10 things UK racecourses could learn from Santa Anita

It’s interesting to see that Kempton are going to encourage racegoers to wave placards with the number 4 on them if Kauto Star wins the King George on Boxing Day. This innovation echoes the numerous Zenayatta and Girl Power placards that I saw at the Breeders Cup last month. It certainly helped build up the atmosphere at Santa Anita so it will be interesting to see how it works at Kempton and whether people wave them before and during the race. Perhaps people will make and bring their own?

I think it’s a fantastic idea although I do understand Paul Nicholls concern expressed in yesterday’s Racing Post about spooking a horse. I think if people are sensible though it would be fine. Whilst I applaud the idea I think it could be a while before we see a Cheltenham Annual Member waving a ‘Go Kauto’ banner but ‘racing’ has to innovate and adapt. This is a great example of an idea that will appeal to younger racegoers, particularly those who attend cricket and football. Below are nine other ideas that we could use. It’s a bit of a wish list, in that some of the ideas and actions would require considerable investment but the majority are simple, cheap and very achievable.

Reduce ticket prices – £6($10) to attend the world’s richest sports event and £50($86) for equivalent tickets (Tatts) for Gold Cup day. Over 8 times as much! A different racing economy I know but prices need to come down. Towcester are leading the way by offering free admission so it can be done. Other ideas would be to provide free betting (or food and drink) vouchers with tickets like Newbury are doing on Tuesday 29 Dec.

Reduce drink prices – drink in racecourse bars such as Cheltenham are too expensive. £3.80 for a pint is just wrong. I haven’t included food as I’ve given up eating at racecourses due to costs and queuing a long time ago, so have no ideas of current costs although I still see the queues.

Free and surfaced car parks – charging for parking is irritating at best and is another reason no to go racing at worse. At the Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot, King George at Kempton and Hennessy Gold Cup I have to park in a field and am charged for this. The first two are world class sporting events – not acceptable in the 21st century.

Free transport from train and bus stations – free comfortable buses were laid on to and from the nearest train station to Santa Anita. At the Cheltenham Boylesports meeting punters getting off trains had to wait around 30 mins for a £7 taxi to the course.

Very large numbers on cloths – such a simple idea to have the American style very large numbers to help racegoers (and the commentator) identify the horses. I doubt if there is much or any additional cost so why don’t they do this? A no brainer.

Better access to horses and jockeys – Racecourses are generally structured so that horses and jockeys are kept at arms length from the crowds. Obviously there are safety issues with the horses but at the Breeders Cup you could talk to and take photos of jockeys quite easily and get to within 4 feet of a horse on it’s way to post…and it was busy. Edward Gillespie was recently quoted as saying his best improvement to Cheltenham was the walkway in front of the stands. The crowds love to see the horses and jockeys walk back after the races and celebrate the winner. More of this please.

More place to sit down – Despite being young(ish) and fit it’s relaxing to be able to take the weight of your feet and read the paper or have a coffee during racing and yet it can be so difficult to find anywhere to sit down. It’s great to see that Cheltenham have made improvements in this area this season with loads more benches around. Such an easy thing to do – other courses please take note.

Audible racecourse commentary – How many times have you wanted to watch a race on TV and there is no commentary or even worse a different commentary? This isn’t just a racecourse thing but a bookies one too. It’s rare to find a TV in a bar or at totesport outlet or even on course betting shop with a commentary or one you can actually hear. Again, such an easy thing to fix that would improve the racegoers experience.

Feature race at end of card – Why do we have the feature race in the middle of the racecard? Perhaps it’s for TV scheduling reasons but like the Breeeders’ Cup it should be the last race on the card. The atmosphere before the Breeders’ Cup Classic was explosive as throughout the card it had been fizzing away with people talking about who was going to win, and yes there were Zenyatta banners everywhere. The best race should be the Grand Finale, the climax of the meeting with the other races building up to it. People sloping off after the Cheltenham Gold Cup does not help the atmosphere. The Festival has a fantastic atmosphere but it could be better. This simple step would help all meetings not just the big ones.

Santa Anita gets the above right. Added together they make a real difference to the racing experience. Let’s hope that Racing for Change (Racing Enterprises Ltd) are considering these ideas in their proposals and if not I hope they are reading this. Please comment on these ideas and feel free to add your own suggestions below.