RACEHORSES running down the streets at iconic global locations such as Sydney Harbour Bridge or Fifth Avenue in New York…
It might sound implausible, but the man spearheading the project has told BBC Sport he hopes agreements for the first such race meetings, on a special artificial surface, will be in place by the end of next month.
He is Peter Phillips, the Queen’s eldest grandson, and he has outlined details of racing, safety, crowd and betting plans for the ‘City Racing’ project and how racing’s best-known supporter is following the idea.
Phillips, who is 14th in line to the throne, has been working on the proposals for five years since staging an equestrian event on a similar surface on Horse Guards Parade in London.
He says that leg of the Global Champions Tour demonstrated how safe ‘pop-up’ conditions for horses in a competitive environment could be installed and removed within three days.
Working with the same company – a specialist in providing racetracks that also helped stage equestrian events and beach volleyball at the 2012 London Olympics – a successful trial was held at Aintree racecourse in November 2018.
The ambitious aim is to stage fixtures which have six flat races, with eight runners each over a five-furlong (1,000m) straight course in some of the world’s most famous cities with the best international jockeys competing before thousands of spectators.
“We are now in the process of talking to a number of cities about hosting races later in 2019 and 2020,” said Phillips.
“We are hoping to have some of these agreements in place by the end of March.
“There will be a pedestrian crowd barrier, two or three metres back from the edge of the track and people lined four or five deep, getting up close to these horses running at 30mph.”
It was trialled with three demonstration races on a road through the centre of Aintree racecourse, home of the Grand National.
“The surface has been rigorously tested and the feedback from jockeys and trainers has been positive,” said Phillips, 41.
“We are dealing with horses, who are athletes and injuries happen, but we have to make sure we put all the checks and balances in place.
“Equine safety is paramount. We have a veterinary advisory board and a gold-standard welfare framework.”
He said the track, surface, sub-layer and railings would all require sanctioning from the British Horseracing Authority.
Paul Fisher, chief executive of the Jockey Club – which owns racecourses including Aintree, Cheltenham, Newmarket and Kempton Park – believes the concept could help bring racing to “a younger, urban audience”.
“I’m a keen cricket fan and this could be racing’s Twenty20. It could take it to a whole new audience around the world,” said Fisher.
London and Paris remain on the wishlist, and while talks with those venues have stalled for now over logistics, the short-term options include Australia, Asia, the Middle East and the United States.
Complex negotiations are needed with the local city and racing authorities, but Collins Street in Melbourne and Singapore’s Orchard Road are understood to be potential locations.
New York, Sydney, Macau and Las Vegas are among others being considered.
“It has to be a full day out, with entertainment outside of the track and post-meeting entertainment. It will be up to the local provider to decide what they want to put on,” said Phillips.
Examples might be a food fair or music festival in the area, with the schedule timed to coincide with a major existing racing fixture. It is hoped tens of thousands of people would attend each event, with eight renowned jockeys, plus reserves, lined up to ride locally-based horses in the races.
The races would be ‘handicaps’ involving horses rated 0-90 – so the horses would not be at the top level, but they would need to fit criteria around their suitability.
Jockeys would accumulate points based on their finishing positions, and the rider with the highest total would be the event winner.
“The focus is on the jockeys. It should act as a platform for the racing industry to promote itself to a wider audience who may not go to traditional racetracks,” said Phillips.