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8th June 2023
A Guest Blogger.. Sarah Wenden..
Dear Mr Bailey,
This was an interesting article by Neil Channing, much of which I agree with. I think what he was saying is that racing could die partly because most people have no engagement with it at all, and partly because animal welfare could become a hot political issue, and racehorse welfare lumped in with that.
Here are my thoughts:
There will always be people who are cruel to animals and exploit them. As you have pointed out, the horses you feel sorry for are the neglected or abandoned. Some low grade neglect, through ignorance, callousness or lack of sufficient funds, is to be found in nearly every livery yard.
Cruelty on a massive, industrialised scale is to be found in factory farming, and surely that is where animal lovers should concentrate their protests.
By contrast, racehorses generally have a better life, and great strides have been made to give them good lives after racing.
Climate change is the biggest threat to racing (where is the hay going to come from?) as it is to all of us. It’s the very scary elephant in the room few people (except Mr Bass?) want to talk about, even if they acknowledge it.
The increased commercialisation of racing damages its popularity.
I am an animal lover, horse lover and have ridden since a child. Forty years ago, by chance I went to my first race meeting, at Newbury in the summer, but it was jumps racing that really thrilled me and my husband, and we regularly had a day out at every jumps meeting at Cheltenham, barring the festival. We had small bets with the on- course bookies, which added to the interest, and often paid for our day. I loved the good-humoured banter of the bookies, the whole atmosphere of all kinds people enjoying a day out, including children, spending the day outside. But the stars were the horses, their eagerness as they emerged onto the course, and one could follow one’s favourites from year to year.
the first time this last season, in about 30 years, we did not go to Cheltenham at all. Petty rules and inflated prices at the course made us feel unwelcome. We are not allowed to bring food in, but there are no reasonable alternatives at the racecourse. We spend the time watching the horses, and don’t want to be sitting in an expensive restaurant missing the action. Neither do we want greasy chips at inflated prices. Good quality sandwiches that we can eat “on the hoof” are not on offer. (Ludlow(which we have enjoyed visiting thanks to your recommendation) and Ascot, are much more welcoming.
The decline of on course bookies, due to on-line betting and to pitches unaffordable for the smaller bookies, takes away some of the fun atmosphere.
The same goes for the shopping village, where one used to be able to buy good quality clothes, gifts etc, but now only caters for the super-rich.
Much as I admire the passion, skill and commitment of Nichols and Henderson, the increasing dominance of both codes of racing by the big yards has made it less interesting to follow, and less interesting from the casual punter’s point of view because there is less competition. It becomes boring that Mullins dominates the Festival.
Racing is top-heavy, and seems to be increasingly run for the benefit of the big firms of book-makers. The origins, the grass-roots (is your horse faster than mine?) are being forgotten. I don’t think premier racing is going to help.
However I am an avid follower of your blog, and I think your latest film about life at the yard is a brilliant advertisement for racing, and should tempt anyone looking to work with horses