It was a move designed to increase the amount of revenue the bookies were making on midweek meetings.
And for online bookmakers, that has certainly proven to be the case with the BHA experimenting with 12pm starts for a number of meetings.
However, the trial has not been met with universal acclaim, with on-course bookies bemoaning a lack of foot-fall as part of the earlier start time.
Wednesday this week saw the third of three meetings to have started at midday, as opposed to the traditional 2pm kick off.
The feedback has been mixed, with online sportsbooks keen for the trial – which has been backed by the Horserace Levy Board as a means of increasing revenue – to be extended further.
Coral’s spokesman, David Stephens, said:
“The lunchtime trials were something we welcomed, as we’re in favour of any initiative that could broaden racing’s appeal to our customers, and as a result increase turnover on the sport.
“Although we’ve now had the three meetings, there are other factors along with start times to take into account when comparing turnover on individual races, such as field size and the shape of the market, while it also takes time for familiarity to build among punters as to when particular meetings are taking place, so it’s difficult to draw any firm conclusions as to the benefits, or otherwise, of earlier starts after such a limited trial.
“However, we would certainly be keen to extend the trials, and will continue to work with the BHA, racecourses and other relevant parties to maximise racing’s undoubted appeal to punters.”
Paddy Power have come out and reported a ‘10-15%’ increase in revenue for the first couple of races at yesterday’s Nottingham meeting as opposed to the later start at Newton Abbot.
But the trial has not proven to be as overwhelmingly popular as many organisers had hoped, with on-course layers noticing a drop in traffic to their prices that they have attributed to the bright ad breezy start.
The Racing Post spoke to Ricky Shepherd, who has run his Ricky Racing pitch at Nottingham for over a decade. He said:
“Business has been down around 50%, and maybe racecourses need to be more proactive in getting people in for an early start.
“Gamblers are creatures of habit and used to a 2pm start rather than midday, and I wouldn’t welcome the trial being extended.”
The Nottingham meeting attracted a gate of 1,200 racegoers, which was boosted by Racing TV subscribers attending a member’s day. That figure is around 100 people down from the traditional 2pm meeting.
There is no clear consensus from those on the inside either.
The trainer Ralph Beckett remains unconvinced. “I’m not a fan from a purely personal point of view. It’s difficult to train our horses and be at the races and I’ve missed two lots at home this morning as a consequence of the earlier start. It makes it difficult logistically.”
But the opposing view is that the earlier you start, the earlier you finish; as confirmed by the trainer James Tate.
“It will be nice to be back for evening stables after our runner in the opener although it does make it tricky to see the third and fourth lot.
“However, I infinitely prefer to be involved in a lunchtime race rather than the last race at Kempton this evening like we are!”
As far as the view from the jockeys is concerned, they are happy to get as many rides as possible for the most part. PJ McDonald has said:
“It makes it a pretty long day if you’re riding at two meetings, but if the rides are there we’ll go wherever.
“If it’s good for the industry it’s good for jockeys, and we’ll do whatever we can to boost the sport.”