Is racecourse management a good bet?
It's a leisure business like any other and it competes with firms in this and other leisure industries. My background was in hotel management and, when I started here as FD in 2004, I was perhaps a bit naive about the challenges of racecourse finance--I had a lot to learn about media rights and sponsorship, for example. But areas such as reporting, asset management, marketing and corporate governance are similar across all sectors, so I had plenty of experience in these.
Who goes to the races? Hooray Henrys and the flat-cap-and-whippet brigade?
Those are the two stereotypes, but we're trying hard to change this perception. That's why I'm a board member of Racing for Change, which aims to widen racing's appeal by, for example, demystifying the terminology. In fact, racing is still the UK's second-most attended sport: 5.4 million people visited UK racecourses last year. It's a long way behind football, but well ahead of cricket and rugby.
Why do these misconceptions persist?
One reason is the relative lack of terrestrial television coverage. When I was growing up, racing was shown widely on TV and most people watched it, partly because there were far fewer sports competing for airtime. This has changed and the only terrestrial station that still regularly shows racing is Channel 4 on Saturdays--and the sport even has to pay for this slot. The BBC shows only 13 days of racing a year, including huge events such as the Grand National. There have also been big changes in the way that football and cricket are shown on TV and developments in betting online, so our industry needs to engage a new audience in a new way. My kids don't want to study the form or learn a new language in order to enjoy a race.
What's so good about a day at the races?
It's a great social event. All our courses hold special ladies' days, "Guinness days", hen nights and lads' nights, as well as our normal race meetings. It gives people a chance to get dressed up and it's also family-friendly. If you go to the races at, say, Fontwell Park in West Sussex, under-16s get in free and there are loads of activities for them--fairs, pet farms and face-painting, for example. A family of four can get in for [pounds sterling]38. You couldn't go to watch Chelsea play for that. Racecourses have more space than football grounds, so you don't get crowd problems and the spectators don't have the in-built hostilities. There's a complete lack of the kind of...