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Heat hits field sizes

Bath Racecourse entranceFurther evidence has emerged of the impact the summer’s marathon heatwave is having on a sport whose average British field size for July has dropped below eight runners for the first time in recent memory.

The absence of a watering system at Bath, where ground conditions continue to be reported as firm but not yet hard, has ensured the track's latest fixture will contain no races with each-way betting to three places. There is a maximum of 31 runners on 25 July.

That will cause a financial hit to the racecourse, the sport and bookmakers, one of whom has forecast turnover at the Arena Racing Company track will be "desperately low".

The severity of the situation at Bath on Monday caused Arc to talk with the BHA and horsemen regarding the possibility of switching some of the venue's four August meetings to all-weather tracks. However, by early evening those discussions ended with Arc expecting to leave all future fixtures at Bath.

What is certain, however, is that Wednesday’s card, which begins with a match and contains a trio of four-runner contests, will further bring down industry field size figures.

Before racing on Monday 23 July, the average turnout per race in July was 7.83, down from 8.58 in the same month last year and 8.95 in 2016.

Limited to turf Flat races, the average July field size showed at only 7.36, well off 2017's 8.60 – but the all-weather average of 10.08 is the highest for July since 2013. The July jumps average of 8.22 also betters last year's 7.88.

Arc spokesman Sam Cone said: "We appreciate the reasons why the number of declarations at Bath on Wednesday is low, and that generally such small field sizes do not appeal to a large number of racing's customers.

"The ground at Bath remains firm, but safe, in a very similar state to the previous meeting, which is backed up by consistentGoingStick readings. We continue to closely monitor the situation alongside the BHA for the benefit of the pool of horses who do appreciate this ground."

According to the betting industry, punters who prefer to give themselves the chance of a place return are those being put off betting at the moment.

"The each-way angle is very pertinent," said bet365's Pat Cooney.

"In Bath's favour is all the races have less than eight runners, which means there won't be any of those dreaded cases when a horse comes out and you lose each-way betting to three places. At Bath the prospect of that has gone already.

"There's no doubt turnover at Bath will be desperately low. It's no-one's fault, though, and in some ways we're lucky this will be happening on Wednesday, when there are two other afternoon meetings. Had this been happening on a Monday, when there are only two afternoon meetings, we would have really struggled."

Cooney added: "The ITV races on a Saturday tend to look after themselves but midweek turnover has generally been down.

"Punters are reluctant to bet at the moment, maybe because they are more fearful than usual of non-runners changing the shape of races. Punters look at races with eight or nine runners, or 16 or 17, and become cautious in case non-runners change the each-way terms."

BHA racing operations manager Stuart Middleton said: "We're acutely aware of the challenges caused to connections by the prolonged spell of warm weather and have responded so far with three additional all-weather fixtures as well as the lifting of the restrictions on races dividing at evening all-weather meetings.

"We will continue to monitor conditions with a view to further responses where appropriate."

24 July 2018

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