The Winners 2000 Under 26 Runner-up

Why is it that racing is so often slammed for being behind the times? Is it because horses don’t run on batteries, or that jockeys haven’t been genetically engineered to reach the required weight without starving themselves? I don’t think so. Then why is it that the familiar world of racing we love won’t do anymore? It is because of football. Racing is way behind compared to the nation’s favourite sport. While other sports chase after it, trying to keep up with the rapid changes, it seems that racing is oblivious to this particular race and is happily trotting along at its own pace. Well, I think this is the one race where it’s not a bad result to be an also ran. Football’s top clubs are charging off with blinkered vision (which admittedly has worked wonders for See More Business) leaving a wake of destruction, accumulating more and more money as it mows down the smaller clubs and the fans’ bank accounts. Rationality has been thrown out of the window as this sport has assumed the status of a religion, with fans bowing down to their millionaire footballing idols.

So if racing goes in headlong pursuit for modernisation, what will be the consequences? A typical raceday could be as follows:

"A bright Sunday afternoon at the division one racecourse Oldbury starts as the crowds descend. At the turnstiles they swipe their £400 annual member ID tags, the sharp rise in the price due to the increase of quality racedays. The majority of the racegoers are similarly clad in replica jockey silks available from any sports shop. In a bid to boost competition between yards, all horses now carry their trainer’s colours. At some racecourses there is talk about imposing segregating, the day that Brook Charles got a four-time unfortunately caused some friction between racegoers.

In the paddock the trainers stand out from the owners sporting garish tracksuits in their yard colours. The equines are also much more colourful than they used to be. With sponsors contributing towards training expenses, nowadays for those horses who don’t have their sponsor’s name incorporated into theirs, it is de rigeur to have the sponsor’s logo dyed onto their flanks. Being partially hidden by blankets in the paddock, logos can also be displayed on sun visors worn by the horse (a horsey baseball cap). Scientifically proven to keep the animal calm before the race, keeping the sun out of its eyes in the summer and snow and rain in the winter, this has become one of racing’s most talked about innovations. They have had much media attention due to some unusual incidents that they have caused. When visors first appeared, horses were allowed to race in them (optimal coverage for the sponsor from the aerial camera) but they were soon banned when novice chasers failed to clear fences - they couldn’t see the top of them. There was also a major inquiry into the result of a prestigious flat race, when the horse who won only did so because connections had cunningly fitted him with an extra long visor, thus giving him a crucial two inches to the second horse. The defining moment though for these controversial visors was at Royal Ascot last summer, when to the astonishment of the fashion experts the sun visor was THE hat worn by many style gurus.

As the jockeys stream out of the weighing room an unmistakable female sigh sweeps through the crowd as Heath Studley struts past. This jockey with his captivating good looks makes up for what he lacks in the saddle with his immense popularity. With a generous sponsorship deal for his retainer, it is not surprising that he was snapped up by one of the country’s top trainers. Having released a hit single at the beginning of the year (whilst out on a four week suspension), he is planning to release an album in the summer, having been encouraged by his celebrity girlfriend Mel Z. In the racing world he is famous for pioneering the jockeys’ airbag that gives valuable protection to the face in a fall. (It has been speculated that he uses the airbag more for cosmetic reasons, as rumour has it that when he hangs up his boots, he is going to pursue a career in acting. A crooked nose would obviously put this in jeopardy). As the electric bell is activated all the jockeys get a leg up onto their mounts. The sight of their boots is a painful reminder to those who tried to retail jockey boots as fashion items. Although Adidas and Nike are the leading brands (Adidas boots being instantly recognisable because of the three stripes up the side) their impracticability as everyday footwear was their downfall.

A much-needed boost has been added to the excitement of a race, which has been achieved by the addition of appropriate pop song extracts. A horse falling at a fence is tactfully registered by a blast of "Another One Bites The Dust", and nothing could be more fitting than Abba’s "The Winner Takes It All" as the victor enters the winner’s enclosure. With the race crowd expecting more thrills these days, Frankie’s flying dismounts are somewhat run of the mill, somersaults and start-jumps are favoured for the big wins.

Hopefully a glimpse at racing’s parallel world (probably to be found in an ever-enterprising football fat cat’s daydream) will put racing’s position in a better light. Inevitably in this commercial world racing has to bring in new measures to keep it going. However racing should be applauded for hanging on in a difficult financial situation and not succumbing to demeaning methods to gain more money and audiences. The "Super Twelve TV Deal" will mean improved prize money and racecourses without loss of dignity. Let racing be an example to all sports that you don’t have to become a circus to entertain your audience, you just need to remind them why they love the sport.