On Track- Scottish Racing

IGNORE Scottish racing at your peril. That’s the message not just in general terms but specifically from Scottish Racing, with a capital R, the organisation founded in 2000 as the marketing vehicle for Scotland’s five racecourses but which has developed into a much more potent force.

As Vivien Currie, Chief Executive of Hamilton Park Racecourse, points out: “Scottish Racing has evolved in the light of what is happening in the world of racing generally, as well as politically north and south of the border. At the beginning, before I came into racing, it was a promotional umbrella, but it’s changed because the five tracks are all growing and because of what’s going on in the industry as a whole.”

Marketing remains a core objective of Scottish Racing, whose Manager, Delly Innes, explains: “We are the farthest north of all British racecourses so we have to offer that little bit extra in order to attract runners. That’s why three courses have five-star VisitScotland status, and three-quarters of the ROA’s gold standard courses are Scottish.

“If you were to scrap the courses and start all over again, you’d put them exactly where they are and doing what they do – Perth in the Highlands for summer jumping; Ayr as the flagship course on the west coast; Hamilton Park by Glasgow, Musselburgh just outside Edinburgh and Kelso in the horse-centric Borders. All five are so different and none is in competition with each other, which makes my job a lot easier.”

Currie adds: “We have to be aware of what our customers are looking for. This applies to all racecourses, but customer experience and service is so important in order to compete for the leisure pound, and Scottish Racing gives us a forum where we can share ideas to make sure we’ve got a similar level of service across all five tracks.”

However, Scottish Racing is about more than just marketing and racegoer experience, and the organisation has taken two significant steps forward since Innes became Manager early in 2016, advancing deep into the areas of politics and community engagement.

Innes says: “I have a background in political lobbying, so when I arrived, the first thing I wanted to know was what Scottish Racing was doing with the Scottish Parliament. The answer, for lots of reasons, was that there wasn’t a Cross Party Group, so we formed one for the Scottish horseracing and bloodstock industries, because it was vital for us to have an entry into the Scottish Parliament.

“It mirrors the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group in Westminster and, importantly, members come from all four main parties in Scotland and their numbers have grown.”

Armed with an economic impact study, which revealed that Scottish racing in 2016 generated £302 million for the country’s economy, and boosted by last year’s successes of One For Arthur in the Grand National and Nakeeta in the Ebor Handicap, Innes set about telling the country’s success story to those working in Holyrood. That she has been successful in getting the message across became apparent earlier this year.

“I was contacted by the Minister for Rural Affairs in Scotland to discuss what barriers the racing industry was coming across in rural areas,” she explains. “I was really pleased that he came to us, because it shows how recognised Scottish Racing has become.”

While Scottish Racing has other objectives, such as focusing on retaining stable staff in the country’s 29 training yards, and other successes, such as setting up the recent national racecourse betting-shop deal with William Hill, increasingly important efforts have been devoted to community engagement.

Vivien Currie explains: “There are a lot of aspects that we’re trying to balance. It’s not all about gambling, which can be one of the reasons why people don’t want to come racing, so we want to promote racecourses on the facts that they are employing a large number of people, generating economic growth in each area and doing good work in their communities, including helping different charities.

“It’s all about corporate social responsibility, and Scottish Racing is helping us to join up the dots in this respect. It’s not that the five tracks weren’t doing anything, but Scottish Racing is conducting the orchestra, helping to keep us ahead of racecourses that may be trying to do things on their own.”

To this end, in May this year Scottish Racing appointed Eleanor Boden, a graduate intern at an equine therapy centre, senior lecturer at Myerscough College and education and training development manager at the Heros charity in Lambourn, as its Community Engagement Officer. She works in association with Racing Together, the national body that co-ordinates British racing’s community engagement across the industry.

The appointment was timely, since the Scottish Government has designated 2018 as the Year of Young People, and Boden has worked with each racecourse and its regional authority on developing the Young Work Force.

“The idea is to encourage links between Government and business and education to close the loop on reducing youth unemployment,” she says. “For example, Ayr has been busily engaged with local young people with the end goal of gaining more life skills. In addition, Musselburgh has a programme with its local grammar school focusing on maths, which reached more than 300 students last year.”

On the charity aspect, Boden has forged a partnership between Scottish Racing and Alzheimer Scotland, supporting the country’s Dementia Awareness week in June and following up with the first ‘Dementia Friends’ information session at Hamilton Park in June, with a view to extending their reach to the other four courses in the coming months.

Racing Together Chair, Morag Gray, a former Hamilton Park Chief Executive, says: “Scottish racecourses are working together to be good neighbours in the community, but while their executives have many other responsibilities, we need a focus and Eleanor brings that.”

Reducing the use of plastic on Scotland’s racecourses is another initiative that Boden is driving, which takes Scottish Racing’s impetus back to the political arena.

Delly Innes sums up: “Co-ordinating events in the Year of Young People, establishing a partnership with Alzheimer Scotland, and working on plastic reduction: these are all points that make it much easier for Scottish Racing and me to get a foot in the door with the Minister for Sport, the Minister for Public Health, and others.

“If we can make it easy for them to do things for racing, rather than to racing, I’m delighted. We’ve got to work with our country’s Parliament, and we are doing exactly that.”