Is the home page where the heart is for racecourses?
Robin Gibson surveys the displays in racing's digital shop windows
You come across some rum stuff on the internet. One minute you're searching for the best hi-fi cable, the next you're reading about some vile scheme from Amazon to have everyone's home kitted out with listening devices. The homes will be kitted out voluntarily by the listenees, at their own expense.
It's hard to say if the architects of this virtual prison have much in common with the marketing department at Newbury. But the abandoned attempt to rebrand as The Racecourse Newbury stemmed from a similar assumption that the public would accept an imposed version of modernity. Mind you, Newbury gave up.
You can't keep a bad idea down, though, and during the weekly Surf & Turf examination of the home page of every racecourse in Britain and Ireland (okay, not weekly, just a one-off), The Racecourse Beverley emerged. Yes! Really. There it is. On Google. The Racecourse Beverley. Did no-one tell them?
To be fair, it stops with the name, and Beverley doesn't mention its 'heartspace' or any of that nonsense. And Beverley's home page devotes itself 100 per cent to racing, which was the point of the survey.
The sport's brush with Altamont-style mayhem, generated at Lingfield by a mix of lubricated and frustratedly unlubricated Craig David devotees, didn't, thankfully, include any deaths, but it kicked off debate about the commercial imperative for racecourses to host non-racing events.
The imperative hit a nadir a few years ago when Newmarket's home page was just a huge picture of Van Morrison. Concert mania had struck. The Ayr website looked like a Human League visitor centre.
Racecourse concerts have tuned down for the winter but it is interesting to see how tracks promote themselves.
For concerts, now read beer (mainly Oktoberfest, whose days Brexit must number) and Christmas. Neither disagreeable, yet not the core product. Lots of racecourses partially bill themselves as party venues and conference centres.
Take Haydock. On Thursday its home page was 25 per cent beer, 25 per cent racing, 25 per cent conference venue and 25 per cent Christmas party. Three huge beer taps – plugging Saturday's 'Real Ale Day' – were the main image. Real Ale Day (now featuring the 32Red Gold Cup). You could call that clever design, or you could call it a lack of confidence in racing without beer.
Newmarket was promoting its Three Day Beer Festival all week on its home page. Beer fans clicking through would have found a pesky Cambridgeshire meeting tacked on to the event. On the plus side, the rest was pure racing and there was no sign of Van Morrison.
Chelmsford is 20 per cent 'Heart Essex DJ' (on inspection, drivetime's Matt Mackay, who must be concerned about his profile), 20 per cent Oktoberfest with the Amazing Bavarian Stompers, 20 per cent UB40 (been and gone) and 40 per cent racing (sort of – development plans and a catering award).
Lingfield, where the imperative begat appalling scenes as the beer taps ran dry, the toilets ran short and zombie-like Craig David fans surfed insensibly home on a "tide of filth", does do racing – but also concerts, weddings, meetings, golf and hotels.
With one of the better slogans of its type, the Lingfield Park Resort (that's what it is) is now where "the finishing post is just the beginning". Phew. This is reality. I love Lingfield. It's a great track any time of the year, compact and friendly, with great views and facilities. But the provision of extra-curricular stuff has ballooned from a car-boot-style, moneyspinning sideline into the insurer of meaningful life.
Some home pages are close to surreal. Newcastle is 25 per cent racing, 25 per cent 'Stampede' (an obstacle race in mud), 25 per cent fireworks and 25 per cent 'Nightmare at the Racecourse', which sounds like they might be having Craig David but is just a 'spooky' evening on the all-weather.
At Southwell it is hard to make out the racing. It's just a mild undercurrent for Oktoberfest, Christmas, Seasons restaurant and Gentlemen's Day (striking a much-needed blow for the chaps).
Towcester is 20 per cent racing, 20 per cent dog racing, 20 per cent Christmas, 20 per cent restaurants and 20 per cent conferences. But the racing is free – one way to turn the imperative on its head.
On the heartening side, the majority opt for 100 per cent racing, with only justifiable ancillary services.
In Ireland things are much better. Virtually every home page is focused on racing. Perhaps racing is easier to sell in Ireland. Perhaps the racing is enough to satisfy the imperative. Who knows?
Limerick does devote a chunk to Ultimate Weddings Live! – which sounds like another nightmare but is just some kind of planning seminar – and tries to distinguish itself with 'different racing', 'different food' and 'different style', but on the whole sites in Ireland are single-minded. 'The boys are back in town' bellows Punchestown. Now that's a slogan about racing to get you excited.
One track that knows how to combine the imperative with the sport is Ascot. Its long drive to attract overseas runners has provided some superb international competition and the latest target is Winx.
After the Post's 'We Want Winx' front page, I thought that might make a good hashtag. #wewantwinx. Get a bit of good-natured clamour going. Push some of the bile and sarcasm out of Twitter.
#wewantwinx, though, is not in use. And even if it was, it would be colonised by enthusiasts for Bloom the Earth girl and fairies Stella, Flora, Musa, Layla and Tecna. We might live on planet football but there's no planet racing – a Google of 'Winx' reveals an alternative animated universe, Winx Club. It's broadcast in more than 130 countries and it's claimed the knowledge panel (that box at the side). Unlikely we'll be able to correct that any time soon.
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