No whip: racing's planned team event to allow hands and heels only
A new Formula One-style team competition in racing will be staged as a hands and heels event with jockeys permitted to use whips only for safety purposes, should it be successful in launching as planned next summer.
An ambitious blueprint for an eight-week team-based series was announced in February, when it was revealed founder and driving force Jeremy Wray had already secured the heavyweight support of the Jockey Club and Racecourse Media Group.
In the intervening months Wray has been speaking with a number of brands who would be needed to give their names and money to the 12 teams that would each pull together squads of 30 horses and four jockeys for a total of 48 handicaps, each worth no less than £100,000.
If the concept takes place, it would begin in late July and extend across eight consecutive Thursday evenings, with Wray, former chairman of Swindon Town FC, confident of securing extensive coverage on ITV4.
At this stage, none of the racecourses signed up to what will be known as The Series – described by John Gosden as "the most creative and positive racing sponsorship opportunity I have seen" – have been announced, while nor are any of the meetings listed on the 2019 fixture list, recently published by the BHA.
However, what has been made public is the intention for the competition to be conducted under the hands and heels rules applied to race series restricted to apprentice and conditional jockeys. Wray insists that is not a principled decision but one taken in part to make the event more attractive to potential financial backers.
"The truth is the hands and heels rules suit the tournament we want to run," said Wray.
"We are not trying to initiate or stir up any debate about the whip. It may happen but that's not what we are about. It's simply that for a tournament that will have points down to tenth place the hands and heels rules suit. We want jockeys riding out to the finish but we equally don't want to see whips flailing on beaten horses.
"This series is also very deliberately positioned below Pattern class, so there can't be any concerns about the hands and heels rule damaging the breed.
"I'm more than happy for us to be seen as a test bed, and one side effect of this series is it may provide real data that takes some debates forward. However, I don't want us to be seen as taking sides in the debate. This is a pragmatic approach."
Wray said: "I'm trying to bring a new audience and new money into racing, and I'm putting on a new event. It will have a very new look and feel. This will be entertainment-focused horseracing."
The Jockey Club is also aligned to the City Racing venture that aims to bring the sport to major world cities by turning iconic thoroughfares into temporary racecourses.
After Westminster Council withdrew support for horseracing on Oxford Street, City Racing turned its attention to Paris and the Champs-Elysees, where it was hoped a meeting would take place in conjunction with France-Galop in September. That will now not happen.
City Racing spokesman Johnno Spence said: "We ran out of time for Paris next month so are considering a number of other options in terms of location. We are also very close to securing the financial investment we require to bring the first City race meeting to life."
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