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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Jockeys set to lose out as 'racegoers' make sure they have a good time

All dressed up with somewhere to go: season ticket holders flocked to Ayr undeterred by the lack of racing
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Jockeys have been left hundreds of pounds out of pocket and mulling over requests for compensation after Ayr's three-day Western meeting was lost to waterlogging.

Ayr is already facing a loss likely to reach several hundred thousand pounds, with more than 12,000 spectators expected on Gold Cup day alone and grandstand tickets starting at £25.

The course salvaged something from the wreckage by opening the track to ticket-holders on Saturday, and plenty were determined not to let the occasion go to waste, donning their finery and heading to the track for a day of drinking, dining and punting – but no live racing.

The lack of racing was no bar to having a good day out

But while Ayr managed to recoup some of its substantial loss of income, Professional Jockeys Association chief executive Paul Struthers is not holding out much hope of his members recovering costs incurred over wasted travel and non-refundable accommodation as the course did not have insurance for the meeting.

He said: "We've had calls from a number of jockeys asking about recouping expenses, whether hotels, flights, trains or petrol, with cases of not being able to cancel bookings that incurred £500 to £700 costs.

"Hearing Ayr had no insurance against the loss of the meeting means receiving any compensation is pretty remote." 

Paul Struthers: the unkindest cut of all

One of the unluckiest jockeys caught up in the fiasco was apprentice George Buckell, who heard about Thursday's cancellation as he was on his Ryanair flight ready for take-off at Stansted airport.

The Newmarket-based apprentice was due to ride two for Scott Dixon and then his Goodwood winner Quench Dolly in the new Listed sprint for fillies on the Friday.

"I was sat on the plane at 8.40am after we had to change planes because of a problem when I was told the meeting was off," he said.

"The clerk of the course was brilliant in keeping me informed, but on Thursday said he was 90 per cent confident we'd be racing on Friday and Saturday."

Buckell estimated the trip cost him £400, with a Ryanair flight costing £70 and his easyJet flight back another £120 on Friday night along with bus trips and accommodation. 

He said: "I had two days booked in a Prestwick hotel and on Thursday night I met up with Danny Tudhope and a few of Richard Fahey's staff who were leaving early and the feeling was it would have been nice if Ayr had admitted to it all straight away."

George Bucknell: 'The feeling was it would have been nice if Ayr had admitted to it all straight away'

Struthers added: "Before we can do anything it needs to be established what went on and hopefully the BHA can tell us what went wrong."

The BHA awaits the requested report from Ayr officials and its northern inspector of courses Chris Dennis, whose arrival at the track on Thursday teatime accelerated the last two abandonments.

The report will arrive on the desk of the BHA head of raceday operations Emma Marley, who before taking up her present role in London earlier this year was clerk of the course at Ayr. The present clerk of the course, Graeme Anderson, was previously head groundsman under Marley.

Ayr said it was delighted with the response after deciding to open on Saturday despite the cancellation of the racing.

Managing director David Brown said: "We had a tremendous response to offering free entry to anyone who had tickets for Thursday, Friday and today and they came in their thousands – I would estimate over 3,000.

"I was absolutely delighted with what was a crumb of positivity from the week and people appeared to have a fantastic time without racing taking place.

"We had the Tote operating and local bookmakers came in and I'm sure they were pleasantly surprised and had a good day's business.

"I'm glad we threw the doors open for free and people responded. We owed it to our loyal customers."

I was sat on the plane at 8.40am after we had to change planes because of a problem when I was told the meeting was off

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