As a hypothesis – imagine yourself as a fervent fan of horse racing 30 years ago. That isn’t much time in the overall scheme of things. Now let’s also presume that it was difficult for you to actually make it to a racecourse to see the real action – but you loved it all anyway. Your world now consists of reading about your sport in a daily newspaper each day (usually with no actual pictures of horses unless it was immediately after a major race like the Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Grand National etc.) or maybe buying The Sporting Life or the Sporting Chronicle – horse racing’s dedicated newspapers of the time.
Saturdays were your really big treat when ITV would screen the ITV 7 – seven races from two different courses around the country and if you were lucky you’d get to see a couple of races on BBC as well.
And if it was a big meeting like Royal Ascot or the Derby meeting at Epsom etc., or the Cheltenham Festival – you may also be able to watch some racing during the week.
And that was largely it. Otherwise, following your chosen sport and gambling on horse racing consisted of going into a bookmaker’s shop and taking the odds on offer, race commentaries were provided in staccato deadpan, unexciting bursts of talk via a box on the wall – the old “Extel” broadcasting system. There were no moving pictures of any kind of races in the bookmakers’ shops – nor were there any seats or any other form of comfort. All this stuff was down to strict legislation as betting shops themselves had only been made legal in 1961 – and the nanny state didn’t want us staying around and enjoying the experience! There were certainly no refreshments and the atmosphere was usually extremely smoky.
Now jump forward 30 years and consider what the world of horse racing consists of for fans of the sport thanks to the evolution of digital and mobile technology – and, to a lesser, extent, due to the relaxation in central government legislation in 1986.
Today, racing fans can download a massively wide range of apps to their mobiles or tablets etc., and can watch racing from more or less anywhere in the world live.
They can certainly watch races from around the UK – and there are more meetings these days thanks to the all-weather tracks and floodlit evening meetings.
There are also a vast array of app tools and software for the analysis of form – which is an absolutely integral part of the sport of horse racing. This is literally true in handicap races, of course, where the form of a horse previously dictates how much weight it will carry in handicap races. In other words – whereas with other sports the analysis and general punditry helps with the overall entertainment – with horse racing , it kind of ‘is’ the sport itself. This is why apps are such a vital part of the enjoyment for race-goers today.
But perhaps best of all – the bookmaking industry is far and away more competitive today than it was three decades ago thanks to the internet revolution. Today, most bookmakers are online only – and the days of the bookmakers’ physical shops look numbered (though the 1986 legislation at least provided for chairs, TV screens and refreshments etc.). And this is great news for punters as all the bookies offer an array of great apps – as well as free bonus cash to get started.
Racing has come further than just about any sport thanks to the evolution of technology – and fans of the sport really have never had it so good.