Ashforth’s Angles: Time for ambition at Leicester racecourse

Leicester: draws small crowds on the whole

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) Ashforth's Angles: Time for ambition at Leicester By David Ashforth 6:00PM 23 JAN 2017

FROM a punter's point of view, there are good and bad sides to abandonments. Relief that a meeting has passed an inspection is often followed by dismay that it wasn't abandoned, which would have saved you from watching an imminent profit of £160 turn into a £10 loss due to a mishap at the last fence.

If you're enduring a particularly bad run, there is something to be said for spotting a non-runner and backing that. At least you'll get your money back which will feel a bit like winning and boost your confidence.

So after its scheduled inspection Leicester may or may not be on. Leicester racecourse is a strange phenomenon, owned by no less than 71 shareholders, none holding more than 11 per cent of the company's 52,407 shares. It is a classic example (Kempton and Nottingham are others) of the fact that proximity to a large population is no guarantee of healthy racecourse attendances.

Leicester is one of the fastest growing cities in Britain, with a population that reached 330,000 in 2011. There are now over 28,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students at Leicester University. Birmingham and Nottingham are not far away.

Yet attendances at the racecourse are disappointing. Last year only four of Leicester's 29 meetings drew a crowd of over 2,000 while 16 meetings attracted fewer than 1,000. Leicester vies with Wolverhampton, Southwell and Sedgefield for the worst average attendances.

No Group races are staged at Leicester which suggests a long term lack of ambition. Surely, by now, Leicester should have aimed for and be staging Pattern races.

Last year its sole Listed race was run on the first of Leicester's three Saturday fixtures. A crowd of 2,531 came to see a seven race card that included four Class 5 races. The crowd was the third biggest of the year.

In terms of attendance, one fixture reigned supreme. That was the Ladies' Day meeting on Saturday July 2 which, boosted by a concert, drew a crowd of over 11,000, almost certainly a modern record. So it can be done.

The young audience certainly weren't drawn by the quality of the racing. The highest Class race was a Class 3 with three Class 5 and two Class 6 races.

Leicester made an operating profit of £465,000 in 2015 and has a sound looking balance sheet but it is high time it raised its sights. Last year one of its three Saturday meetings, in June, attracted a crowd of only just over 1,500 while its sole Sunday fixture brought in only 1,735 customers.

Financially, Leicester can probably tick along but there is surely the potential to do better.

At Southwell, where there isn't an inspection, Treaty Of Rome won't have to do much better to break his duck in a humble sprint handicap (2.10). It's humble for a horse that once cost $2.5 million although more recently he cost only 3,000 guineas.

A draw in stall 12 isn't helpful but it would be nice to see John Saville's five-year-old win.

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