'Race consolidation' needed says Ascot director after Shergar Cup fails to fill
The failure of one of the Shergar Cup races to attract a maximum field of runners despite the attractive prize-money offered underlines why "consolidation of the race programme" is needed in British racing, Ascot's director of racing and public affairs Nick Smith has said.
One of the eight races on Saturday's Dubai Duty Free-sponsored card, the 7f classified stakes, will feature eight runners instead of ten. The Class 3 event for three-year-olds and older, rated up to 90, is worth £50,000 and had 26 entries before the declaration stage.
The shortfall comes despite Ascot offering record prize-money across the day of £550,000, up from £360,000 in 2019, while bonuses are being offered as an extra incentive for runners.
Smith said the reduced field highlights why Ascot has backed plans for change drawn up by a group involving former BHB chairman Peter Savill and whose plans involved a reduction of races for horses rated 80-100.
He said: "This shows the lengths you have to go to in order to get the numbers you want for this sort of environment. While you should always have good prize-money on a Saturday, clearly for events like this to thrive in the future there will need to be some kind of consolidation of the race programme to the benefit of the racing and betting industry."
Smith said he was not downhearted at the declarations for the event which features riders competing in four teams – Great Britain and Ireland, Ladies, Europe and Rest of the World – as seven of the races feature the ten required runners.
He said: "It's not disappointing. Ultimately we took precautions last week to reduce from 12 runners to ten which has proven to be the right decision. We're two short in one race, and that's an additional race, so as it stands seven of the eight races have the credible ten runners you need to make the event work.
"That doesn't mask the overarching field-size issue. We don't have reserves in all of the races we want to have; when we got ten in those races it was only ten. I think the strength of the event, the increased prize-money on offer and the stable bonuses, which seem to have resonated a little bit, have helped."
Expected attendance drop due to cost of living
In another concerning trend in the sport, Saturday’s attendance is also expected to be lower than in the pre-pandemic year. The track is expecting a similar drop to King George day, where a figure of 18,462 was down almost 8,000 from 2019.
Shergar Cup day – which this year will include a post-racing concert headlined by Clean Bandit – attracted 23,505 spectators three years ago.
Smith added: “We’ll certainly be down [on 2019] again, a bit like the King George with the same sort of proportion. We had a fantastic Royal Ascot which stood up extremely well but, like most racecourses in the summer, we have found our Saturday crowds to be struggling.
"It’s entirely down to the cost-of-living crisis unfortunately. We’re patient and playing the long game so we can attract them back in the future.”
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