The simple answer is that while it costs at least $10 to get yourself on a racecourse, you can go to a pub for no charge at all and watch the races on TV. At the pub, the beer and food will be better and cheaper than what you can get at the races and these days you can even get a fixed odds bet on at the pub.
You can also watch the races in the comfort and privacy of your own home if you have pay TV (I find the endless cross-promotion and interviews with ‘celebrities’ that you see on free-to-air TV at carnival times unbearable) and a betting account.
It has been my long held view that there is no reason to charge admission for any race meeting that does not include a Group I race. The reason for this is simple. Whatever money you take on to a racecourse is generally money that you are happy to spend. Whatever you don’t lose on the punt, you will probably spend on the exorbitantly priced food and drink; you might even buy a race book. Unless I’m mistaken the race club gets a share of the loot from the food and drink and the whole industry benefits from any increase in gambling turnover.
I have no problem with race clubs charging admission for their major race days. It is one of the few mechanisms they have for controlling the numbers that come on course and if they’re getting very large crowds there’s no reason why they shouldn’t charge a high premium like the VRC do during the spring carnival. The rest of the year they should be doing everything in their power to attract people to the races and to encourage regular racegoers to keep fronting up.
Racing clubs are also prone to underestimating their attendances so that even in a moderate crowd some days you can find yourself in a queue for beer or food or to get a bet on. Moonee Valley for the Australia Stakes meeting was a prime example. MVRC estimated a crowd of 7000 on the night that Black Caviar was shooting for her 17th consecutive win. It was reported that 15,000 to 20,000 people turned up, the caterers ran out of food and there were queues at every bar and tote window. We’ll never know the exact attendance because the turnstiles had to be thrown open before the great mare’s race to let in the people that had been stranded outside. I have seen the same thing happen at Caulfield although the MRC has done better in this regard in recent years and they are to be applauded for the free race days they put on.
Personally I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than a race meeting but while I like to look at the horses close up and generally enjoy the ambience of the track, it doesn’t hold the same attraction for everyone.
To my way of thinking, carnival time is a write-off unless you have a members’ ticket at the very least but preferably a ticket to a marquee. The hordes of drunks who have no interest in racing do my head in and I can’t see the point in paying to be in a place where you can’t get to the toilet, bar or tote.
I would, however like to see more people on course outside of carnival time when they can take full advantage of the entertainment on offer and I see this as the way that clubs can attract new people to the races.
What would get you or your friends to the track more often?