Friday, 27 January 2012


TODAY'S CARDS Huntingdon. Fontwell Park. Lingfield Park. Wolverhampton.
Dundalk. Jebel Ali.

DAVID ASHFORTH Laments Ascot's new dress code and fears the negative impact it may have on the sport.

"ITS not just the orange spot fiasco, it's Ascot's new dress code itself that is an error of judgement and broadcasts a message damaging to racing. I don't know whether to laugh or cry - cry mainly.

"Royal Ascot is different. Although I'm not in favour of banning men wearing jackets and ties from the Grandstand enclosure (they will now have to wear suits to be allowed to pay £50 for admission,  I accept that, as Ascot's website points out, "Royal Ascot is a unique, stand alone event in the sporting and social calendar and dressing accordingly is part of the experience".

"Ascot's other meetings are different, and winter jumps meetings are different again. The picture of a young man being 'spotted' in a telling one . Look at trhe smart jacket, trousers and scarf. Yet Ascot doesn't want him in its Premier enclosure, nor anyone else similarly smartly dressed.

"It is satisfying that a young man looking like thsat, perhaps new to racing, has no place in the enclosure offering the best views and facilities. Is it mad? What on earth is wrong with him? No wonder he seemed bemused.

"He doesn't look like a trouble maker, he isn't wearing jeans (although smart ones would be acceptable), he isn't clutching a case of beer, and presumably he's paid £28. His offence, what makes him unwanted, is that, if you lifted up his winter scarf, you would not find a tie.

"It is daft, and damagingly daft, and Ascot should deal with the damage, not just by apologising and issuing refunds but by changing the dress code.

"Critics are told that the new code is what the regular customers want, and Ascot is a customer-responsive racecourse. According to Charles Barnett, the code was tailormade at the request of existing customers and was an attempt to 'establish some standards'.

"I don't know what kind of survey Ascot carried out, who was asked what questions, but if you ask people who habitually choose to wear jackets and ties for their opinion on a dress code requiring men to wear jackets and ties, it's no surprise if they like the idea. A more appropriate question for those regular premier enclosure customers would have been, will you continue to come racing if the current dress code remains unchanged? It's a safe prediction that the answer would have been an overwhelming yes.

"Ascot, and racing, has secured those customers and, until Saturday, it also had the man in the photograph and others like him who dressed smartly for the occasion but chose not to wear a tie. Now it doesn't want them any more, nor potential racegoers who might also prefer not to wear a tie. I wonder if Ascot conducted a survey to investigate their views.

"There have been some good letters on the subject, including one from Gemma Ospedale, who called for 'some sense of proportionality regarding what is required for a midwinter jumps meeting", having questioned the effect of such dress codes on racing's "efforts to widen the appeal of racing to newcomers," Orpendale reported her husband's dislike of being forced to wear a jacket and tie to a leisure event when he has had to wear the same combination every day to work, "He wants to wear casual clothes, as one does at the weekend. There is nothing wrong with sweaters, jackets and smart jeans." I agree.

"TOO ADD further insult, Ascot's premier enclosure customers aren't even allowed to decide for themselves when they are uncomfortably hot and want to take their jackets off. No "there will be an announcement on the day allowing jackets to be removed, should  the weather be hot". It is horribly patronising, condescending and alienating.

"In the last 20 years, Ascot has made credible strides towards establishing  a reputation as a customer-friendly racecourse, and one open to new ideas, but its new dress code shouts a different attitude, one resonant of a past society. For the good of racing, as well as Ascot. It needs to change its code."


"NEW BHA chief executive Paul Bittar appears to have devoured the organisation's press releases from the past two years as part of his essential backround reading on what has happened since he last worked in Britain.

"Whatever the main topic, BHA official communications have rarely missed an opportunity to refer to falling levy income as the root cause of today's supposed evils. Bittar kick- started the sequence under fresh management even while commenting on this week's triumphant story about last year's racecourse attendances.  

"As a measure of the sport's popularity it is excellent news," he conceded in a written statement, before racing before reaching for the bittar pill. "However .... it underlines how the current system is failing British racing when attendances brake new records yet the levy income continues to decline."

"Does it? Yes, there are two points of fact in Bittar's observation - attendances have broken recent records and levy income continues to decline (at least over the last couple of years) -but they are separate  points which do not hang together to bear out his contention that the levy 'is failing British racing .'

"If anything, far from establishing a logical association of ideas, moulding racecourse attendances and levy income into the same thought process papers over the cracks of a theory bordering on misconception, , which is easily explained but it rarely acknowledged by those leaders in racing who close their eyes to what is really happening in the big world outside the sport.

"Bittar, who has previously acknowledged betting's contribution, was partly right in describing racecourse attendance as a measure of racing's popularity, but he did not go far enough. He should have said it is a measure of racing's popularity as a spectator sport, where all manner of internal influences come into play.

"On the other hand, levy income is a measure of horseracing's popularity as a betting medium, where external forces have come into play a bigger role and the sport is loosing out.

"Following the boom that resulted from switching from bookmakers'  turnover to gross profits as the basis for collecting levy, the impact of offshore operators and exchanges has influenced the mechanics of and returns from the levy, but the flight of punters to other products has been more crucial in lowering the rate of return to horseracing.

"Maybe it does not suit arguments about money leaking through loopholes, but if someone with some clout doesn't quickly admit that encouraging  more people to bet on the sport is the top priority, the trickle could become an overwhelming flood."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

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