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Middleham Stables Open Day under threat following Good Friday racing move
AN agreement to allow racing on Good Friday could spell the end for the Middleham Stables Open Day, organisers fear.
Chiefs behind the popular annual event, which sees thousands of racing fans descend on the town to look behind the doors of its stables, have admitted they will need to decide whether it is viable to hold it next year.
Following the British Horseracing Authority’s decision to approve Good Friday racing in principle on April 18, Lesley Sweeting, a key organiser of the open day at Middleham’s Key Centre, said there was now doubt as to whether it would continue.
Leading trainers in Middleham have blasted the BHA’s decision – arguing it further impinges on leisure time for staff and hinders attempts to bring new owners into the sport.
While the open day sees thousands of racing enthusiasts admiring Middleham’s racing stars, it also provides a show window for yards to sell shares and ownership options to the public.
It has not yet been announced which courses will race on Good Friday and the fixture list for 2014 has been delayed until next week as courses are given more time to sign prize money agreements with the Horsemen’s Group.
But it is well known that Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, is among the courses very keen to stage a fixture and Sweeting, chair of the director trustees at the Key Centre, says the Good Friday deal will have a huge impact on the open day.
“If racing is allowed on Good Friday, it doesn’t take away an open day altogether. You could have one. But people would come to see stables that are half empty,” she said.
“The people who put the energy into it would not be here. Most of our events are staged in the morning because trainers are racing the next day.
“A lot of trainers get up very early to accommodate the open day and still are able to support racing on the Saturday.
“We are one of the smaller open days in terms of the number of people who help, who are all volunteers. To us, it is one of the key events of the year. It is very cost effective and this will affect the decision as to whether we go ahead next year.
“It’s a decision we will have to take going forward. We will wait for the final decision (from the BHA). We will have to sit down with representatives of the trainers’ association, the organising committee and some of our beneficiaries and see whether it is worth going ahead.”
Trainer Ann Duffield, pictured above, whose Sun Hill Farm yard in Constable Burton is a popular venue for racing fans on the open day, said “no one really wanted Good Friday racing”.
“It’s only really the bookmakers and the racecourses,” she said. “Everyone was against it. There’s only three days in the entire year where there is no racing and Good Friday is very important for racing’s public relations machine.
“It’s great for our business. Although you would say there is no reason why the open day couldn’t continue, it’s not that simple.
“It’s very hard to cope with sending runners to the races and having the open day. There aren’t enough staff to go around. Smaller trainers have to box up and lead their runners out themselves at the races but they are also the face of their yard.
“You can’t be in two places at once. We would gain between three and six new owners every year at the open day.
“They may not be owners of whole horses but they are people who might buy shares. We would normally sell £30,000 of shares on the day. That may not happen now. It will be very disadvantageous to trainers.”
“We will be racing on Christmas Day next,” said trainer John Weymes from his Ashgill Stables base in Leyburn.
“Myself and other stables are against Good Friday racing for a number of reasons. Time off is very precious to staff and, obviously, it also gives us the chance to be involved 100 per cent in the open day.
“I have a belief that the BHA hierarchy does not realise how hard the smaller trainers work. It is an extra day on top of a very busy schedule. Whether it will affect the open day depends on the schedule that is published.”
Pat Holmes, who uprooted his Foulrice Racing business from Brandsby to Little Spigot in Leyburn, said the open day was “special” for the whole Middleham area.
He continued: “It is something that should be left alone for the time being. It has been very successful over the years. I think it is sad that they have even contemplated racing on Good Friday.”
But Rod Street, chief executive of Great British Racing, the organisation charged with promoting the sport, argues that racing on Good Friday could be beneficial to the open day.
“We have long been advocates of making the sport more customer-focused and these new initiatives are progressive,” he said.
“Good Friday will deliver significant new revenues and give our many different customers a compelling reason to participate on an important leisure day.
“A well co-ordinated national promotion of Good Friday fixtures will ensure it is a special racing day.
“It also provides the opportunity to give more exposure to the excellent stable open days as part of a broader publicity campaign.
“We support the BHA in placing minimum performance criteria against the Good Friday fixtures they award, which will promote good quality racing and customer-led marketing initiatives.”
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