We stand at the starting line of some big sporting occasions. Friday sees the opening ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, an event that has crept imperceptibly under our sporting radar for reasons ranging from post-London apathy to fears of doping, Zika and civil unrest. I hope it will prove us wrong with some supreme action, but Rio has presented a waiting brief which will be sustained for at least another few days.
Friday also sees the beginning of our football league programme, with the big boys of the Premier League joining in the following weekend. It would take the most rampantly optimistic of folk to believe that it could match the absurd fairytale of Leicester’s stunning victory last year, but every team will be fervently supported by someone around the country, and all four divisions offer some intriguingly open competition.
But the title of this website dictates that, in the event of a split-decision from the editorial judges, if in doubt go with the horse racing. So the biggest equine news from this last seven days, for racecourse tourists past, present and future, came on Monday which saw the publication of the 2017 fixture list. This was the first to be compiled under the new tripartite structure of the BHA, racecourses and horsemen.
There will be 1,496 race meetings to choose from next year. That’s 14 more than last year and only ten shy of the record high figure from six years ago. A large chunk of the twilight meetings have been shifted back to the evening in an attempt to increase the customer base, and you can now watch live British racing every Saturday evening from your own home on TV, laptop, tablet or mobile.
“British racing’s Authorised Betting Partners have highlighted evening fixtures as the primary opportunity to support further growth in remote betting” the BHA website says.
Unsurprisingly, this has not gone down especially well with the likes of Ladbrokes, Coral and Hills in the retail sector who are likely to lose punters from their high street shops in late afternoon to go home and bet with their rivals from the comfort of the sofa. However, it is hard to feel sorry for these bookmakers that have had ample opportunity to sign up to Associated Betting Partner status. The likes of Bet365 and Betfair, already APBs who voluntarily contribute a higher percentage of their take on British racing back into funding the sport, have been rewarded with consultations on the fixture list and measures to reward the online sector.
However, these industry-wide issues pale into insignificance when compared to the myriad individual opportunities the fixture list reveals. If you are reading this then you probably enjoy going racing, and it is possible you have already booked your time off work to attend your favourite meetings.
For me, the publication of the schedule continues a 25-year theoretical exercise of planning a route to watch racing at all the courses in 80 days, a sequence only broken last year when the theory transitioned into the awkward, tremendous, bizarre and trembling real world. I shall not be having another go next year, The Wife will be pleased to read, but I can’t help going through the iterations once again.
Is it possible to complete the tour in just 60 days, I wondered? No, is the answer, even if the traveller is to contemplate the most arduous of schedules and ludicrous of tours. The Phoenix-like Hereford races only once in the golden window of March to June, on Sunday 26 March 2017, and Crazy Cartmel doesn’t start until Saturday 27 May, a period of 63 days.
Is it possible to complete the expedition in those 63 days, then? Possibly, assuming you are happy to miss both the Cheltenham Festival and the Derby, but I shall let you work that one out. “Someone’s beaten us to it” was a recent Facebook comment to my book, but I would encourage you all to make your own journey, whether that be over two months, two years or a lifetime. The racecourses of Great Britain continue to offer a rich and varied backdrop for the chasing of dreams, and I urge you to write your own history across their lush turf.