In a few days, ROA members should be receiving the voting forms for the upcoming Racehorse Owners Association Executive Committee election. You will also receive a copy of the Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder, in which you will see my advertisement (below).
In the advert, I set out the points of my manifesto, and you can read more about these in the ROA candidate booklet too. However, I wanted to contact ROA members and a wider audience in the hope of further explaining why I am standing, and my key aims if I am privileged enough to be elected as your representative.
For many owners, this is a key concern, and therefore likely to be a key promise by candidates. However, simply saying that prize money should be raised is both naive and impossible, without looking at funding, distribution and revisiting the race program.
Those of you that have read my previous blogs will have seen my detailed study of prize money distribution (click here to see it). Suffice to say, the vast majority of races not only receive the least proportion of the prize fund, but they also provide the income for most of the fund in the first place. This cannot be fair and therefore this distribution needs to be more fairly delivered. That said, the prize fund is not bottomless, and may indeed be due to shrink in the next year or so if nothing is done to overcome the likely loss of income due to the closure of betting shops.
To combat this, we need to first look at the betting market. The BHA data shows the average field size in all racing is 8. That means that about 50% of races have less runners than this. Eight runners is the threshold at which the each way betting market pays out on the top 3 places. Therefore, if the field sizes increase, then we should see improved each way markets, and as such, increased bets being placed. Larger fields also attract better returns for racecourses and give the watching public more of a spectacle to watch. This, in turn, will increase the likelihood that racecourses will offer prize money at such levels as to ensure the levy unlock, and as a result, owners will receive prize money down to the minor places. I aim to ensure this part of the funding is retained, protected and expanded in future in the hope that owners can at least realise a level of appearance money.
As many readers will be aware, there have been plans to introduce city racing and a Super League team based competition. Prize money in excess of £100K is promised for every race! One has to ask, if this kind of funding can be found for races which do not even exist in the race program, then why can why not generate such sponsorship for races which already exist and have a depth and history unique to British racing? There are many such examples, which, if those who would design new types of racing are to be believed, could attract all of this sponsorship money more readily and pay out the same, if not higher levels of prize-money, allowing the funding from the levy to be diverted to the lower levels of the sport. We are seeing the highest levels of prize money ever, yet this is not reflected in the prize money paid in most races – which has to be the result of a poorly planned race program.
The Race Program
This brings me to the race program itself. You only have to look at some of the fields for races, particularly in NH, to see that the numbers of races, now larger than at any time in history, is reducing the number of runners. This is through increased demand to supply any type of racing into the betting shops, and so increase TV rights fees, never mind the quality. One only has to try to juggle with split screens and delayed highlights of races to see that quantity is all and quality is secondary. By quality, I do not mean they all need to be class 3 and above, but I mean competitive races, with a wide field and therefore a healthy betting market – at whatever level. The introduction of these “gimmick” events mentioned above will only serve to rip the program into shreds, and, heaven forbid, set up some kind of league based racing system. The whole attraction of racing is that the program allows an owner with a horse to aspire to win the best races – whilst any kind of separation by leagues or competition would build glass ceilings and restrict the chances of horses, and their owners, to aspire to greatness. Without dreams, this sport, as an owner, offers little other reward.
The introduction of such a model has indeed brought great riches in other sports – to a select few, but many more have suffered from an inability to compete. You only have to look at the FA Cup in football. We are told any team can win, but in reality, the final is inevitably between premier league teams, and the richest of those invariably wins the day. That is not something we should strive for in racing, but it is something we are at risk of seeing in the current direction of travel.
Prize Money & The Race Program are inextricably linked to the future of the thoroughbred as well as to the sport.
As a breeder as well as an owner, the program and the funding of it, is imperative to the survival of studs and to the thoroughbred racehorse. Trade at the sales for all but the very highest level of horses has been poor of late. Most breeders are small operators and happy to breed to less fashionable stallions. This not only retains the
depth of the gene pool, but offers a market for horses to the majority of owners who do not have the 6 or 7 figure budgets of the large racing operations. It is important then that the majority of owners, racing in the majority of races (80% of races are at class 4 and below), can hope to win decent prize-money and ensure this part of the industry is thriving at the sales. It is this level, after all that is not just the grass-roots, but also the foundation, of all racing in the UK for without them, over 80% of the funding for prizes would not be found. Which brings us back to the original point – that prize money should be more fairly distributed. For more on this see my previous blog by clicking here
In order to make racing even more popular, it needs to attract the public not through alcohol fuelled betting, but by showing how it is part of the history and fabric of society. Flooding the program with races which, either through timing or the race conditions, see match races and low field numbers, will not attract spectators. By projecting racing as a story of endeavour and hope, whilst making things like the Jockey Championship more relevant by reflecting the whole season, rather than a limited part of it, will bring racing back more firmly into the public perception. We all became owners following an introduction to the sport so we need to ensure this continues, in order to ensure new owners join in.
The ROA, together with the other Horsemen Group members, works with the BHA to ensure the welfare of our horses is paramount. There are some that say that by discussing it in the industry, we are enabling those that would have this sport banned. The fact is, we are not telling them anything they do not already know – or should I say think they know. There is a diminishing return in countering their arguments with pictures of horses being well cared for by their trainers and grooms – because the “antis” have made their minds up and whatever we show is the “exception” rather than the rule in their minds. And of course when a horse is injured on the track, they shout that the reason we do care for the horses is through a sense of guilt and we do it to assuage ourselves of the underlying fact that we send our horses out to die every time they race – or worse still, cast them aside to the vivisectionists! We should not rise to these lies, but instead prove them wrong. (Click here to see my previous blog on this issue)
The approach that the BHA and the ROA need to take is not to defend against those who would not listen, but to confront their lies with facts and talk to the general public. This will mean perhaps better data collection from those as yet not compelled to collect it (breeders, trainers, vets etc.) as we look at contributory factors to injury and other issues such as diets from birth, medical care, training regimes etc. That said, we have a high level of data already, added to the excellent initiatives around rehoming, retraining and general welfare which is at the centre of this sport. We should not even aim these facts at those who have already made up their minds, but at the public who only ever see the reaction and propaganda in the 1 or 2 days after Aintree or Cheltenham, and do not understand that racing offers horses the best chance of a healthy and happy life, when compared to the many other horses across the UK who suffer injury and abuse. As a member of the ROA Executive I will work to dispel the myths and build on the facts.
Since entering into ownership, both in syndicates and as an individual owner, and breeding horses through Abacus Bloodstock, I have always tried to spread the joy of being involved in this sport. It is an industry in as much as we need to break even in the production of the horse, and we need to give owners a fighting chance, with a half decent horse, that they will cover at least some of their training fees. However it is also the only sport where anyone, with any budget, can be part of a top flight sports team. This is not possible in any other sport. As an owner you can turn up with a horse for which you pay £100 per month and compete against Godolphin or Coolmore on equal terms. I will never forget going to Lingfield Park with a horse I was given – only to beat a $450K import from America, ridden by Dettori, or going to Royal Ascot with a horse we bred, and seeing him lead home his side of the field (as ever the speed, and the winner, was on the other side!). That is horse racing – that is what I want to share with people, be they existing owners, or twice a year punters. Owners provide the most pivotal role in this wonderful sport and that is why I implore you to let me be your voice in the ROA elections.