Jockeys revolt against new Sunday night racing experiment

Callum Shepherd - Jockeys revolt against new Sunday night racing experiment
Callum Shepherd warned jockey's health was being jeopardised during the all-weather meeting - Getty Images/Mike Egerton

Jockeys riding at British racing’s first ever Sunday night meeting have revolted against the new initiative calling it “a joke”.

Sunday’s card at Wolverhampton was the first in a series of six meetings designed to take advantage of a lull in the sporting week, offering boosted prize-money with a minimum purse of £15,000 per race.

However, the trial has proved unpopular within the jockey ranks, with Callum Shepherd one several to raise concerns about the new addition to the programme.

“We don’t need to be here on a Sunday evening,” Shepherd told Sky Sports Racing. “Through peak season in the summer you accept it’s part and parcel but bar the festive period I don’t think there’s much need for Sunday racing and certainly not Sunday evening racing.

“We might get a couple of hundred quid extra in our pockets but I don’t think it’s healthy. If this becomes a regular thing you cross the bridge into having absolutely no work-life balance. I don’t think it’s right.”

Another weighing room stalwart, Rab Havlin, also aired his displeasure, telling the Racing Post: “I think it’s a joke to be honest. It’s all right people saying to jockeys if you don’t want to go don’t go, but there’s a horse running I’ve won on the last twice and I can’t really not go.

“I know the prize-money is an incentive, and it’s almost forcing the hand of owners and trainers, but you have to win it first for that to come into play.

“For the young jockeys who don’t have families, they might not mind it too much, but the racing programme for Flat jockeys is already jam-packed and I don’t really see a need for it. It’s really tough on stable staff too.”

Sunday racing has been taking place in Britain for 32 years but never before has it been run in the evening, a time hitherto considered sacrosanct for the families who service the sport.

Each meeting in the trial boasts enhanced prize-money and bonus payments to stable staff and jockeys to sugar the pill of working anti-social hours. It is, along with Premierisation of the sport, all part of the British Horseracing Authority’s strategy to increase betting turnover, interest and crowds.

It is hoped the Sunday night fixtures will increase off-course betting turnover by 20 percent on a day-time Sunday or mid-week afternoon meeting by filling an apparent gap in the market – when people want to bet but at a time when there is not much else to bet on.

Simon Clare, Coral PR director, said early signs were that turnover was ‘typical for an evening meeting’ and that it was a ‘solid start.’

“We’ll be doing proper analysis once we’ve had a bigger sample to look at,” he said. “But it appears it’s been pretty much in line with expectations.”

Mark Spincer, group operations for ARC which owns Wolverhampton Racecourse, said: “The evening has gone well, overall. We were pleased to welcome strong field sizes and a good walk up in terms of crowd.”

The BHA have said they will monitor the performance of the meetings – the target is 15-20 percent more turnover than Tuesday-thursday evening meetings – and canvas the opinion of those taking part.

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