Christmas is about to come early for race fans because once again ‘the world’s greatest steeplechase’, the Grand National, is looming large. Nearly everyone the length and breadth of the country has an annual flutter, but that’s no longer enough for many. That’s because going for a day at the races has become more popular than ever, amongst a much wider demographic than ever, which is why scenes such as the one above are commonplace on race day. Horse racing has suddenly become more hip; in effect, the new rock n’ roll.
You could be attending Royal Ascot on Ladies’ Day, or turn up for a Sunday meeting at Market Rasen – chances are you’ll be royally entertained and then some. No longer is the sport the preserve of landed gentry or certain stereotypes; it’s anyone’s game. But what’s brought about this shift in paradigm?
Betting is, and always has been, the lifeblood of the sport. Without betting it simply wouldn’t exist, and without punters there would be no betting. So with racing going through some testing times in recent years (and it’s apparently not out of the woods just yet), leading to the closure of famous old tracks such as Folkestone in 2012, it was clear that something had to be done. Nowadays, courses pull out all the stops, making it more than just about the horses. You’re now as likely to see your favourite band play live at a course as you are to pick a winner.
The growth of online gambling has helped the cause as well. Betting shops were frowned upon, seen as dens of inequity, and definitely anything but hip. Once the online version caught on, it was suddenly kind of ‘cool’ to have a punt – within moderation, of course – and this change in image helped alter that of horse racing.
Subsequently, a day at the races is the place to be seen. Bargain basement ticket prices go a long way to ensuring its popularity too. For a mere £30 you can go suited and booted to St Leger day at Doncaster, one of the most prestigious flat meetings in the whole wide world, and feel like part of the in crowd who are all having the time of their lives. What’s not to like? Of course, it’s all the rage on the celebrity circuit these days as well, making it trendier than ever.
Horse racing, like anything else, will never be everyone’s cup of tea – or bottle of Prosecco, for that matter – but there’s no doubting that its appeal has spread to a whole new audience. This has changed it in terms of a spectator sport quite dramatically, but surely for the better.