New Year’s day at Cheltenham promises a new era for racing as Premier leads the charge in the hunt for the next Frankie Dettori

  • Premier Racing aims to deliver innovations to the sport with its 2024 events
  • One priority is to make current jockeys household names in the post-Dettori era
  • But Premier Chiefs have insisted that the reforms will be delivered incrementally

New Year’s day at Cheltenham ushers in what many hope will be the start of a new dawn for a sport struggling on a series of critical fronts.

But there is equal concern that the first of racing’s new Premier fixtures will turn into another of the sport’s groundhog days with the same old problems seemingly resistant to positive change.

In reality, racegoers at Cheltenham — and there should be a healthy crowd of over 30,000 — and ITV viewers will notice little difference, save for glimpses of a new logo. It’s safe to say this is a soft launch.

But innovations are promised and Premier Racing is the big thing for horse racing in 2024. The aim is to repackage the best action the sport has to offer, make it easier to understand and in the post-Frankie Dettori era create recognisable stars, particularly among jockeys for the public to latch on to.

It is hoped what is a two-year pilot project will not only arrest declines in attendance, betting turnover and the number of horses in training but begin to attract fresh interest and followers through greater customer engagement.

Premier Racing aims to help propel jockeys into becoming household names like Frankie Dettori

Premier Racing aims to help propel jockeys into becoming household names like Frankie Dettori

Today’s meeting is the first of 170 Premier Race days over the next 12 months. The industry-wide BHA initiative has enhanced prize money, with the Levy Board increasing its contribution by £3.2million.

Over 90 per cent of the Premier Racedays are on ITV with most of them on Saturday afternoons during a two-hour window cleared to allow a focus on the best of the action. That has meant some racecourses have had to reschedule meetings to start earlier or later, potentially to their own personal detriment in the hope the sport will benefit as a whole.

Cheltenham is owned by Jockey Club racecourses, whose chief executive Nevin Truesdale said: ‘Most sports do a good job of elevating and differentiating their premium events and the introduction of Premier Racedays has the potential to help those who occasionally watch horseracing or are new to the sport to recognise when they are watching something of a higher quality. British racing is fortunate in having a lot of high quality racing to offer, even beyond the major festivals which transcend the sport and it is important to amplify this.’

The structure of racing throws up different challenges. Even to the uninitiated, you know if you are watching Mo Salah or Jack Grealish play it is top notch football. The same with Rory McIlroy in golf and Ben Stokes in cricket.

But a champion jockey like William Buick can still ride moderate horses at a modest meeting. Racing followers know this but maybe not casual followers. The new brand is supposed to be like a quality guarantee.

Success will be persuading the floating fan into going racing more and betting more. But you don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool cynic to question how effective Premier Racing will be.

The reforms are also intended to offer a clear indication of the quality on display

The reforms are also intended to offer a clear indication of the quality on display

For one, the budget set aside for promotion is pitifully small while the dearth of top-quality horses to fill races is underlined with only 49 runners at Cheltenham this afternoon. There are only four in the feature Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle and one of those is from Ireland.

In that context Premier Racing looks like putting the cart before the horse, especially to those who believe the only real solution is drastic reduction surgery to the sport’s fixture list.

But, for now, racing’s leaders are united. Truesdale added: ‘As the BHA have said themselves this will be a gradual evolution rather than a sudden “big bang”.’

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