I needed no rocking when I finally made it back to London and straight to bed last Saturday evening. Having sped (literally) North first thing that morning to reach Doncaster in time for the Racing Post champagne reception, sorry, Racing Post Trophy, I was (metaphorically) running on fumes by the time I arrived on Town Moor. I swerved the RP Shiraz, glugged down some sparkling water, knocked off a couple of broadcasts for ATR and Ladbrokes TV, before breaking bread with Roger Varian and squeezing in an impertinent question about his chances in the big race.
As Kingston Hill powered to victory, earning an 8/1 Guineas quote in the process and sadly reminding me to build time into a busy day to have a proper bet when a trainer gives you good vibes, there was evidently no rest for the wicked and I rushed out a press release before limping to the car park and refiring the sat nav towards Dunstall Park, Wolverhampton.
It would be wrong to describe Doncaster’s Racing Post lunch, sorry, Trophy as an hors d’oeuvres, but I’d been looking forward to the main course at Wolverhampton for some time as the launch of the All Weather Championship was finally upon us.
There’s no point rolling some things in glitter - the journey wasn’t pleasant in any way. It rained and it blew and my first impressions of Wolverhampton weren’t great (a fight outside a curry house on the road to the racecourse). I pulled into the car park some hour and a half (yes, I sped – again) after leaving Donny and dug out the extra coat. This was all-weather racing in all weathers.
But spirits were high. Much has been written, broadcast and tweeted about Wolverhampton and, indeed, about All-Weather racing more broadly; some of it fair if a little unkind, some of it based on fact and experience, some of it genuine, some of it not. I’d never been racing there before and had suspended my judgement accordingly. But what I knew – unequivocally - from the comfort of Head Office was that our punters like and embrace it. Maybe they don’t all love it and, of course, some punters wouldn’t go near it with stolen money, but plenty of our customers like it for what it is and like what it represents. They like the competitive fields, they like the betting opportunities, they like the product, the horses and they like the people involved.
Ladbrokes sponsored the first race, featuring genuine all-weather specialists such as Tarooq for Stewart Williams and Grey Mirage for Marco Botti who had appeared in the press that day celebrating the launch of the All Weather Championships. The race was won by Godolphin (I am told). Who said the all-weather doesnt attract the big names?
Was there a buzz? Well yes, I think there was. No, it wasn’t quite the roar that greets the start of the Supreme Novices in mid March, but there was a real sense of enthusiasm as I went roaming the racecourse. We had Strictly Come Dancing on the tellies behind the Ladbrokes betting shop; we had Tommo doing what Tommo does best on the racecourse TV; we had ATR giving it the full gun with Matt Chapman as enthusiastic as ever; we had the best on-course tuck-shop this side of Longchamp, and the bars and restaurants were ticking over nicely. It was cold and wet outside but there was warmth and there was affection and a matter-of-fact attitude amongst many of getting stuck into some competitive racing with the bookies.
This was never going to be a night of fireworks. This was about putting down a marker about how to do things properly, how to support a product that our punters genuinely believe in. It was the start of a journey that will take us to Good Friday and the years beyond and it was about putting our best foot forward, although Ill remember to wear more sensible shoes next time. As partners in the All Weather Championships, we can hand over the money to ARC and hope for the best or we can work with everyone involved – including the racecourse, the horsemen, the media and just as importantly, Ladbrokes customers – to ensure we do things better and celebrate the very best of this valuable, popular and worthwhile component of British racing. We’re going to do the latter and we’re looking forward to it immensely.
I’m only glad the clocks went back on Saturday night.
David Williams – 28 October