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!

 

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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

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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

Letter to Racing Authority

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

Dear Sir,

 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.

Yours sincerely,

Stuart Matheson 

Senior Partner, Abacus Bloodstock.

 

Racing: Can it survive with so much disparity?

Only last week we saw prices of 3.5 million guineas paid for a yearling, and the Tattersalls Book 1 median at a high of around £168K.  This week the Book 2 looks set to be a good earner for some breeders.  So from these figures it seems racing is in fine fettle.  However for those, like me, who have read Daniel Ross’s excellent study into the disparity between large and small training yards (TRC October 2018), his study has such resonance in other parts of the horse racing community also.

We are told that prize money is growing year on year – yes it is.  We are told that the growth in syndicates is at an all time high – yes it is.  We are told that access to the top stallions is the best it has ever been with bumper covering books in the hundreds for many stallions – yes it is.  However, what these messages do not reveal is the disparity across the industry.  It is something which, albeit the study focuses on trainers, Ross’s findings reflect the trends in the wider industry.

On Twitter recently, a comment was made to the effect that with huge auction prices, it was little wonder that new owners could not be attracted to the sport, and did breeders pay a levy from part of their fat profits?  In reality of course, the Book 1 sale at Newmarket accounts for only 3.5% of all yearlings sold into the market each year.  Of that, many come from overseas (Ireland and France) and so places at the sale become competitive.  This is only right as the best auction should attract the “best” horses.  The result however is not necessarily what racing needs to be a successful sport.

It is fair to say that those paying the extraordinary amounts for horses at auction are the same ones who have large interests in horses anyway and therefore, in line with Ross’s study, it is likely that these new purchases will end up with their usual trainers.  I note no one asked if the £1 million plus horses would be going to Stuart Williams or Jedd O’Keeffe or any number of the vast numbers of statistically excellent trainers in the “lower” echelons.  Instead the names were all those of the trainers we all see winning the Group 1’s every week.  Not for one moment do I blame these owners.  If I pay those kind of rates, then I want the best trainers – and many of those will be in that lofty position because they are retained by owners anyway.  Neither do I resent the success of these trainers – indeed they are rightly heroic figures.  The system however is building a glass ceiling and the resulting “them and us” is a real threat.

However that is the 3.5%  of the bred horses – not the remainder.  A rough estimate would say that of the 12000 or so horses bred each year, around 35-40 % will go to the sales on a good year.  80% of those will sell, although most at less than the cost of production (see the TBA Economic Impact Study 2018).  The remainder will be sold privately or even given away.

So we now have the fact that the most expensive horses go to the richest, most prolific owners, who send them to the top 10-20% of trainers.  On top of this, Ross highlighted that the prize money is so poorly distributed, further fuelling the problem of attraction and survivability for so many.  In 2017 60% of overall prize money went to Class 1 & 2 races.  The BHA figures for 2017 show there were 1172 races in these two classes – there were 9079 in all the others!

That means that 60% of prize money goes to just 11.4% of races in the calendar –   a strikingly similar ratio to the split of prize money to the number of trainers in the top tier according to Ross.  A rough estimate would say that this ratio is also quite similar when we look at the top priced horses and the breeders selling them.  One can argue that the best races should get the best prize money – and indeed that is quite right, but to such a degree?

Let us not forget that in order for a horse to become a Group winner it will have had to likely race in a Class 4 or 5 maiden.  They may even have been through a circuitous route due to a delayed  show of promise.   The lower tier races are the route for horses to get to the top tier and so if we do not have a healthy sport at the lower levels, it is highly likely that we will degrade the breed and the sport irrevocably.  They also bring forward horses which would otherwise go undiscovered were we, for example, to have a two tier, league type structure – an idea mooted in past years and which, thankfully, has been abandoned.  Football, for all its attractive benchmarks, is not the ideal model to use in racing.

Lastly, the BHA 2017 statistics show the average number of runners in a race is 8.2.  If, as we are led to believe, betting is the financial cash-cow of racing, then it is in the interests of racing to promote the vast majority of races (ie. those at Class 3 and below) to ensure this average rises and place-bet  payments can go to the first 4 more often that the first two or three over the line.  To do this it has to equalise the prize pool to invest in the 88.6% of races – and in the owners, trainers and breeders who are struggling against their own odds to fulfil the demand without the rewards.

Abacus Counts the Cost

Another month of Summer has passed by in a flash – but at least with the increased

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Yearlings are being fed hay in August

rainfall we now have something resembling grass on the paddocks.  As with all livestock owners, the stud industry has been feeding both hard feed and hay to the horses which would usually be enjoying the green stuff at the moment.  This will inevitably increase production costs, at a time when the initial sales figures for 2019 are not looking promising.

The BHA have recently increased the number of races, and therefore the demand for horses, to record levels for 2019 and yet the market for horses seems to demand the cheapest possible price.  We received an offer for a yearling recently for £2000 – on a covering which cost £5000 – let alone the associated costs!  How can that be sustainable

Capture

Fixtures increased & sale prices under pressure – not a good combination

for breeders?  The increase in races, together with the slump in market prices will lead, in my opinion, to one of three issues (or a mixture of all of them) –

  • either the same horses will race in them and increase the risk of injury as a result,
  • or field sizes will be small due to lack of fresh runners,
    • Both of the above due to breeders cutting their production
  • or breeders will breed cheap horses  for the lower level market leading to a reduction in the quality of the pedigree and a potential chasm between the group / listed races (10% of the calendar) and handicaps (the vast majority of races) by way of breed quality and accessibility to non-millionaire owners.

The last point will inevitably lead to lower prize money and an even greater feeling of “them and us”.  It will also reduce the number of good stallions, at currently good prices, as many stallion handlers will find it unprofitable to keep them.

Syndicate buyers and smaller owners must realise that whilst they dream of “bought cheaply and wins a Group 1” horses, the reality is that there is a difference between cheap and unsustainable prices.  It seems that buyers and their trainers are happy to drive prices down from breeders, but then make few allowances in their own training fees.  As the old saying goes “it costs as much to train a bad horse as a good one.”  Look at the horses which win the classics – few, if any of them are cheap buys!

Goodbye Little Mo

As some of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen, we sadly had to say goodbye to our broodmare Littlemoor Lass.  She suffered a training injury which prevented her

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Littlemoor Lass as a yearling – she will be missed.

racing, and was retired to stud by  us as a result.  The daughter of  Derby-winner Motivator, she was a beautiful looking animal who produced two colts and two fillies in her all too short career.   We loved her from the day I bought her as a 9 month old, to the day I held her for the vet.  The pain of loss is a measure, I hope, of the affection we had for her.  Rest easy lass.

 

Racing – Time to be relevant!

Anyone who reads my occasional ramblings (thanks if you do!) will recall that back in January I wrote about the perception that racing is elitist and therefore may be a turn-off to racegoers as well as potential owners. A Yawning Gap? – maybe it’s the elitism not the spectacle!

I have already stated that I do not hold the puritanical view that entertainment and Captureparty-packages should not be part of racing as I believe it will bring more people to the courses.  Certainly it gets bums on seats.  My concern though is not for the racecourse balance sheet, but that those “newbies” are the next generation of owners, breeders and racing fans and that this potential is  being missed – both at the racecourse itself and in the way racing portrays itself.  These events should be sold as a RACE MEETING with after race entertainment, not a concert with 3 hours of something to be endured (sometimes sadly with copious amounts of alcohol) before the music starts!

Back in January I mentioned that the Owner & Breeder magazine had a number of pages dedicated to “Lifestyle”.  It was my view that the magazine was falsely portraying a world of elitism and wealth which was not a true reflection of the vast majority of the racing world.  Whilst I do not expect the editor of that publication to bother with my blogs, I would have hoped that one of the many racing experts who write in the magazine would have thought along the same lines as I do.  Certainly the straw poll taken from the response to my tweet of yesterday shows I am not alone in my opinion.

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Racehorse ownership is accessible – so why make it seem elitist?

The excellent initiatives underway through the TBA and ROA (both contributors to the magazine and providers of the majority of the readership through their members), this month sit alongside articles on a trainer who sees his helicopter as a “necessity”, the story of the multi-billionaire who is trying to expand the Tote betting and NINE PAGES of what is now termed “Racing Life” (they cannot be saved from themselves!) dedicated to cocktails at a 5 star London hotel, hand-made shotguns, original artworks and tailor made country clothing.  How is this “Racing Life”?  It has nothing to do with racing, and is all about the “Loadsa Money” attitude we saw in the recession of the 1980’s, or the “Let them eat cake” view which served the French monarchy so well!  Aspiration is fine, but humiliation…really?

To be clear, I am not spouting some radical socialist ideal or saying that the rich should be stripped of their wealth.  Indeed I go shooting, I own and breed racehorses and I have even enjoyed a tipple in a posh hotel but I do not flaunt this as the reason I am able to enjoy racing, because it isn’t.  It is extremely harmful not just that the Owner & Breeder magazine thinks they should publish such articles, but that no one within racing’s hierarchy has seen the lack of resonance it has with the general public and said something about it.  I have been in racing for many years now and it has no resonance with me – so how can it possibly with a potential new entrant? There are great articles in the magazine as I have said and I urge you to read what is a superb publication full, in the main, with excellent journalism and informative stories, but to read those, you have to leaf through the elitist message to get there – and many people will see the money and equate that with the cost of racehorse ownership and find something with which they have more comfort and affinity.

The BHA have just launched a study into inclusivity across racing.  Well Mr. Rust and team, start by realising that the disposable income required to become an owner needs only be the price of a beer a day, not the cost of a stately home in Belgravia!  Get some perspective, make racing seem possible, make it resonate with the public and with the new generation, speak the language of inclusiveness and not of elitism – and make sure others do too!

As the “powers that be” sit back in their Bentleys as they drive to their London club (for that is the image they portray), and see that average ownership age is now in the mid-50’s and breeders are dwindling due to retirement and / or lack of profits, that recruitment of stable staff is the hardest it has ever been, and that meanwhile the record number of fixtures for 2019 requires increases in owners and horses to cope, perhaps they will realise that good intentions count for nothing if the messaging is packaged wrongly.

 

 

Sizzling Summer

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Masar – Godolphin’s first Derby winner

Last time I wrote we were reaching for the snorkels and wishing for the good weather – and the wish has come very true!  The flat season has also got off to a sizzling start with no clear leader in the classic generation, but instead a wide open, and therefore very interesting outlook at the higher levels of racing.  It is always good to see healthy competition amongst the training elite, and some great results for the “smaller” names too.  Does this mean it’s not a great generation of horses, or are they all so good that there is no clear leader?

Royal Ascot was superb as usual (with Frankel really showing his prowess as a sire), the Derby threw up a potentially great horse for Godolphin in Masar – their first winner in the famous blue silks.

Abacus Horses & news

Meanwhile back at Lower Linbrook Farm all the horses are going well.  The three foals are growing really fast and showing early signs of some athleticism.  The yearlings meanwhile are blossoming and working well in preparation for the sales and racing.

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Cityscape – a sire on fire!

Of note is the superb record of stallion Cityscape.  The Dubai record holder is proving real value and as a result we are hopeful that our colt yearling by him will do well for prospective owners.  He, like all our yearlings, offer great value for the prices we are asking and can be seen at our website.

Our Abacus Bloodstock bred runners continue to impress on the track, with the youngsters performing well for their connections, and the ever reliable Roll on Rory continuing his winning ways with a runaway success at Newmarket last month.  He is entered in the Bunbury Cup at the July Festival so we hope he makes the cut.

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Rory continues to win EVERY year!

We have acquired yet more land in the last month so our expansion continues.  Work on fencing and securing the new paddocks is a little held up with the dry ground, but at least hay making is going well!

Retirement from Racing

As many of you will know, the highly successful Pancake Day returned to us following a superb career – with 8 wins in the UK and Europe for his

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Fangfoss Girls – retired to stud

connections.  He joins a number of retirees we have, including his mother, Fangfoss Girls, and Imperial Bond who was injured as a 3 year old and therefore never got to fulfil his potential.  As a stud, we can offer our mares a retirement in the breeding program where possible, and if not we have space to accommodate the horses on our farm.  We have also sent Elegant Joan (“Treacle”) to the Northern Racing College, where she is a great favourite and is training the jockeys of the future – as she is still only very young she will have a hopefully long and successful career.

Sadly many horses do not make the grade as racers, and even if they do, they all eventually need to retire.  Whilst we, and therefore our horses, are fortunate, many are not.  The growth in syndication means that there is now a widening number of owners, most of whom have neither the facilities, or the ultimate ownership, to enable them to look after retired horses.  There is a market for thoroughbreds elsewhere in equestrian sport, but supply outnumbers demand.

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Treacle now working for the NRC

There are some excellent initiatives in UK racing to find new homes for retirees.  Indeed owners now pay an increased levy for all race entries, which is dedicated to the retraining of racehorses.  The Retraining of Racehorses and other charities work hard to support owners and trainers in finding new careers for what are very often still comparatively young horses at the end of their racing careers.  Therefore I would urge everyone to support these initiatives and make sure we give these horses the very best reward – a safe and enjoyable retirement.

Staff Dedication

Finally, a word for the staff we have here at Abacus Bloodstock.  We are a family run business and therefore our staff are mainly family members.  Sadly, due to this we cannot nominate them for the excellent Stud & Stable Staff Awards due to the rules.  Therefore I wanted to write, as we near the end of the stable staff awareness week, to thank everyone who works for and with us here.  We know we could not do it without your efforts – much of which is done in your own time and through a real professionalism and love of the horses.  Thank You!

Spring? What Spring?

For anyone who follows my Twitter account (@stumat) you will know that my patience with this wet weather is wearing thin!  Not only do we have no turf racing due to the

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Our new 5 bay walker – at least the roof keeps the horses dry

downpours, but the stud farm is, like many others, gradually getting muddier.  Last year we had the horses out on the summer paddocks around now, but as I write we are still stabling all the horses at night and allowing them to get used to “heavy going” during the day on the winter grazing.  At least the haylage man is making a packet!

Looking ahead, we still await our last two foals.  Fangfoss Girls is due to foal a Garswood in the next few days, and Littlemoor Lass has another Albaasil on the way in a week or so.  That will add to the beautiful Heeraat filly foal we had in February.

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Our new Heeraat filly (born in February) – with mum Princess of Rock

We have invested in a lovely little mare by Ifraaj called Vale of Clara.  She ran in Ireland to a mark of 86 and won over sprint distances.  A really pretty mare, she will visit Pearl Secret in a week or so all being well.

Other mating plans are that Princess of Rock has already visited Swiss Spirit and looks to be in foal – and Makindi is preparing to visit new sire Mattmu at Bearstone Stud.  Once again the weather is making the mares’ reproductive cycles very slow to react but good rugs and quality food will help them on their way.

We will rest both Fangfoss Girls and Littlemoor Lass this year to allow them to be covered earlier next year.  Both girls have produced superb foals in the last 4 years and deserve a year off from the kids we think!

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Pancake Day as a foal – He returns to the team that bred him after a successful racing career

At the other end of the career of a racehorse, we are pleased to say that multiple winner and globetrotter Pancake Day has retired to the stud after amassing wins and places for his owners in every year he ran.  He will be retrained for RoR events and is settling in well – telling the yearlings how to win races we hope!  His half sister, Elegant Joan was less adept on the racecourse and has been retired to work with the Northern Racing College, training budding jockeys and enjoying herself immensely.  She was one of the fastest horses over 800 metres, and then seemed to get bored!

We have a bumper crop of horses we have bred about to enter battle for various owners this season.  We wish them and their connections the very best of luck and a safe season.  We will be following them avidly and may see you at the races soon.

Lastly, if you are interested in buying one of our 5 superb yearlings then pop along to our website and see their details on the Horses for Sale page.

Now, where’s the sun-cream?  Helps to be optimistic!

A Yawning Gap? – maybe it’s the elitism not the spectacle!

So horse racing has been identified as a boring sport.  We have all seen the UGov poll published this week and, as expected, many people have had much to say in defence of the sport they love – or hate depending on, of course, personal tastes.most boring sport

I would rather watch paint dry than watch Formula 1 racing.  That said, when I was in Singapore on a rainy day a few years ago with nothing to do, and no freshly painted walls to occupy my time, I watched some Grand Prix or other and remember there were a few crashes, some bad visibility and an excited commentator and, guess what, F1 suddenly became exciting – for 30 minutes until the rain in Singapore stopped and the pool seemed a better option.  And that is the point: all sport is exciting when there are exciting things going on, and it’s tedious to the extreme when there isn’t.

Racing might kick itself and say the poll shows the sport we love to be dull more times

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Crowds at Sydney’s Royal Randwick Racecourse – many of whom own a part of the horses running

than it is exciting, but remember it is still the second largest spectator sport in the country – yes people actually get out of their armchairs and GO RACING!  Football is the most popular of course and this is much to do with the TV coverage and newspaper column inches of course, but it is also because you can buy a £2 football and, at any age, dream of being the next Beckham, or impress your mates with your ball juggling – even if in reality you are an estate agent from Bradford!

Racing does not have that “anyone can do this” affinity.   To become part of the sport the public perception is that you have to be a multi-millionaire, or an Arab prince, or “Lord Monocle of Pass the Port”.  The attempts of the racecourses to attract race-goers has to be applauded.  Even if to the purist, Olly Murs and a best dressed child competition detracts from the racing.  What now needs to happen is the myth of racing being elitist needs to be tackled, and ownership become a possibility.  This is where racing beats football – you are highly unlikely to own a football club but you can own a horse (or part at least).

In Australia around 60% of Aussies own part of a racehorse – albeit the tip of an ear.   In the far-East, albeit fuelled by betting, the crowds are massive and the interest huge – and shared ownership common.  Even in the Arab states where there is no gambling (although despite being a non-gambler I find this reduces the element of jeopardy) a night at Meydan or Jebel Ali is packed to the roof. But racing is seen as an inclusive sport in these places, whereas in the UK it is not.

The rise of syndicates and clubs in the UK and Ireland is a boost much needed to increase this interest.  Many trainers rely increasingly on them to stay in business.  At last many racecourses have increased the owners’ ticket allocation to meet increased shared ownership.  Even the BHA have streamlined the ownership process and made it easier to police the quality and standard of the growing numbers of syndicate bodies – and have a levy system now fit to deliver rewards to the grass roots.

But the very agencies who should be fighting hardest do not.  For all the good changes, the BHA has a policy, as encapsulated in the rules on balloting out, that lower grade horses should be discouraged from running.  Good for the sport? Well it is if we want to keep the riff raff out, but there are many sub-50 rated horses who, when pitted against each other, will make for exciting racing, and low cost ownership options. – as well as swell the levy through betting income.

Great British Racing ; Rod Street and his team – I have yet to see any tangible benefit from their efforts.  Certainly they have the Champions Series but that is Qipco doing all the hard work and making it actually happen.  I remember being at a “do” at Ascot once where GBR were holding a small gathering.  Everyone of those attending it were already owners, and when one young couple approached the cordoned area, they were intercepted by a woman who looked at them like they had stepped in something the dog does and told them “This isn’t for you”!  Well who is it for if not exactly those people?

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Owner & Breeder magazine – widening the gap? 

Even the superb Owner & Breeder magazine has, in the last few months, dedicated pages of print to “Lifestyle”.  This is a publication which is the gateway to racing yet perpetuates the idea of millionaires and Faberge eggs.  Stop it!

We are quick to turn our nose up at the drunkenness we see at Royal Ascot, and rightly so.  But has anyone stopped to think that these young and, I agree unruly, people are acting like this precisely because they feel like outsiders.  I love to feel special as an owner, but I also resent that racing portrays its participants as champagne swilling, helicopter owning, winter-in-the-Caribbean chinless wonders.  Tell that to the trainers up at 4am, or the breeders knee deep in muck, or the grassroots owners worried if they can pay the mortgage as well as their £100 a month racehorse share.  Aspiration is great but setting unreachable goals and packaging a sport so that it appears that owning a Rolex and driving a Merc are prerequisites will only harm the most exciting sport I know and love.  The only yawning then is not about boredom but the gap between what racing is seen as and what it should be.

 

2018 – Our Biggest Year

NY2018Happy New Year!  And Happy Birthday to all the thoroughbreds out there.  Our foals of 2017 are now yearlings and join an ever increasing band of horses bred by Abacus Bloodstock, who are at various stages of their careers.

Quite apart from the five yearlings however, this year will see the most horses bred by Abacus Bloodstock racing in the UK.  These range from 2 year olds through to our eldest horses aged 5 this year.  Our first homebred racer, the famous Pancake Day is 6 this year but more of him later.

We sold all of the horses who will race as 2 year olds this year, and they include the following:

  • The only colt by Albaasil from his first crop – now owned by Richie Fiddes

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    Colt by Mazameer – 2yo for 2018

  • A colt by Mazameer and last foal of Los Organos- now in training with Nikki Evans in Wales
  • A colt by Mawatheeq from a mare related to Golden Horn and in pre-training in the North (trainer yet to be decided)

All colts and all early looking types so we wish them and their new owners all the luck in the world.

Of the 3 year olds, two have raced as 2 yo’s – Elegant Joan (owned by Abacus Bloodstock Racing Club & trained by David Griffiths)

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Tin Fandango – ready to run with Mark Usher and team

and Little Aub (trained by Mark Usher), and will now pursue exciting handicap careers.  Both showed great potential but with a handicap mark they will undoubtedly do well amongst horses of similar capabilities.  Tin Fandango (trained by Mark Usher) has grown into a beautiful looking 3 year old and we should see him on the turf around May.  We have no news of the other 2015 crop yet but we will update the website once we do.

Of the older horses, Roll on Rory (trained by Jason Ward) continues to lead the way from a ratings viewpoint.  He won a smart mile race at Newmarket at the end of the 2017 turf season, and has to be a good prospect off a good mark in 2018.  That is unless he is sold overseas as he nearly was last year – to Hong Kong.

Finally Pancake Day – at six he is the oldest of our bred horses still racing.  Following a successful pre-Christmas campaign in Europe, he ran at Neuss over the New Year period and has shown signs of a growing weakness in his knee.  He has raced over 60 times in a short career and never gives anything but 100%.  He is perfectly sound normally but at the level of professional racing it is likely the weakness will play a vital role.  Owned now by the Berg family in Germany, they have asked us to have him back for his retirement.  We will assess him when he gets back to us, and then, if possible, he will compete in RoR and other non-racing classes as a much loved pet.  We will of course share his exploits in the future.

So with the decorations taken down for another year, we wish all the horses a safe and successful racing year, and to all the owners and trainers we give our thanks for having the faith in owning and  racing our horses.  Good luck to all!