Why I Don’t Drink on a Racecourse
By Michael Andrews (twitter.com/mytentoryours )
Here we go, in the space of seven words my future contract with Magners is dead in the water, I’ll never present from the Guinness Village at Cheltenham and a Bollinger-sponsored carpark picnic at Royal Ascot? No chance.
Making headlines in both racing and mainstream media, drink (and drugs) has dominated racecourse conversations all summer. For many, it was that horrific Goodwood footage that shocked and scared the industry. It was a case of curiosity killing the cat; we all immediately regretted watching it. Fortunately, and although the problems prevalent there have not been entirely eradicated, reports of on-course violence have decreased since. Whether that is actually a fact – and as a result of the preventative measures put in by the authority and the racecourses themselves – it’s hard to know.
Yet, no one wishes to dig up the roots of the problem. It’s an insecurity that racing has held for years, and something no one wishes to tackle head-on. Simply, why is alcohol needed?
Is it because the racing product isn’t good enough?
Do you need a bottle of wine before you sit down to watch the Bodyguard? Is it only ‘OK’ unless you’re tiddly? How about horse riding, is it vastly improved with a few gins in you? Is cycling, surfing, sightseeing and swimming only bearable once you’ve cracked open a Fosters? Surely not.
However, that’s the message we perceive to send. Alcohol and racing is as associable as seeking out the bottle when meeting that first date, talking to your partner’s boring friend or coping your way through that Great Aunt’s-cousin’s-daughter’s 21st. It’s a way to enjoy something that you don’t particularly enjoy. You drink to make it more interesting, bearable and ultimately pass quicker. Why do we need that in racing? ‘Come Racing! But as it’s not particularly captivating, check out our bar and it’ll seem better!’
That’s why I don’t drink on a racecourse; I don’t need to.
And there’s the crux of the problem, because if I see newbies on a racecourse drinking I can somewhat empathise, but when I see committed, hard-core racing fans lining up at the bar I ponder that exact question: is this not good enough? Because if it’s not enough to completely engage and enthral a passionate racing fan, it’s not got a hope in hell of reaching new fans.
Now call me a lightweight, a comment which is famously fair, but I inadvertently tested this out earlier this month. I spontaneously went to Sandown on Solario Stakes day and – though I was enjoying the racing just fine – I accepted the offer of a drink just after the big race.
Shortly after, when trying to study the form for the following race, I realised I’d lost my edge, my interest and my engagement. Yes, thank you – the lightweight remark is brutally confirmed here – but the point still stands. Instead of enjoying the challenge of finding the winner of race five, I was less engrossed in the cumbersome task. Instead of digging deep into the complicated formbook, I just read the summary. Instead of enjoying racing for what it is, I was distracted and somewhat disinterested. If he was running, I’d have lazily backed My Tent Or Yours in the win-only market at Cheltenham.
I don’t understand why – and how – a racing fan can drink on a racecourse. Drinking deadens the thrill, changes the focus and detracts from the sport. It prevents the viewer from understanding or engaging with the sport in anything more than that one-dimensional way. There’s so much more to racing than can be understood under the influence. It is counter-intuitive to converting an average joe into a Desert Joe, a Joe Lively or Joe Farrell fan.
If we want to convert the casual racegoer – who make up the bulk of attendance figures in the UK – we have to convert them to racing, without caveat. Football fans are fans of the game; they happily watch a seemingly dull mid-table nil-nil draw on a Wednesday evening without reaching for the vodka. For our sport to survive, we need to do the same.
And in a society where young people are drinking less, what position could we be in if most youngsters are apathetic to both the racing product and a pint?
That’s why I don’t drink on a racecourse. That’s why I don’t use it as a selling point to encourage my friends. Racing is awesome without alcohol; don’t demean it with drink. If it’s not good enough, change the product itself, don’t seek out the stop-gap plaster that is a cup of liquid cure.
What do we think to that? Are you a lightweight like Michael (I jest!), or is a drink or three essential to your day out/enjoyment?
What should the sport be doing to sell a day at the races?
Is our sport guilty of dumbing down (and hence more emphasis on the drinking side?) when in fact it needs to focus on the complexity and challenge of racing?
Why do you go racing? What would you change?
As always, your thoughts are welcome…