The Racing Horse has now completely immersed itself in the Welsh Trotting scene and has been impressed with the work, enthusiasm and effort put in to cement the high status of Tregaron's harness racing festival. It has been described as the Cheltenham of harness racing because of the number of Irish horses and spectators who travel to Tregaron, and this year the three-day festival runs from Friday 23 August through to Sunday 25 August. Three-day passes are available for £30 (save £5) up until Tuesday 20th August. Contact David John on firstname.lastname@example.org or Huw Evans 01974 298265 to pay by credit card. Please visit: http://www.tregarontrotting.com/
Gareth Topham gives us his views
Today we caught up with fellow devotee and ace commentator Gareth Topham and asked him his views on the meeting. He told us: “The Tregaron Festival is the pinnacle of the harness racing season and let’s pray Mother Nature is kind in 2013. It’s a meeting that has grown considerably and is the one fixture that year in, year out new ideas are put in to fruition.”
He continued: “Each year we see our ‘die hard’ trotting folk come through the gates which is fantastic and the sport in the UK wouldn’t survive without them, but more is needed. Terrific incentives such as the new Ceredrotian site and publications which are made accessible via Facebook and Twitter in particular and are great ways of getting the message out there in places where you would never think a top class sporting event could be held, there is one! So come along and give it a try!”
His enthusiasm was abundantly clear: “At Tregaron we try to bring a different perspective and understanding to the game. Yes a flutter and cheering the horses on is all well and good but things such as interviews with the sport’s top personalities before racing and the second commentator performing from the starter’s car during races, are just two examples of little bonuses you will get nowhere else. The TV coverage on Harness Racing provided by S4C is also second to none, and the introduction of English commentary on races behind the red button in 2013 was a superb idea and in all truth a long time coming. Hopefully it will stay as it allows the wider audience to enjoy the sport wherever they are, and gain more of an understanding and see what they are missing!”
Thinking of the future he concluded: “Harness Racing is probably not quite as complex as thoroughbred racing and to get a fresher and younger audience as well as our regulars must surely be the aim. The Tregaron Festival is the trotting equivalent of the Cheltenham Festival, there is nothing quite like it and hopefully we’ll see some new faces out on the field in 2013 to add to the thousands which already flock to the middle of Wales for three stellar days of sport!”
The Racing Horse echoes those comments in their entirety...
West Wales is now considered the pivotal centre for harness racing in Britain with four horse racing clubs hosting a series of competitive fixtures throughout the year but in 2012 a number of events were cancelled due to wet weather and the conditions it created. Last year’s prestigious Tregaron’s harness racing festival, arguably the UK’s largest harness event had to be moved from Tregaron to the Amman Valley in neighbouring Carmarthenshire because of the conditions of the track and surrounding areas. It is most worrying that since its launch in 1984 the festival was only cancelled once, and that was because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 but since 2008, each meeting has been affected by bad weather. Steps, difficult steps, now need to be taken to alleviate the situation.
As the sport grows and seeks to upgrade itself a radical change in thinking must happen and quickly! Racing on grass is no longer an option if it truly wants to develop in the future - a purpose-built artificial track is now overdue!
A new way must be found to raise new finance
One readily accepts that harness racing in Wales has become as proficient as it can within current funding – so a new way must be found to raise new finance. If nothing is forthcoming from the inner zone/region then perhaps it is time to look outside for a benefactor? It is impossible to imagine that a relatively small amount cannot be found given this fabulous product. However, it might need some bold and creative thinking!
Huw Evans (Chairman of the Tregaron Trotting Club) confirms the problems facing the sport
In fairness the sport has recognised the problem and it has been acknowledged. Huw Evans (Chairman of the Tregaron Trotting Club) had already warned: “If the festival is to continue to survive and develop further, then the wider community need to think of radical solutions. This includes the replacement of the grass track with an all-weather circuit.” He continued: “The problem is that it would cost a minimum of £200,000, at a time when our funds are already at rock-bottom after the wash-outs of recent years. There is a good economic case for the council and Visit Wales and local businesses to come into partnership with us, as Visit Wales estimate that the festival is worth around a quarter of a million pounds to the local economy.” He continued: “Every time meetings are lost it has a knock-on and almost hidden cost. People get out of the habit of coming here, sponsors lose interest, and entrants find other race meetings.”
Aberystwyth to be the permanent site?
The consensus suggests Aberystwyth as a designated and permanent site. A clubhouse could be built and the vibrant student population could be targeted. A racing school could be set-up for children who want to learn the sport and there could be opportunities for auto sport to use the facilities as in the case of the Amman Valley track (uses it for Speedway motorcycle races).
The sport cannot/must not be held to ransom
The Racing Horse does not know if ALL approaches have been exhausted but the facts remain that the sport cannot/must not be weather dependent, it must adapt and distance itself from the paddock mentality. One cannot prepare, build, and plan under a threat. Every meeting that passes with no movement forward represents a ‘stranglehold and choking of the sport’ and a deferment of the facts.
Ceredrotian represents three harness racing clubs throughout Ceredigion - Lampeter, Tregaron and Tan y Castell. Established in 2011 their aim is to support those clubs, promote and develop the sport in the county and beyond, while promoting the area's tourism industry at the same time. They have developed their website as an important tool for racing enthusiasts and those keen to learn about the sport that may be attending the races for the first time. Please visit: http://www.ceredrotian.com/
Ceredrotian race meetings are all affiliated to the British Harness Racing Club and its promotional activities are assisted by grant funding received by Ceredigion County Council through the Wales Rural Development Plan, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government Fund. Once again The Racing Horse does not know if more help can be squeezed from any of these organisations. Apart from grant funding to set-up Ceredrotian in the first place we are not sure if an approach for lottery funding has been made? Of course we imagine that it has!
BETFAIR TO TAKE UP THE SPORT AS AN ADDITIONAL INCOME STREAM?
The Racing Horse is extremely grateful to Huw Evans (Chairman of the Tregaron Trotting Club) for updating the situation regarding Harness Racing in Wales. He raised a couple of most interesting points and we will explore these over the coming weeks.
He said: "There is money available from the thoroughbred racing scene through funds kept back from the sale of the Tote to Betfred for improving racecourses and we have looked at this avenue. Our main problem however is that we do not receive any income from off-course betting streams which is the life-blood of the thoroughbred racing industry. Therefore, establishing an all-weather track or even making use of a current facility as the meeting in Wolverhampton this week-end may open the door to this form of funding."
Huw Evans continued: "I truly believe that Betfair should take up the sport as an additional income stream (as it already does in Australia) and possibly look at funding in suitable venues like Wolverhampton, Chester, Ffos Las, Uttoxeter, Wetherby and Kempton in order to boost the grass roots of the sport through providing off course income."
He added: "Paul Bittar (Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority) was brought up on a mixture of thoroughbred and harness racing in Australasia so would be familiar with the principal – but is thoroughbred racing frightened of harness racing encroaching on the sport of kings? With 65 million prospective punters in this little island I think there is plenty of room for both to flourish – surely we can offer a better product than virtual racing?"
The Racing Horse is also grateful to Kayleigh Evans (Marketing Officer) who quite rightly reminded us of a great day of harness racing at Wolverhampton tomorrow night: http://ceredrotian.com/en/news/story/harness-racing-returns-to-wolverhampton
William Hill are taking bets, which is most encouraging and a step in the right direction. http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-ie/betting/t/13253/Tom/Wolverhampton-Harness.htm
Unfortunately the meeting is not being covered on TV so anybody interested in seeing this great 9-race card must be there live on the night. It is hoped to attract TV coverage for further proposed meetings but for now we need your support to demonstrate that harness racing is a genuine professional marketable product and worthy of coverage and high street betting/exchanges opportunities.
The Irish mile track record holder Yke Starlake makes the journey across the water in a full on attempt to lower the colours of British champ Caminetto in the Charlie Ball Memorial FFA Trot. Yke beat Caminetto at Portmarnock at the back end of last season and will be all out to frank the form on Friday. Connections currently wont hear of defeat for Caminetto so this is set to be some race. Throw Regina Rapida into the mix (winner of her last 3) Musselburgh winner Montana Queen into the pot and add some forgotten horse Mitt Popcorn and you have a mouth-watering clash to relish.
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