The third All-Weather Championships are under way, with today’s launch and afternoon of racing at Lingfield Park marking the start of the season.
Martin Cruddace, the Chief Executive of the Arena Racing Company (ARC), welcomed the 80 guests from the racing industry and media for the launch.
He commented: “I want to thank all of our sponsors, Ladbrokes, Coral, Unibet and 32Red. Without them, we could not have such successful All-Weather Championships and I am particularly excited about this the third season.
“I am fairly new in my position but I was impressed that Arena Racing Company established these Championships with £1.1 million in prize money on Finals Day.
“The prize money and the quality of the horses we are going to have this season means the All-Weather Championships are a fantastic endorsement of the surfaces we offer.
“I would like to thank Jim Allen who came up with the idea of the All-Weather Championships. Jim is leaving ARC to go and train in Florida next year.
“He is a complete encyclopedia about All-Weather Racing. I said I wanted to know how many horses placed at Pattern level in Britain have run on the All-Weather since it started. He came back with an astonishing figure which is 1,570, which is a testament again to the surfaces at our tracks and at Kempton Park and Chelmsford City.”
Stephen Higgins, ARC’s Racing and Property Director, said: “Jim has done a fantastic job with the All-Weather Championships as Martin has outlined.
“The main objective of the Championships two years ago was to rebrand and reposition British All-Weather Racing and that has happened with the help of our partners, Kempton Park and Chelmsford City.
“A big part of the strategy was to increase field sizes. From our betting partners’ perspective, it is not just about the great Finals Day in March but about generally having more runners and keeping some of the better horses to race in the UK. These Championships are delivering a better racing product.
“We want to create additional international interest in the All-Weather Championships and Jim has been working very hard with Meydan, our Irish partners and French racing. The international aspect will form a bigger part of the Championships moving forward. We had a winner from France on Finals Day last season and are encouraging more overseas runners this season.
“The races we have today are a great start to the third All-Weather Championships and there is lots more to come during the season here, at Southwell, Wolverhampton, Kempton and Chelmsford.
“There will be All-Weather Racing at our racecourse in Newcastle from May next year, which we are looking forward to as well. It will be the first straight mile All-Weather track in the world and the first galloping two-mile All-Weather track in the world.
“The statistics from last season show that the objectives of the All-Weather Championships are being met – an 155 per cent increase in horses rated 100+, an 80 per cent increase in horses rated 90+, an increase in the average rating of runners from 73 to 75 and total prize money up 39 per cent.
“I asked Jim for the top five horses who raced during the last All-Weather Championships and he came up with Jack Hobbs, now rated 123, who started his career at Wolverhampton, with the others being Tryster, Prince Bishop, Chookie Royale and Pretend, all rated over 112. This shows, if you put the races on, you can keep these type of horses racing in this country.
“Total prize money on All-Weather Championships Finals Day next year is £1.1 million and last year’s racing on Good Friday was a great occasion, with 10,000 people attending and ongoing support for stable staff who are the bedrock of racing.
“All-Weather Racing started over 25 years ago and it has come a long way. All horsemen appreciate the investment in racing surfaces such as Polytrack, Tapeta and Fibresand by private companies but I feel it is important that British Racing really embraces the research and development of All-Weather surfaces and doesn’t leave it up to private companies to move that forward.
“It is so important to levy turnover and to the safety and well-being of horses not just at the tracks but also on the training grounds. We need to put the investment in, whether it is from the Levy Board or the BHA. Continuing research and investment, which is expensive, is crucial to make sure these surfaces continue to improve.
“Britain has led the way with All-Weather surfaces and needs to continue to do so.”
Unibet is sponsoring for the second time at this season’s All-Weather Championships. Spokesman Ed Nicholson said: “Unibet has been seen as a European company – we have 10 million customers – but only launched in the UK two and a half years ago. There has been an increase in UK betting turnover on racing and would like to think our sponsorship at the All-Weather Championships helped. Racing is very important to a UK bookmaker. We are offering more horseracing markets this season and make Luke Morris the 1/2 favourite to be top jockey of the All-Weather Championships again. We have invested heavily in social media as well as the All-Weather Championships.”
Coral has backed the All-Weather Championships since the beginning and David Stevens commented: “The Championships have provided a narrative to the All-Weather Flat season. In year one we saw Litigant, who went on to win the Ebor this summer, and Grandeur and last season there were Pretend and Tryster. Godolphin’s support of the All-Weather Championships shows that the right thing is being done. We hope for more of the same. At The Races do a great job all winter long broadcasting the All-Weather Championships but it was great to have Channel 4 on Good Friday this year.”
Ladbrokes, another supporter of the Championships from the start, were represented today by Rupert Thacker who declared: “The All-Weather Championships have been one of the success stories for British racing and should be celebrated. We have Channel 4 coverage on Finals Day now and the bookmaker figures are good. Certainly, from our perspective, we are more than happy to be involved again.”
The fourth betting partner and sponsor, 32Red, has also remained steadfast. Tony Calvin remarked: “I think the key to the success of the All-Weather Championships is keeping the better horses racing. Any bookmaker will tell you the better the racing is the more the punters are inclined to bet on it. The All-Weather Championships have established themselves very well and delivered.”
Matt Taylor, Director of New Media and Innovation at broadcaster At The Races, said that being associated with “a growing and successful initiative such as the All-Weather Championships is fantastic for us”. He explained: “This season we are looking forward to the All-Weather Championships more than ever. We do our coverage on air and also online and through social media. It is great to have something that is growing. More than anything, we really applaud the fact that overseas interest in the series is improving. The Fast-Track Qualifiers in France and Ireland are really significant for us. Last season on Finals Day, there were five races covered on the PMU in France and wagering brought in two and a half million euros of betting turnover, quite a significant contribution and we hope that will grow this season. We trialled the All-Weather Championships Tipping Competition last season and that worked really well with a first prize of £10,000. We had 9,500 players during the winter and an average of 2,000 a day which shows real engagement with the Championships. The winning tipster, whose local track is Southwell, had winners at 100/1, 66/1, 40/1, 33/1 and five at 25/1 so best of luck to anybody entering this year! We have a dedicated All-Weather Championships microsite and the races can be watched live through our app. We had a daily reach of 300,000 on Finals Day last season and from our point of view the broadcast by Channel 4 boosted the interest in All-Weather Racing.”
Alan Pickering, Vice-President of the Racehorse Owners Association, has enjoyed plenty of success on the All-Weather, most notably with 2014 coral.co.uk Winter Derby hero Robin Hoods Bay, and is looking forward to the third All-Weather Championships.
Pickering said: “Reference has already been made to Keeneland and I can reveal today that I have bought a horse from Mr Oppenheimer to race here during the All-Weather Championships. I couldn’t quite afford Golden Horn but hopefully this is another star in the making!
“I think Lingfield and All-Weather Racing in general receives a rather sniffy reception from the racing glitterati. I think they are wrong on both accounts.
“The All-Weather Championships has taken the product to a new level. Year one saw increased prize money and increased participation, while last year the quality went up though the quantity went down. I think we owe to the bookmaking industry this season both quality and quantity.
“Two other points from last year’s Championships – we saw the rehabilitation of Godolphin on the All-Weather and the catapulting of Charlie Appleby to the top table of racing trainers.
“As far as this season is concerned, we want another good series and good Finals Day. The one thing the All-Weather Championships is a narrative.
“The first lady of Lingfield, Judy Dench, who combines her love of racing and her support of charity by coming here, sends her best wishes.
“Also, the second lady of Ascot Emma Jayne Wilson made a real cock-up on Shergar Cup day. She was on my horse Primrose Valley, who had won the first race on Tapeta at Wolverhampton, but the pressure got to her. She asked how she could repay me and I said ‘give me some words to say at Lingfield on October 29. Firstly, she said happy birthday to Lingfield celebrating its 125th birthday and secondly, All-Weather Championships bring them on!”
Richard Farquhar’s Walking The Courses was announced as the official charity partner of the third All-Weather Championships. There are 60 racecourses in mainland Britain and Richard plans to walk between all of them, a total of 3,000 miles, to raise money for Racing Welfare and Pancreatic Cancer UK.
He said: “Racing Welfare helps everybody in racing ranging from the stable staff, box drivers and racecourse employees. Essentially, everybody involved in background without whom we wouldn’t come racing and there wouldn’t be any horses.
“I am also racing money for Pancreatic Cancer UK which is the type of cancer I lost my dad to. The charity is doing incredible work for this most horrendous of the cancers which has hit racing very hard in the last 18 months. We lost Dessie Hughes and John Hills to it.
“I’d like to raise more money for Pancreatic Cancer UK than the government gave for research into pancreatic cancer in 2013, which was £700,000. As I am also raising money for Racing Welfare, the target by default is £1.4 million.
“I have covered 38 of the 58 legs and have walked about 1,850 miles. I have still got 1,100 or so to do, starting again on Tuesday between Wetherby and Aintree. I am getting there!
“I end every leg by doing a lap of the racetrack and everyone is very welcome to walk with me on the racecourse or between racecourses.
“I finish the whole thing next April at Newmarket on Craven Stakes day, which is a meeting I went to with my father for 26 years in a row starting on my 21st birthday. I haven’t been back since he died three and a half years ago so it will be a big day.
“We are delighted to have been appointed the official charity partner of the 2015/16 All-Weather Championships. It is a very high-profile series. With the fantastic sponsors such as Coral, Ladbrokes, Unibet and 32Red, it is real privilege to be associated with the Championships and we are hugely grateful to ARC and everyone involved.”