It seems a ludicrous question at first sight, but there is a hope from some that horse racing could soon be taking place on Britain’s streets and roads in a move to revitalise the sport. You would be forgiven for thinking that there isn’t a desperate need to revitalise racing, but there is a reality that racing is currently struggling to attract a younger audience. The idea of putting horse races directly onto the streets around the country is that it will being in a younger audience and allow people who have had little-to-no contact with the sport to enjoy it in a less formal environment.
The man who is the driving force behind the idea is the eldest grandson on the queen, Peter Phillips. The man who is fourteenth in line to the throne believes that it could be horse racing’s equivalent of Twenty20 cricket, which saw a whole new generation of cricket fans introduced to the sport when it began to be played in 2003. When the first match of the new version of the sport was played at Lord’s just shy of twenty-eight thousand people turned up to watch, which was the largest crowd there for a county match for more than fifty years. Could on-street racing do the same thing for the horse industry?
How On-Street Racing Would Work
Obviously, the first question many people would find themselves asking is how, exactly, on-street horse racing would work. After all, riding on concrete and tarmac would not be good for animals that are trained to be the finest physical specimens that they can be. The answer, interestingly enough, lies in the Global Champions Tour that took place in 2014.
It is a show jumping event that began life in 2006 when the Olympic gold medalist, Jan Tops, founded it as a rest for the top thirty show jumping jockeys according to the FEI Jumping World Rankings. In 2014, the eleventh leg of the tour was hosted by London and the venue chosen to act as the centre of the competition’s attention for the weekend was Horse Guards Parade Ground.
Located not far from Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street, Horse Guards Parade Ground had been turned into a venue for the beach volleyball when London hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 2012. The same company that was responsible for creating the surface that horses could run on in the Global Champions Tour also did it for the beach volleyball and the equestrian events during the Olympics and they can make pop-up racecourses that Phillips believes will be both suitable and, more importantly, safe for horses to use for on-street racing.
A 2018 Trial in Liverpool Was Successful
Within Aintree Racecourse, the home of the Grand National, are a number of roads that run around the place and were seen as the ideal location for a trial event back in 2018. City Racing, the company of Peter Phillips that is hoping to stage these sorts of races, was able to lay down a track made up of a synthetic surface in just eighteen hours, but they hope to lay and remove it even quicker as the idea is developed.
The layout of the track used for the Aintree test run, which was about three and a half furlongs in length, was based on Constitutional Hill in London where Green Park turns onto the Mall right outside Buckingham Palace. Whilst Phillips denies that there’s any link, saying that it was just ‘easy to replicate’, he also confesses that the Queen does ask him how the idea is progressing every time she seems him. The trial took place in November and was considered to have been a success by those involved.
Three races took place during the trial with eight jockeys riding the horses. In the wake of the trial, the jockeys were full of praise for the temporary surface, saying that it felt as though it had been there for ‘months rather than hours’. Hollie Doyle compared it to the artificial surface in place at Wolverhampton and declared that she ‘couldn’t fault it’. The only problem with the course was that there was only one furlong spare after the finishing post, which gave the jockeys limited time to pull up so they couldn’t ride flat-out. Given that the long-term aim is to have at least two furlongs, it shouldn’t be a problem in the future.
Where Racing Would Take Place
The aim of City Racing is to have the events take place in some of the biggest cities in the world in front of the most famous landmarks within those cities. Indeed, the company was close to agreeing its first race day in Paris ahead of the running of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe before money became a stumbling block. Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, is an important figure in horse racing and would also be keen to have an event of this nature hosted in his city, so it’s likely to be a matter of when it happens rather than if.
The idea is to have the temporary surface put down with a crowd barrier placed around three metres back from the track to keep the watching public safe. With the likes of London, Las Vegas, Sydney and New York on the wish-list of City Racing, it’s likely that they’ll try to go big as soon as they’ve been able to prove that it is a viable option. The hope is that eight renowned jockeys would ride locally trained horses in the handicap races rated 0-90, meaning that crowds of tens of thousands of people could be persuaded to attend. The jockeys would ride in all races and accumulate points for their finishing positions, with the jockey achieving the most points winning the event.
Safety Will Be Paramount
One of the chief reasons for a younger audience not being overly keen on horse racing is believed to be the welfare issues in racing, with Phillips himself acknowledging that, the younger people he hopes the sport will attract are ‘especially sensitive to issues of equine welfare’. As a result, City Racing are doing everything possible to ensure that the competitors will be as safe as can be. They will be checked by a panel of vets ahead of the races to ensure that they’re all healthy, whist the Equaflow surface used is made of a high-tensile plastic based that is also covered with an all-weather surface of about one hundred and eighty millimetres in depth.
All of the surface, the sub-layer and the railings separating the track from the watching audience would be sanction by the British Horseracing Authority, making it as up-to-date as possible. With the surface having already been tested at Aintree and gaining the approval of the jockeys there, Phillips is confident that the ‘cheques and balances’ have been put in place to ensure a ‘gold-standard welfare framework’ is ready to be used in the various venues that are selected. Given that Phillips wants the events to take place outside of the traditional flat racing season and therefore not be in competition with the tracks, the combination of that and the safety of the horses being taken into consideration means that it’s likely to get the backing of the industry as a whole.
Racing Will Be Part of a Wider Event
The other thing that is likely to win over a younger audience is the fact that it will be planned to coincide with a full day’s worth of entertainment, most likely with entertainment taking place before and after the racing. That is something that horse racing has already embraced, with many of the biggest fixtures, particularly in flat racing, offering some form of entertainment after the horses are done for the day.
The best examples of this come in the form of Arena Racing Company organising concerts at its various horse racing venues, as well as the Jockey Club doing similar things after most of its biggest meetings. Phillips said that it will be up to the local providers to decide what events will be put on, but that the likes of music festivals and food fairs seem the most enticing options.