and jockey per team per race, the worry of team tactics a la Shergar Cup goes out of the window, making it a normal race from a “finding the winner” perspective.

On to the biggest change and for most of us the largest issue by far is the concept that racing is not ALL about the betting. That had me scratching my head at first but there are plenty of potential sponsors out there who cannot or will not get involved in a gambling-based opportunity. I am making this part up but I can imagine the likes of Disney, Coca-Cola and McDonalds would not be interested, while others remain wary of heavy involvement for religious or moral reasons. For that reason alone there is a possibility that betting and odds will not even be mentioned on the television coverage before during or after the race, but the bookmakers have still taken this to their hearts with all sorts of other betting opportunities via jockeys, points, spread betting, team betting etc, and we all know we can still look for winners and get a bet on if we want to. I suspect television rights were also an issue with some of the World’s largest populations gambling wary, but if odds are removed from the equation then they have a far better chance of selling the coverage to the likes of China, India, Dubai, Malaysia, and so on, and if that encourages big brand sponsorship income then they have a valid point! In conclusion, this may just be something we all learn to live with, and I honestly wish them the best of luck as racing looks to find alternative income to sustain us over the years ahead.

by Sean Trivass

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