Weblog: Betting Shop Manager of the Year
My shop in shock over racecourse closures
AFTER seeing that stunning Olympic opening ceremony on Friday night you would think there would be only one place to start the blog this week, but even that £27 million extravaganza could not prove to be an adequate enough place for Northern Racing and Arena Leisure to bury their bad news.
Friday brought the bombshell announcement that Hereford and Folkestone racecourses would be closing at the end of this year.
"Stand by for some big news from the world of horseracing," was the message on SIS in the betting shops as the morning greyhounds were about to get underway. The tone meant the punters who were in and had bet on the race were distracted enough to show little interest in the dogs they had just put some of their hard-earned on. When news of the closures was revealed there were gasps and looks of shock and disbelief. Great Leighs apart, these will be the first tracks to close in over 30 years and it is an indication of how tough things are out there.
I have great sympathy for all the people who will inevitably find themselves out of work and for the locals at both venues who will have enjoyed many great days out at the two courses. We have Kelso here on our doorstep (18 miles away), and while it does not boast the facilities of Meydan or the transformed Ascot, it does offer a superb day out with the emphasis on friendly service and fun. It does however have the lowest catchment area of all courses in Britain and I, like many others, found myself worrying about the future of our local course.
The announcement from the Reuben brothers that they have no intention of any further closures has therefore been very welcome, but my punters have been less convinced.
I had checked the Racing Post website to get up to speed with what was happening, but Lee, a regular, was the first to point out the updated news in the afternoon from Hereford council. It is conceivable that with only 17 years left of a lease and negotiations to extend that further failing that the Arena Group would be reluctant to provide the necessary investment to bring the ageing tracks facilities up to date. If all avenues had been explored and no solution found then it would be a commonsense decision, never mind a sound business choice.
As Lee said though, how could all possibilities have been discussed if Hereford council were hearing of the closure for the first time on Friday, a full two hours after the announcement had been made to the public?
Nick Luck managed to get Lord [Michael] Howard, chairman of Northern Racing, on the phone during Saturday's Morning Line and asked which party was being "disingenuous". I think everyone who watched will have made their own mind up, but it certainly hasn't eased my worries that this could be the start of a domino effect when it comes to racecourse closures.
I was very surprised by how apathetic many people were to the closures. The fixtures have been re-allocated to other Northern tracks who have promised better prize-money for those races so that is the silver lining being painted onto this dark cloud for racing. It also seems like a very topical response given the boycott from a couple of weeks ago and, as Dave - another regular - pointed out also sounded very much like a politician's answer. I gather petitions are already being organised to support the continuation of racing at both tracks and I'd urge those who disagree with the closures to make their voices heard because as things stand Hereford and Folkestone (albeit it is said temporarily) will be a thing of the past come the end of 2012.
On to the Olympics then and what a remarkable start we have witnessed. After the nasty experience in Selkirk with the torch relay I found it hard to get behind the 'corporate' Olympics, and at Hampden Park on Thursday the spectacle was further tarnished even before the opening ceremony when incredibly organisers displayed the South Korean flag beside the names and pictures of the North Korean ladies team. That would be insulting enough to most, but given the current climate could there be worse nations to have in a mix-up?
I feared that may be a taste of things to come but I have to say what an overwhelming success the opening ceremony was on Friday night. In these tough economic times £27 million sounds like an enormous amount of money to be spending but as Scott pointed out in the shop, it was £8 million less than Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll so all of a sudden seems like great value for money!
Her Majesty the Queen played a blinder, becoming a Bond girl and the scene when she pretended to parachute into the stadium. While on the topic, I will be completing a parachute jump in aid of the Special Care Baby Unit at our local hospital on Saturday,September 8 in Perth and I hope my landing is as smooth as the Queen's appeared. All the usual jokes about doubling sponsorship if I do it without the parachute have been flying in and after Adam Scott's capitulation at the Open my co-manager Allan Fox had offered to join me, although when I said I could look into it for him he swiftly declined.
That part of the ceremony was eclipsed by the amazing scenes when seven of Great Britain's stars of the future lit the cauldron, made up of over 200 bronze petals that each nation had brought in with them during the march. The pictures that unfolded will hopefully do as planned and inspire a new generation, as well as our current crop who after a slow start seemed to be coming to terms with the pressures of competing in front of home support on Sunday.
Also on Sunday we witnessed the first competitive game for Rangers under Charles Green's stewardship, the BBC Alba cameras were at Glebe Park to see Brechin entertain Rangers in the Ramsden's Cup first round. The match went to extra time and Rangers just edged out their hosts with a Lee McCullouch header as the game appeared to be destined for penalties. The extra time seems so ironic, as the match was only played after the SFA gave Rangers a licence to play at the eleventh hour, and a temporary licence at that.
The Rangers debacle is a massive story in Scotland and should serve as a warning to clubs everywhere that there are no clubs too big to fail. Rangers have been banned from European football, having finished in a UEFA Champions League berth in the SPL last term, and as well as being deducted the mandatory ten points last season were expelled from the SPL after the clubs voted against allowing them continued membership. They were then the subject of further votes, on whether they could play in the Scottish Football League and which division they should start in. This seems bizarre to all football fans north of the border, Rangers fans happy to start from the bottom and other fans delirious at that prospect.
The vote meant the Gers would start life in Division 3 after all on condition of accepting further punishment, including a transfer embargo, giving the SPL media rights (even though Rangers were expelled from that body) and further sanctions at a later date should any of the three governing bodies for the one sport see fit. Unsurprisingly this has not been wholeheartedly embraced by Rangers and there is still the very real prospect of no football at Ibrox next season, hence the irony of the world's most successful club domestically being taken all the way to extra time by a very game and resilient Brechin side who will feel they deserved their chance of penalties after some heroic performances on the day.
There is a healthy split of in the shop, we have Rangers, Celtic, Dundee Utd, Hearts, Hibs, St Johnstone and a very vocal Aberdeen fan come in regularly so the banter is normally flowing. After the Rangers administration/liquidation saga there are a fair few who are now looking for jobs in accountancy such is their business knowledge so I think we are all agreed it's great to be talking about football fields rather than balance sheets now, roll on the new season north and south.
As mentioned before though Glorious Goodwood will in our shop eclipse anything that the Olympics can throw at us this week, and undoubtedly the highlight will be on Wednesday and Frankel in the Sussex Stakes.
In terms of a betting prospect it's not one that your average punter will be getting stuck into, but for racing's appeal Frankel is the story that will be mainstream news and for all the right reasons.
I for one can't wait. Have a brilliant week.