Horse racing’s spring hopes

22 Feb 08,James Ewart Racing,Craig,Langholm.'Feature Fiona Scott ,South Reporter.'Pic.Angus McDougal,Photo,Dfs. 07 850 790 251

22 Feb 08,James Ewart Racing,Craig,Langholm.'Feature Fiona Scott ,South Reporter.'Pic.Angus McDougal,Photo,Dfs. 07 850 790 251

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HORSE racing across the north of England is emerging from the winter weather having suffered race cancellations, falling income and, according to Langholm trainer James Ewart, as a seemingly secondary consideration to horse racing in the south.

Due to the bad weather, it has been 10 weeks since a major race day was held in the north, let alone in the Borders.

Kelso Racecourse lost its £40,000 prize Scottish Borders National Day, along with three other meetings, and financial contributions from the Levy Board have dramatically fallen.

Mr Ewart, based at Westerkirk, blames an inherent geographical divide.

He told us: “It’s time we stopped pretending that there isn’t a north-south divide because there is, and maybe the time has come to look at producing separate racing calendars for the north and south.”

As reported in TheSouthern last week, the popularity of online betting, combined with some bookmakers moving abroad for tax reasons, has seen a decrease in the revenues of the Levy Board. This, in turn, means that the Levy Board distributes less money amongst racecourses.

Mr Ewart added: “The most frustrating thing is that there is no joined-up thinking. You ring up the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) and you get the race-planners, but they blame the racecourses and the Levy Board, so you ring the racecourses, but they blame the BHA and you just go round in circles.”

Mr Ewart suggested a pragmatic approach: “Why can’t a meeting which features a big race like the Sky Bet Chase just be put back by 24 or 48 hours, like they do in Ireland? Often, that is enough time for the weather to change.”

Whether this suggestion would be suitable or not, changes do need to be made so that smaller racecourses in the south and north can flourish in the future.

Big southern venues have the necessary size and influence to withstand a difficult winter, but unique racecourses like Kelso are financially vulnerable through turbulent times and this is compounded by a perceived southern focus.

Kelso Racecourse is hoping for better fortunes in 2011 and has a busy forthcoming schedule, starting with Morebattle Hurdle Day on February 17.