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|Racing For Change's decimal plan signals end to the sport's old
A point to bear
in mind when considering the first proposals from Racing For Change is that
these are not, on the whole, designed with the sport's current audience in
mind. If a certain idea also improves the racegoing or betting experience for
long-standing fans, that is a bonus. The primary aim, though, is to recruit
some new ones, and young ones in particular.
The idea of a racing club for "younger adults",
offering a free introduction both to racing and ownership, is a very good one,
although it is a pity that, for political reasons, the minimum age for
membership has been set at 18 rather than 16. The concern is that RFC will be
accused of encouraging under-aged gambling, though since the Government is
already happy to sell lottery tickets to 16-year-olds, it should not be a
difficult charge to answer.
Other proposals seem likely to be either
positive or, in many cases, largely neutral in their effect on committed racing
fans. The scheme to put money aside to give trainers and jockeys media training
and then, presumably, push them aggressively to the mainstream media is a
perfectly reasonable one, but anyone who takes their news from the Racing Post
and their television coverage from Racing UK and the Attheraces channel is
unlikely to notice the difference.
The on-course betting market, meanwhile, is
already stagnating. The plan by the RFC, which was set up by the British
Horseracing Board, to compel racecourse bookies to stop betting to unreasonable
each-way terms is long overdue, but so much so in all probability that any
improvement will be negligible.
The one obvious exception, though, is
the plan to trial the use of odds, including starting prices, in a decimal
format over a weekend in the spring.
The possibility that fractional
odds, a relic of the days of pounds, shillings and pence, might eventually go
the same way as the old currency itself will concern many punters. When you
immerse yourself in racing, one of the first things you do is to learn to count
in a whole new way: evens, 11-10, 6-5, 5-4, 11-8 and so on. Some backers still
ask to "bet the fractions" at the track, to get 100-8, for instance, instead of
12-1, or 100-6 instead of 16-1.
Yet it is now nearly 40 years since
shillings went the way of guineas, and these kind of odds mean little or
nothing to the average 18-year-old. Even if they are unable work out £15
at 2.85 in their heads, they will have a mobile telephone with a calculator
that can do the job for them with a minimum of fuss. When faced with £15
at 15-8, on the other hand, which is roughly the same thing, they might not
know where to start.
It may be just for a weekend, but any move towards
greater use of decimal odds will not sit well with traditional backers, who
will see it, probably with good reason, as the thin end of the wedge. I, for
one, will share their pain. Understanding fractions makes you feel like part of
But this, of course, is also part of the problem. One
person's initiation ceremony is another's barrier to entry, and with so much
competition in the leisure market, new fans need to be tempted in as painlessly
as possible. If the drive to recruit a new generation of punters from the 18-24
age group will benefit from a general switch to decimal odds, then it is
something that the rest of us may just have to swallow.
have set an example (of sorts). When 48-hour declarations for Flat races were
introduced in 2006, the cries of anguish were long and loud, not least in North
Yorkshire, where the leading trainer Mark Johnston did a fair impression of a
firebrand preacher, convinced that the end of the world was nigh.
years later, racing is still here, and punters and racegoers have the
considerable bonus of knowing what will be running where, a full 24 hours
earlier than they did before.
Change often seems unpleasant and, from a
selfish point of view, unnecessary. But the prospect is generally a lot worse
than the reality, and may well have wider benefits that outweigh the negatives.
Fractional odds are part of the fabric of racing, but the time may now be right
to consider the alternative.