It is a sure-fire sign of winter’s proximity, as the nights draw in and the turf Flat Season winds to its inevitable conclusion.

But for the past five years, the all-weather under floodlights, has flourished, with a series of heart-warming performances and flat horses running with enough regularity to, like the jumpers, become household names.

The event has brought much-needed opportunities for racehorses and revenue for stables, while proving a learning ground for future stars like Enable and Stradivarius.

The All-Weather Championships has gone from strength to strength and evolved into an international affair, with winners from Ireland and France on Finals Day, every Good Friday.

Course-Specialist recently caught up with Sam Cone, PR & Communications Manager at Arena Racing Company, to check out what is new for the 2018/19 campaign.

When does the 2018/19 All-Weather Championships begin?

Season 6 of the All-Weather Championships starts on 23rd October at Newcastle Racecourse and encompasses every race between then and Good Friday (19th April 2019) at Chelmsford City, Kempton Park, Lingfield Park, Newcastle, Southwell and Wolverhampton.

How many racecourses are involved this year?

Courier winning at Chelmsford City
Image supplied by Arena Racing Company

The six All-Weather racecourses in Britain are involved, once again, with horses qualifying to enter the £1,000,000 Finals Day at Lingfield Park by running three times across these tracks and being rated high enough come next April.

As in previous years, runs at Dundalk in Ireland and the French All-Weather racecourses, including Deauville, Chantilly and Cagnes-Sur-Mer all also count and these tracks also host Fast Track Qualifiers, which offer free and guaranteed entry to Finals Day at Lingfield Park.

How challenging is it to secure sponsorship in the present economic climate?

Horseracing is an attractive sponsorship opportunity for a number of reasons, and we are delighted to welcome Ladbrokes back to the All-Weather Championships this year, having been partners of the inaugural running back in 2012/13.

Equally, Sun Racing sponsor the Mile category, with Betway taking the Sprint, Marathon and the blue riband Middle Distance category, which culminates with the feature race of the season, the Betway Easter Classic, worth £200,000.

We also welcome Be Wiser Insurance as the official partner of the All-Weather Championships, and join the other partners in engaging with all of our customers across the four ARC racecourses involved, as well as
viewers on At The Races.

Are there any major changes to the programme for 2018/19? Has it expanded in terms of fixtures? Are there more pattern races?

Watersmeet (right) winning at Kempton Park
Image supplied by Arena Racing Company

There have been no major overhauls to the race programme for Season 6 as the races have, to a greater or lesser degree, found their place with horsemen having a good understanding of how to best campaign their horses over the winter.

This is not to say that we would never consider slight changes, and are always open to review where best to place the top end of the programme, particularly the Fast Track Qualifiers, to give horses the best campaign over the season, leading up to Finals Day.

Are there any new innovations (such as sectional timing) for this season?

Sectional timing will once again be a major aspect of the racing from the four ARC racecourses this year, and will be available throughout the season both on screen with ATR and in much more detail on their website.  ATR have done a tremendous job with Total Performance Data team to post really interesting insights into All-Weather racing.

In recent months, they have been able to add data on both stride length and frequency, which is all available for free on ATR online.

In terms of celebrating our champions, we’re delighted to introduce a prize for Champion Apprentice Jockey for the first time this year.  We’ve always had a prize for Champion Jockey, also based on number of wins, but I think it’s a positive step to reward the top Apprentice also.

How has the event changed over the past five years and how much change comes from trainers’ and public comments?

City Light wins the All-Weather Championships Sprint
Image supplied by Arena Racing Company

The All-Weather Championships is now very much in the mind of everyone involved in British racing, and the level of support it receives from trainers, jockeys, owners, racegoers and punters is fantastic.

As with everything in this sport, which runs on an annual basis, it took a couple of years for people to get used to the concept, but we’re delighted to see people buying and training horses to target at the All-Weather Championships and campaigning their horses over the winter at all levels.

The international element has been very much in force over the last two Finals days, with winners from Ireland and France. How easy is it to tie the AW Championships in with events overseas?

We’re very lucky that our colleagues at Horseracing Ireland and France Galop are pleased to be a part of the All-Weather Championships, so are very easy to work with to promote All-Weather racing.

Obviously, the French had a landmark day at Lingfield on Good Friday this year, with three excellent winners in Funny Kid, Lucky Team and City Light who was a subsequent runner up at Royal Ascot.  No doubt that helped turn some heads across the Channel and we look forward to another strong French challenge this year!

How do you attract overseas runners?

Captain Joy and Pat Smullen at Dundalk
Image supplied by Arena Racing Company

We work in France and Ireland to communicate with trainers to make sure they’re aware of the All-Weather Championships, and the programme, so that they can target their horses appropriately.  We make sure to translate our information into French to be as fair as possible and offer help and assistance for trainers and owners who do want to come across to get involved.

Has the all-weather track at Newcastle added further impetus to the AW Championships?

Enable won on the Newcastle all-weather
Image supplied by France Galop; copyright SCOOPDYGA – DYGA Laurent

The addition of Newcastle to the All-Weather Championships has been a great success, and definitely added a new dimension to the Championships.  For a start, having an All-Weather racecourse in the north has significantly helped the number of horses staying in training over the winter in the North of England and Scotland.

With regards the track itself, we’re obviously delighted that a number of superstars to have emerged from running in All-Weather Championships races at Newcastle.  Both Stradivarius and Without Parole broke their maidens at the track with stablemate Enable the obvious standout of a stellar bunch.  As a team, we always have a soft spot for horses that even touch the Championships just the once, so we were over the moon when Enable won The Oaks, becoming the first Classic winner to run in the All-Weather Championships.  Equally, to see her come back and win the Arc for a second time this year was a real thrill.

In a similar fashion, after only two runnings, we’re really pleased with how the £100,000 Burradon Stakes at Newcastle on Good Friday has developed.  It gained Listed status in its second year, when it was won by Gronkowski, who obviously went on to run so well in the Belmont Stakes behind Justify, the Triple Crown Winner.

Will you get to the stage where Finals Day is so popular it might need to be moved?

Over the years, the team at Lingfield Park have built a tremendously popular fixture, which attracts a lot of local racegoers, including plenty of families looking for an Easter day out, so I don’t see it moving in the foreseeable future.

What are your hopes and goals for the upcoming AW Championships season?

Tryster winning the All-Weather Classic at Lingfield Park
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Lingfield Park Racecourse

I would hope for another year of growth for the All-Weather Championships, with plenty of good racing and increasing our engagement with racing fans, horsemen and punters.

Where can people find out more about the AW Championships and purchase tickets?

All the information you could want is available online at www.awchampionships.co.uk, with links to where you can buy tickets to any of the racecourses.  In addition, you can follow the All-Weather Championships on social media on twitter (@AWChamps) and on Facebook also.