As we now enter the 2024 calendar year in horse racing, New Year meets, up and down the country, have basically been decimated with the very recent heavy rain that has fallen in all parts of the United Kingdom.
As 2023 progressed even the topics and issues raised by climate change began more greatly infiltrating the discussions surrounding the sport of racing, and for good reason too as the more extreme the weather conditions become, the more the sport will have to cope with, and as we know, calling off events and meets is a very expensive business for everyone concerned, not least for the punters who might turn to a casino welcome bonus, and nobody in racing wants to lose them to internet adventures.
In more recent times those involved had already begun looking at ways to potentially cope with the increasing risk of rainfall, and the flooding that now inevitably follows in certain parts of the country, as waterlogged race tracks can be prohibitively expensive and there are obviously health and safety issues associated for both jockeys and their riders with the risk of injury rising on slippy or more unusually unstable ground.
The only option normally is to just call the fixtures off, and at the time of typing 18 have already been lost to waterlogging issues this last month, and that number will undoubtedly grow in the days to come. Even in instances where the track is deemed safe and suitable to proceed, the spectator experience in those conditions can be nigh on near impossible when it comes to watching – Aintree’s Becher Chase is a prime example of this.
With the current rain and flooding issues, this will naturally bring the topic back to the fore given the number of events that have had to be postponed or cancelled, and one of the more favoured options that has been brought into the debate is the possible return to all weather jumps racing.
The original case for the idea was abandoned way back in 1994 over very valid concerns about surface quality and the potential risks that could then become associated with, but in 2024 given the technological advances that have been made, the argument now raised is that it would be far safer for all concerned and would obviously remain unaffected by weather conditions. Further validating this idea as a viable option moving forward is the simple fact that jumps trainers now already rely on artificial surfaces for training and practice, so the idea is clearly sound on many fronts.
A potential solution also presents itself in all weather tracks, which are again basically an existing proven option – ie the Tapeta at Southwell and the Polytrack at Kempton.
These tracks (and maybe potential new ones) could be utilised for race meets during those months of the year where you only really need to have a basic educated guess that rainfall will be high. They have already proven to be reliable, and most importantly, safe. It might mean rejigging the calendar a bit so historic courses and meets at least keep their traditional involvement, if maybe not their place in the year, but as we look to the future there will have to be some give and take.
Using existing options would also avoid the financial burden of installing new drainage systems if well known venues were forced to directly make the change themselves. This would be a prohibitive cost for many in the current economic climate, especially on the back of the previous financial issues associated with the Covid pandemic.
For those with long memories, this option was floated back in 2009 and the British Horseracing Authority did express interest in both options, but that interest stalled and progressed no further.
Ultimately we all know the challenges are here, and we know what they are but it is down to the future actions of Racing Executives to provide a way forward and a road map for the future.
It is not unfair to say that they have not exactly risen to the challenge themselves so far and they really have not taken the initiative or a leadership position here just yet, but that must follow and quickly.