25th Jun 2013
What football team do you support? For those of us not linked geographically to a particular club, the answer is often the team which is successful when we are aged seven. Hence any Leeds supporters out there are probably born in the mid sixties, any remaining Liverpool supporters are a bit younger and it is difficult to age a Man Utd fan. For me it was the Arsenal team of Charlie George in 1971 which led to a lifelong interest in a part of North London. Luckily my sons were at a similar age when the Gunners were going through a glorious spell so there is unanimity in the Osborne house. The recent successes of Chelsea and Man City have probably harvested a large population of lifelong devotees, which may lead to some tangible return on investment. Likewise the lack of trophies in the Emirates has the most damaging effect in the failure to recruit new fans.
That is a racing problem too. We have had a glorious age of horseracing. We were a bit foolish to think it could possibly happen that Camelot or Dawn Approach could be flawless after Sea The Stars and Frankel happened so recently. It has been a time when we have seen the Hannon camp return to the top of the table and the continued rise of the Fahey stable makes it feel like success is available to anybody, not the preserve of the few. The challenge is to convert the glorious era into lifelong fans.
We at the Irish National Stud have a minor role to play in that. Part of the problem is the urban-rural divide which means that billions of people nowadays are unfamiliar with horses and believe that milk grows in tetra-pak cartons. If our tourist visitors get an understanding of how it all happens and the depth of the fascination the sport holds for some people, their curiosity may lead to exploration and we will have helped in a much wider way. By providing pony-rides for kids during mid-term we may have given a first experience of the bonding that causes the lifelong obsession with things equine.
We will expand our museum to make it convey the excitement of the racing itself by finding ways to put the viewer into the centre of the action, that they may experience the thrill which created the sport in the first place. However the problems are not just ours. We had a visit from Tony Petrillo of Arlington Park who commented on the difficulties of all sports to grab attention in the modern world. If the Miami Heat had not been in the NBA playoffs then the coverage would suffer. No Tiger – no golf viewers.
That could translate into “No Queen at Ascot, no hope”. The festival last week was a massive success crowned by the Royal victory, but embroidered by excitement, optimism and that jolt of energy that can overcome any doubts that we are part of the greatest show on Earth.