Below is the letter I have sent today to Nick Rust at the BHA and the chairmen of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Assoc. & Racehorse Owners’ Assoc., both of which I am a member. I hope it lays down not only my views, but those of the many of you who contact me on a daily basis either directly or via my Twitter account. It is a bit of a read but stick with it.
Lets us see what they respond with, if at all. Your comments and views would be appreciated.
21st December 2016
I write both as a breeder and owner, the latter becoming an unintended necessity given the poor clearance rates of horses at the sales.
Professionals, including myself, and journalists in the sport have been writing in their respective publications and on the internet, highlighting the plight of horsemen involved in all aspects and levels of the industry. The excellent research by Daniel Ross highlighting the disparity in prize money allocation amongst both owners and trainers; the sales statistics showing less than 50% clearance rates and sales averages of £3-4000 highlighted in the Owner & Breeder sales pages; Kevin Blake’s piece recently in Thoroughbred Daily News regarding the foal market (and subsequently the yearling market), and many blogs and statistics freely available with a little research.
Only this week ARC racecourses have cut prize money based, they say, on the loss of revenue from the betting levy due to reduction in FOBT stakes. One has to question how they can firstly put a figure on this before it has even taken place, and secondly, how they can justify making these cuts before the legislation comes into effect. In short they are going to be receiving the current share of income from the FOBT, and pocketing it rather than paying out at least until the legislation comes into play. Yet, other than the reaction across social media, there has been no word from your organisation or any of the others who supposedly represent the interests of their members, with the notable exception of the NTF.
According to the BHA’s own published data, the average runners in a race is 8 – which in theory means half of the races run do so with less than the required 8 runners that would, in turn, open up the each-way betting market. Only a few weeks ago we saw a single “runner” in a race and match races in National Hunt seem to be almost daily. One of the reasons for this has to be that in the pursuit of volume, the race program has lost depth. To have to rely on the socially damaging FOBT betrays callousness in racing hierarchy which does our sport no credit, and would be better served, and equally well financed, by returning to the more traditional betting scenarios which larger fields, and fewer races, would allow.
One might argue that more races mean an increased demand for horses. Whilst this is one possible scenario, it has not manifested itself yet. The prize money offered in 80% of the races is insufficient to offer any meaningful return for current owners, let alone attract new owners. Therefore many races contain the usual suspects. One only has to look at races at Southwell or Wolverhampton for examples – the horses running are almost always the same every week. That has a detrimental effect not only on the field sizes and excitement of racing, but surely on the potential welfare of those horses.
In his research for the TRC, Daniel Ross suggests that 15% of trainers take over 80% of the prize money on offer in the sport. In reverse therefore, one could say that 85% of trainers take under 20% of the prize money. It follows therefore that if most horses raced do so for those 85% of trainers, then they are the ones which provide the vast majority of the horses for the race program which then generates the betting levy and TV rights income which in turn is paid to the top 15% of trainers and their owners. If we say that around 85% of all the horses in training race at about 80% of the races which make up the race program, most of which are at Class 3 or below, then it must follow that they race only to support the financing of the prize funds which are paid out in races of Class 2 and above – hence the findings made by Daniel Ross, and confirmed by trainers and owners across the UK.
This is why horses which are from good, winning (or winner producing) stock, bred at exactly the right levels to fill the races at Class 3 levels and below, do not sell – either as yearlings or as horses in training. Horses are left unsold and studs are going out of business, but then we are told by the BHA that we need more horses – and none of the Horsemen Group member organisations do anything to dissuade the industry of that belief – or tell the BHA to stop this catastrophic course of action.
In trying to attract more owners, and encouraging more breeding, the TBA and ROA talk incessantly of self-funding breeder led bonus schemes. For a breeder already fighting to survive, to be asked to pay yet more into a fund which, based upon statistics, adds no resale value to the horse, and is statistically won by the very same owners who take home the majority of prize money anyway, this is cold comfort. Indeed it is reminiscent of making an employee redundant and telling them that you have bought them a lottery ticket with their own money to see tie them over! Furthermore, it lets the BHA of the hook.
Prize money must be addressed. I am not saying we should be able to magic up more money and just put it into the existing structure – in the ham fisted, unimaginative way that the BHA seems to. An action they seem allowed to do with the encouragement of the very organisations who claim to represent the interests of the various constituents, but in reality keep their field of vision and focus way above the majority, grass roots levels of racing. Neither am I saying that races of a higher standard should not be rewarded with better prize money, but what has to be addressed is the disproportionate difference in prize money available across the classes of race, and the ability for racecourses to decide that they do not have to offer prize money at a pre-agreed rate for the class of race being run. Either there are too many races in the program, or the racecourses and the races they run are of such poor quality that they cannot attract attendances and sponsorship to supplement their levy / rights funding and so boost the prize money. The program must nonetheless be a factor.
Surely a proportionate division of the available fixed prize pool, supplemented by sponsorship and attendance – meaning the better the races, the better the prize fund is supplemented by attendance or sponsorship – is a better model. At the moment the chasm between big prizes paid to 15% of the racehorse owner and breeding population, is paid for by the remaining 85% of the smaller owners and breeders. Set the correct tariff and then worry about how much the money is, not the other way around. Owners do not mind running their horses for a decent potential prize pot, and losing to a better horse, but to run their horse to win and collecting a derisory sum for doing so means they will never stand any chance of covering even a margin of their costs and as such the supply chain of both new owners and new bloodstock suffers, with racing unable to attract the required benefits either.
Finally, it should be remembered that horses have to start somewhere. The belittling and underfunding of the lower level races which provide the majority of the income base for the prize fund, will reduce the quality and number of horses who go on to compete at the higher levels, and fuel the one thing this sport gives to people – Hope! Races will eventually only be run at group level where the money currently is, meaning less opportunity and less owners. The breeding pool will narrow to those that win those races and the thoroughbred will become so highly bred that it will be unable to survive. This is not just a short-term problem, this is the livelihood of many and the future of a species that we all devote our lives and hard earned money to. This is about what we pass on to the generations that follow us – both Horsemen and their horses.
I look forward to your comments and the chance to discuss mine in more detail with you.
Senior Partner, Abacus Bloodstock.