What if horse racing was a team-based sport? How about a season-long competition in which those teams compete to crown a champion?
Those two thoughts are no longer all that far fetched – over in the UK, at least. Championship Horse Racing has taken the wraps off of an innovative concept for which it has high hopes.
Debuting this summer will be the simply named Racing League. Plans call for 12 teams to compete in 36 races in July and August at four of the leading tracks in the UK: Doncaster, Lingfield, Newcastle and Royal Windsor.
Each of the teams will be comprised of 30 horses, three jockeys, several trainers, and stable staff. One horse from each team will be selected to compete in each race, which will range in distance from 5 furlongs to 1 1/2 miles.
The races will each have a prize pool of £50,000, and points will be awarded based on how the horses finish. The winner of the race notches 25 points for the team, 18 points goes to 2nd, and 15 points go to the team of the horse that shows. All told, the top 10 finishers in the 12-horse field will earn points.
Points will be tallied up along the way, and the team with the most points when the 36 races are complete will be christened as Racing League champion. For the entire competition, there is £1.8m in prize money at stake, and there will also be a bonus prize for the league champion.
Sky Sports will be the TV home of the competition, and the network plans to broadcast each of the 36 races live. Matthew Imi, the CEO of Sky Sports Racing, shared some thoughts on the new venture in a release.
“In recent years Sky Sports has been instrumental in helping mainstream sports grow their fan bases exponentially, appealing to a broad audience of sports enthusiasts and innovating in the process,” Imi said. “We are confident that we can achieve something similar with horse racing, so partnering with an exciting new initiative like the Racing League makes absolute sense. If the Racing League and Sky Sports Racing’s coverage encourages the person who goes racing once a year to go again, then I would consider that a success.”
Jockey Martin Dwyer, a recipient of an Epsom Award in 2006, also struck an optimistic tone for what can certainly be classified as an interesting concept.
“The Racing League is a really exciting addition to the British horse racing calendar, and I believe the fans will welcome it,” Dwyer said. “It’s a positive step for the racing industry to take, and the increase in prize money at handicap-level racing will be good for the sport.”
If nothing else, Championship Horse Racing, Sky Sports and company deserve a big tip of the cap for a bold initiative. While there’s no telling what the ultimate public reception will be, it’s a big positive to see such a swing for the fences that’s aimed at bolstering enthusiasm for the sport.
So could something like this work on our shores? How about on one of the busy international circuits? The answers to those questions will materialize after we see how this venture plays out. If there’s a hint of success, copycats may follow.
For the US, a summer racing league could make a ton of sense. The sporting calendar is pretty slow in July and August, so an innovative new offering just may capture some attention. If nothing else, the general horse racing community would have something unique to look forward to and another reason to circle the calendar.
The first meeting for the Racing League is set to take place on Thursday, July 16. Andrew Balding, trainer and 2003 Epsom Award winner, is among those ready to get going.
“I look forward to being involved in the inaugural Racing League and welcome the innovation it brings to our sport,” Balding said.