By Michael Briton
The leisure industry is jammed packed with things do so competition is fierce, so how does UK Horse Racing attract its crowds?
With three of the greatest horse racing events on the planet, Royal Ascot (Flat) week, Epsom Derby weekend (Flat) and the extraordinary jumps racing Cheltenham Festival, the sport of horse racing can boast they've established some of the best-attended annual UK sporting events within the United Kingdom.
Supporting these three meetings there are also some tremendous racing festivals such as Goodwood (Flat), York Ebor week (Flat), The Aintree Grand National (Jumps) and the Doncaster St Leger (Flat). Currently, with 59 racecourses in the United Kingdom, this ensures horse racing remains one of the UK's most popular spectator sports.
So is a day at the races a good value day out? Well, most meetings consist of 6 or 7 races which are usually run over a variety of distances and grades. There are two types of racing, flat and jumps where horses have to jump over fences in order to complete the course. The number of horses in each race can vary greatly due to the safety regulations at a particular course or the set conditions of the race, E.g. The Grand National jumps race only allows for a maximum of 40 runners.
Once you arrive at the track race cards are available which includes all the information you need about the racecourse facilities and upcoming races to enjoy your day. Also, inside and outside the racecourse you'll find on sale the Racing Post newspaper a publication totally dedicated to horse racing which contains all the previous running form of each horse running in every race that day.
The start time of a meeting can also vary greatly as it depends on the time of year and whether it is an evening meeting under the floodlights. From March to October the typical starting time is around 2pm, but from November to February the starting time is around 12.00 midday. Over the last 20 years, there's been a sharp rise in the number of evening meetings, usually starting around 6pm, in order to hook into and capture the after work crowd who otherwise may find another sporting event to attend such as the ever increasing in popularity 20/20 evening cricket matches.
Inside each course your guaranteed to find a bar, coffee shop, restaurant and a betting shop, of course, there's a massive difference in standards of facilities from course-to-course, but each course does have its own unique, if not quirky, idea of good facilities. There are of course several race courses across the country who's facilities are in serious need of an upgrade and I'm sure if the investment doesn't come quickly or they come up with an innovative idea like Towcester, they are likely to close sooner rather than later.
On the issue of entrance fees to the racecourse, to be honest, I am mystified at some of the recent entrance prices rise made at several courses across the UK. Incredibly, Towcester Racecourse, for quite some time now, offers FREE entry to racegoers. Towcester was on the brink of closure but was brave enough to take the plunge of letting racegoers in for free and thankfully it has clearly paid off judging by the large increase in attendance figures.
Surely, after this success, others would follow? Well, it appears not! In fact, I'm absolutely shocked at the recent prices rises I've noticed at several of the leading tracks and others to boot. I know several regular racegoers who've now decided not to bother to support their local race courses by sitting in front of their TVs and using their fingers to place a bet. In my opinion, more and more racegoers are being priced out of attending race meetings and I simply cannot understand the logic behind the price rises and why racing is terrified of the concept of letting people into courses for free.
Once you're inside the racecourse one of the most exciting parts of being at the races is having a bet on a horse and trying to win some money! There're a couple of ways to do this, place a bet with an on-course bookmaker, you cannot miss them they're usual right in front of the main stands and there's usually lots of them as bookmaking is usually a profitable business to be in, bookmakers will gladly take any size of the bet. Then there's the Tote, you'll find the Tote kiosks in various locations around the racecourse, the minimum amount you can place on a horse to win is £2.
Deciding which horse to put your money on is quite a challenge as trying to work out which horse will win the race is rather challenging for the average racegoer, so I suggest your starting point in choosing your horse to bet on is the expert's opinions written in the Racing Post or listening to one of the on-line radio stations E.g. William Hill racing radio. Trust me, if you cannot understand or don't have the time to read all the form lines of each horse, then take the free specialist advice that is given, and remember only bet what you can afford.
A day at the races offers something for everyone. You can dress-up or dress down it doesn't really matter as going to the races is a fun day out and there's always a buzzing atmosphere. Having visited over 50% of the races courses in the UK, and been a special guest at many, I can confidently say the best two courses I've visited are Goodwood (Flat) and Cheltenham (Jumps).
My recent visit to Goodwood was absolutely outstanding. From the moment I first contacted the course to arrange my visit, everything was superbly organised. The staff are so friendly, the food was delicious and the facilities are delightful. I would certainly recommend a visit to this top class venue if you're ever in the south of England.
Despite the issue of overpriced entrance fees to race course nothing beats a day out at the races; watching the horses' pound down the course and fly past on their way to the finish line gets hearts racing and is truly thrilling. Horse racing is the fantastic day out, win or lose, a day out at the races is guaranteed to be a great day out.