Is the worm about to turn?

Looking at social media today, there seems a growing discontent around the levels of prize money paid out at the lower end of the racing calendar.  I say “lower end”, but in truth it is the end of the sport which actually supports the remainder, particularly in the Winter season where there is a choice of low runner NH racing or flood-lit all weather racing to see us (and the levy) over the dark months.

Much of the discontent comes with Arena Racing Company or ARC as it is better known.  This racecourse owner’s decision to cut prize money in response to the yet to happen FOBT stake cap has figured prominently in my own pages and those of many others.  This evening (Monday) every race at ARC owned Newcastle will pay winning connections less than £3000.  At Sedgefield (another ARC track) Thursday’s Class 5 handicap hurdle will pay just £2274 to winning connections.  Due to the woefully low prize money, the appearance money which is unlocked for horses after prize money exceeds a certain level will not be available either.

Prize Money Distribution

Recent letters to the BHA, TBA and ROA have resulted in replies from all three organisations.  I will go into detail in another post, but I would like to share one piece of data sent from the BHA.

The table below shows the ratio of prize money distributed by class of race.  What it does not show is the number of races in each category.  This of course means that whilst the table shows the percentage, the per race prize fund is massively higher at the top end than the table suggests.  By numbers, around 80% of the race program is for class 4 and below races.  With 1500 fixtures this year, at an average of 6 races per meeting, that equates to 7200 of the total 9000 races planned.

prize money distribution

Figures courtesy of the BHA Jan 2019

As you will see from the table, these races are allocated just 35% of the prize fund in 2019.  Nick Rust points out that this is “boosted” to this level by the introduction of the appearance money scheme by around 5%.    £165million was paid out from all sources in prize money in 2018  meaning 7200 races received around £57.75million, whilst 1800 races received £107.25million.  Of course this is somewhat skewed as in reality, the prize fund includes entry stakes and sponsorship funding – the highest of which will be at the highest levels of the sport, further boosting funds at this level.    Obviously with ARC courses rarely paying appearance money by falling short of the unlock figure, the true distribution at ARC courses is far worse – and is to the further detriment of class 4 to 7 horses due to these being the races which attract the appearance money.

What can we do?

The National Trainers Federation were the first of the Horseman groups to communicate their dissatisfaction with ARC, and I know there is similar sentiment at the TBA and ROA.  From Nick Rust at the BHA, I am also aware that they are far from happy either.  The issue is of course that the racing fixtures have been agreed and therefore ARC cannot be dispossessed of the races.  Neither can these Horseman groups be seen to launch a boycott against ARC, as this would cause a likely court case and is not something these organisations could recommend given their role in the industry.  However, there is nothing stopping their members failing to enter horses at ARC tracks. It is not just owners who go inadequately rewarded after all, but also those who share a percentage of any purse – trainers, stable staff, jockeys and ultimately breeders all rely on a healthy and fair system of prize money; many of them as a matter of business survival.  One meeting, with a horse entered in each race (after all we would not want ARC to save the prize money altogether), and the BHA denying any future right for ARC races to be divided due to numbers, would send the right message.  If individuals work together, then the Horseman groups can support this action without fear of legal reprisal, and perhaps ARC will see that to survive they need horses and owners.

Back to the drawing board

What is apparent from the various communications I have received and seen elsewhere is that the number of races in the calendar exceed any form of sustainable level.  With total prize money at its highest level, we are seeing connections paid less than they were 10 years ago in many cases.  Simple long division will show that the numbers of races are madness.  Add to this the quality of coverage on Racing TV since the beginning of the year.  I am fully aware that they also show Irish racing, with the argument being that TV coverage pays for the levy through TV rights and betting income.  However, the numbers of races means that this channel cannot hope to cover all the races at once, and when they do, it is with no depth around the horses or the people – a dimension  which has paid dividends for ITV coverage; attracting new viewers – and maybe even new owners as a result.  My hope is that we see a cut in races in the next round of scheduling in order to ensure larger fields (and therefore a bigger each way betting market) and better returns for connections.  Less is more!

 

One Month In – 2019

It seems that Christmas was months ago with all the goings-on in the last month or so.  We have finalised our mating plans for this season with 2 mares off to see new boy Poet’s Word at Shadwell Stud, one to Darley’s Group 1 winner Outstrip, and another to Lethal Force who stands at Cheveley Park.  The A14 will become a very familiar road in the next few months!

As you will be aware, the market for horses is fairly tough at present, but we hope that

wilma

Wilma joins Abacus

by improving our broodmare band, and choosing commercially attractive stallions, we will be able to survive where others, sadly, have had to quit the business.  It is far from easy though – with somewhere like £15000 needed to raise a newborn to yearling stage, returns are way behind investments for many.  Our new addition, Willbeme (Kyllachy), should prove a successful broodmare given she was a multiple winning sprinter rated in the high 90’s and has black-type listed status – as well as a rare pedigree free from both Danehill and Sadlers Wells lines.  Wilma, as we call her, joined us only a week or so ago and has settled in well for what will be her maiden season.

The Battle continues….

Those of you that follow me either on here or on Twitter will be aware that I have contacted the BHA, TBA and ROA to discuss some issues raised by me and many others around the worrying challenges facing all parts of the industry.  I have now received a reply from each of them and will be posting the letters in the coming weeks, together with some next steps.  Whilst the parties I have written to represent important parts of the industry, they can at times seem to be representing an element which seems far removed from the majority of horsemen and race-goers.  We must hold them accountable as paying members and producers of the raw materials needed to make racing happen – whilst ensuring we do not see a widening gap between the various levels of the sport.  After all we all breed, own and train horses with the hope they will win a Derby, or a July Cup or a Champion Hurdle depending on our preferences.  To lose the hope of that would be more damaging than any funding or Brexit crisis.

ARC Prize Money Decision

It is a travesty that ARC group have decided to reduce the prize money on offer at their arc logotracks even before the reduction in the FOBT stake has come into effect.  There is no doubt that the loss of income to bookmakers, and the resultant dip in likely payments into the levy, will threaten current levels of prize money.  However, for ARC to act so prematurely, with the result being that this will also reduce the likelihood of the excellent appearance money payments for owners due to not reaching the threshold required, is scandalous.  The industry is working hard to find alternate sources of funding to maintain levels and other racecourses are honouring their commitments pending an outcome. One can only hope that an immediate reduction is made to the money paid to ARC by the levy.   I suggest that if ARC are not willing to stand by those who provide the horses for their races, then owners and trainers should think twice about supporting their racecourses.

Welfare is ours to sort

Following the BHA’s much publicised self-inflicted foot shooting incidents of late (coat waving, hind shoes etc.)  and their statement that horses should race due to their own “free will”, the industry is coming increasingly under pressure to address public welfare concerns.  In my view, a small but vociferous anti-racing faction is making the very most of the opportunities presented to them both through deaths of horses, and through the Capturemisguided actions and statements from within the sport.  Whilst the horse people amongst us will react with dismissals based upon long-held practices, racing needs to recognise some of these concerns.  In my view these should be tackled head on.  We should be happy to open our doors to the discussions, but by the same token, we need to back up our beliefs and arguments with facts.  We all know that the “whip” is nothing more than a foam padded stick which, used correctly, does no harm to the horse, but if we are arguing that it is a safety requirement then let us show that to be the case.  In the case of equine deaths, rather than flattening fences and likely increasing the likelihood of injury at speed, let us compare these with deaths from paddock injuries or look at the root causes (if such things exist) and address the issues with science and irrefutable evidence.  Likewise, the industry is showing the professional and caring side of racing.  This must be increased by open days, by inviting those that would ban racing to visit the yards and see for themselves, and by ensuring retired horses have useful, safe lives after racing.  We do so much good in this area, but fail to really engage the lay-man on these key areas.

It is not helped of course when Australian trainer Darren Weir is only today banned for 4 years for cruelty.  It is a world away both literally and metaphorically from how horses are looked after usually – but the press surrounding this will once again fuel the ardour of those who would steal our sport away.  Weir’s punishment, whilst affecting many staff and suppliers, in my view is nowhere near sufficient for the damage he has done to racing in Australia and worldwide – and the likely suffering he has overseen.  

Please drop me a line with your comments either on here, on my Twitter page or by email.  Meanwhile enjoy the racing and stay safe. – Stuart