Cornelius Lysaght

Cornelius Lysaght

Thank goodness for the escapism from horse racing’s ‘real world’ provided by the festivals that punctuate the summer and start of autumn.

There’s the early-season sense of anticipation at Newmarket, Chester and York in May; in June, the grandeur and heritage associated with Epsom and Royal Ascot; then Newmarket again and Glorious Goodwood serving up a high-summer garden party feel to their proceedings, before the return to York’s Knavesmire for the Sky Bet Ebor Festival in mid-August.

After that, a deep breath and a lie-down ahead of Doncaster and Ayr taking deserved places centre-stage with their own September highlights.

And don’t we need it all: away from the track, there are about as many laughs as at the conclusion of a Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee meeting, but with, I’m afraid, rather less constructive dialogue before, during and after.

Racing’s squabbles go round and round in circles, covering a Grand National-size range of issues including race-purses and the UK sport’s standing in a world where prizemoney is far greater overseas, all that interspersed with concerns over falling field sizes and a string of disappointing fixture attendances.

And I’ve not even mentioned the uncertainty and, consequently, the inevitable concerns that accompany the Government’s White Paper on reforms to the Gambling Act being delayed once more following the unseating of Boris Johnson.

To pick up that Aintree analogy again, there have been more false starts than when the infamous 1993 staging of the great race was declared void after some runners set off but others didn’t.

This is however the one area on which racing’s ever-bickering factions are pretty much united.

They agree that in an age where technology has revolutionised things out of all recognition, some changes to gambling regulations that came into law in 2005 need to be considered to protect young people and more vulnerable players, but equally, they agree that it should all be proportionate.

On the whole, having a couple of pounds on a runner in the historic Ebor Handicap, York’s fourth and final day centrepiece, is nothing more than a legitimate pastime, one which has been practised harmlessly in one form or another since about the time the Romans started racing at what they called Eboracum – and Cornelius regularly topped the list of in vogue first-names.

But some of the measures that have been called for and/or rumoured are so excessively draconian – including widespread and intrusive ‘affordability checks’ at an unfathomably low level – that it seems possible people may be put off ‘having a flutter’ altogether.

And were that the case, there would be all sorts of implications for tax receipts and directly for jobs.

Tens of thousands of people are employed in the betting industry, and more still in racing which, with its major funding model based on bookmakers’ profits, could take a hit described by trainer John Gosden, a respected voice both on and off the track, as potentially “a bullet between the eyes”.

Prior to the prime minister quitting, the tone being set by the then responsible minister Chris Philp was of the ‘don’t panic’ variety, and that there was no intention to undermine anyone, but now he’s gone and limbo has returned.

Everyone accepts that nothing can happen at least until the new PM is installed, and then considering the sensitivity of the central issues realistically it will take more time for any new minister to proceed.

And so the waiting and the worrying continues with the finishing line back out of sight.

Thankfully the arrival of racing’s festivals, and the feel-good factor that gallops alongside them, is rather more reliable.

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