Focus Is Needed!

Welcome to my blog: And to start I want to say thank you to Emma Berry who wrote her last article for the Owner & Breeder in this month’s edition.  Emma – you have been a constant source of inspiration, ideas and knowledge.  Good luck for the future.

3 Key Parts

As racing jerks from one issue to another we must remember three areas that, in my view, must remain core for racing to survive:

  1. Planning of the Race Program

As I have written before, there are issues around the race program which need to be Capture2addressed.  In my earlier blogs I have written about prize money distribution and the lack of big fields.  I am firmly of the belief that less racing will mean more income from betting.  The BHA published figures show that the average number of runners in all races is 8.2 horses.  That means therefore that roughly 50% of races are below that figure, and as such do not offer a 3 place each-way betting market – a key to income as we have seen with large handicaps even at the lowest levels; generating punter interest.  Even Martin Cruddace of ARC agreed that 80% of rights and levy income is derived from Class 4-7 racing! Anyone in business will tell you that the big spender is always nice, but businesses survive on the regular, low level income provided by regular customers.  Reduce the number of races by a small amount, think about the distribution and timing of those races, and the income from small bets will boost any loss due to volume of races and maybe even lessen some of the FOBT impact. – after all if the FOBT stake has reduced we could see some of that money diverted back to core betting.

2. Preservation of the Race Program

In planning the race program better, we must not allow the introduction of a two or three tier system.  Whilst we may wish to see racing emulate football’s Premier League, we have a very different sport.  Horses need to be nurtured and for two year olds this can mean a Class 5 maiden – which is a spring board to greater things.  In my own case, a

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A combined race program allows every horse & owner the chance to dream big!

horse I bred won just such a race and in so doing we were able to go to Royal Ascot and finish in the top half of the Windsor Castle Stakes a month later.  Likewise many group winning horses came up through what we term as “lower grade” races, but are in fact the nursery for most horses and an invaluable tool in allowing all owners to dream of the big win.  If we put up a barrier by introducing leagues or separate team competitions, that ability to dream will disappear and so might 80% of the owners and their horses.  If the argument is that this action would encourage more sponsorship and interest then are we seriously saying that the current program of world renown racing cannot?   After all it would be hard to find an improvement on Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot, Champions Day, York, Aintree, Goodwood & & ………. (need I go on?)

3. It’s not ALL about the winning!

We hear about the levels of prize money and, for sure, it is not sufficient.  However, let us be serious for a moment and look at the facts.  There are around 17000 horses in training, competing in around 6500 races.  Even if there were a different winner for every race, over 10000 horses would never win sufficient prize money to cover their costs.  Therefore, whilst it would be nice to think all owners were able to race for nothing, even if we were to increase prize money ten-fold, only the top three or four placed horses would earn any money.  The others would still race for no return. It is a pipe-dream to think that we can run our sport as a profitable business as owners. It is therefore important to remember that the recent introduction of the extended prize fund down to 8th place is key.  Whilst I agree that the prize fund levels at the ARC tracks (and some others) are woeful, it was the fact that in cutting the prize money, ARC also lost the unlock threshold that really should be concerning us.  To be clear, a class 6 race at an ARC track has a prize fund of £3500 spread over 4 horses.  By unlocking the additional fund (ie. increasing the racecourse generated minimum to £4400), the total prize fund becomes just short of £6600 – divided by eight horses! (Thanks to Nicholas Cooper from the ROA for the figures)

Based on the figures already mentioned, whilst we can never realistically hope to cover our costs for racing, it would go a long way if every race were able to pay every entrant (remember average race fields are 8.2 horses) the cost of the entrance fee,  jockey, the transport and maybe even a pint at the races!  We must fight not only to preserve this excellent incentive, but to extend it across the majority of the program.

Happy (hopefully soon) Racing everyone.

 

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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

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!

O’Brien – Oh Boy!!

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Aiden O’Brien – Master of Ballydoyle

As I write, Aiden O’Brien has seven entries in the Epsom Derby this coming weekend.  SIX of those entries are sired by the currently unassailable Galileo, a stallion seemingly on track to beat even his sire Saddlers Wells’ stud record.  The only Ballydoyle runner not by him is Wings of Eagles – by Pour Moi who’s grandfather was Saddlers Wells.  You see the connection?

Add this to the fact that the four classics to be run in the UK and Ireland thus far in 2017 have ALL been won by O’Brien trained horses, all sired by Galileo!  And all owned by the various partners who also have interests in the seat of this great breeding empire; Coolmore, in Ireland.  It makes sense that when you have access to the best sire in the world, of course you are going to exploit that advantage.  But do not forget that you also need the trainer to get

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Churchill ( Galileo)  – a double classic winner for Team Ballydoyle

the horses into the frame.  And boy have they found him in Aiden O’Brien.

No relation to the great Vincent O’Brien who previously oversaw the many successes of the team in the 70’s and 80’s, Aiden has delivered more success than any other trainer currently in business anywhere in the world.  From his training base at Ballydoyle he has consistently won the best races in both the UK and Ireland, but also around the world.

In so doing he has been able to show Galileo, and his sire sons, can produce horses capable of winning over sprint distances as well as marathons.  That makes him not only

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Galileo – undisputed champion sire

key to the racing interests of his employers, but also to the continued success of their Coolmore operation throughout the world.

Some say that the grip on the Group races which O’Brien enjoys is unhealthy for racing; that the almost certainty that an O’Brien horse will win every Irish group race (to the extent that a number of races attract an exclusive Ballydoyle field!), and that he looks set, even at this early stage of the UK flat season, to be champion trainer for 2017.

However, it is hardly the fault of O’Brien that there is no Irish trainer other than perhaps Dermot Weld, who can compete at the highest levels on the flat.  Even David Wachman, related to O’Brien through marriage and supplied with a string of horses from Coolmore, gave up his licence last year.  It is more likely a reflection on the issues facing racing in Ireland as a whole not the fault of Team Ballydoyle.  Particularly given the number of trainers from over the water who have given up in the last year alone.  Indeed it is this team which is in all likelihood keeping much of Irish racing in business and of importance to the racing world.  Without this awareness it would not take long for Irish flat racing to suffer the same death throes we are seeing in the increasingly troubled, and less high profile Italian racing scene.  Happily Irish jumps are in a better state but this is seeing a crystallisation with major studs and owners polarising with only a small band of trainers.

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Frankel in full flight

In Britain, there are of course trainers and owners who can compete with – and indeed beat- the Ballydoyle / Coolmore steam-roller.  But even these compete with horses who have pedigrees dripping with Galileo and his sons – Frankel, Galileo’s most successful son, being the next most “popular” sire of the 2017 Derby entries!

For me there are a number of trainers who epitomise the characteristics of what a trainer should be.  Yes winners are a good measure, but there is also the ability to talk to

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Joseph – a chip off the old block – and with the same quality of humility

the public, to develop a story to follow, to combine passion whilst speaking with humility and professionalism.  And when Aiden O’Brien speaks he does so with all this and more.  He is a real ambassador for Irish, and increasingly International racing.  Never slow to deflect the glory onto his owners, or jockeys or staff he is quietly spoken and avoids any suggestion that his input has had anything to do with it.  Ballydoyle are THE team to beat, from the breeding sheds of Coolmore to the raceday successes – many ridden by the best jockey in the world, Ryan Moore.  Indeed as with the Coolmore stud line, O’Brien himself has bred another successful trainer in his son Joseph – at 24 a Group winning jockey and trainer with the same brand of humility and determination seen in his father.

BUT – as readers may recall from my article back in February, breeders increasingly face a narrowing choice of stallion pedigrees to choose from.  Danehill (Coolmore again) and coolmorehis sire line are cornering the market in sprinters, whilst as mentioned above Galileo and his sire line are competing at the classic distances.  This is where the concern should be focused, not at a trainer who has a gift – albeit with the best bred horses – to deliver winner after winner at the highest level.  As already stated, it makes sense for Coolmore to exploit the successes of Galileo’s offspring but we must not end up with even less choice for breeders, and a gene pool which will inevitably become so shallow that it will jeopardise the future of the thoroughbred racehorse.  Non-Galileo sires are out there and should be used too.   Their success as sires will come with numbers, as they have with Galileo for he too has had his failures on the racecourse, but he has the numbers, and the trainer, to outweigh these.