Hidden Gems – Your next star 2 year old may not be at the auction.

It’s currently around 33 degrees outside and the horses are all lazily stood in the shade, swatting flies away with their tails, or grooming one another.  It does not seem possible that many of them are racing thoroughbreds who have, or hopefully will, won numerous races for their owners – they move slowly, if at all, in an attempt to relieve the heat.  All very sedate for them, but not so for the team here at Abacus Bloodstock.

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Yearling Prep now underway 

 

This time of year we can generally leave all the horses out due to the weather; which means its time to catch up on the painting and repairs needed to keep our little part of the world, and the horses who live in it, as well kept as possible.

On top of this is the yearling preparation – all fillies this year and all amongst the best we have bred from a potential race winner viewpoint.  The visit from Goffs to assess the entries this year resulted in two of the fillies being accepted in the Silver Sale with the other two always destined to go straight to racing – one as she is owned by a client, and the other as she will replace her dam Littlemore Lass who we sadly lost last year.

What is sad is that the two sale fillies could, in the opinion of the auctioneer, have been Premier yearlings but for their sires and the likely interest that would generate – or not.  One is by a Group winning son of Dark Angel and the other a Group 1 winner who

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Garswood – Group winners not enough to make him fashionable!

produced 2 Group winners in his first crop, but who, in only his second crop, seems to have been written off already!  One of the fillies is by a 2yo winning mare who has produced the winners of 15 races in the UK and Europe and yet we have decided it is not viable to send them to the sales as, after fees, transport, staff, hotels etc. we would be unlikely to see any profit.

As a result, we are able to sell these fillies at a very reasonable price privately (please click here to visit our sale pages if you are interested) but it is a sad reflection that such high class, proven pedigrees seem to be so out of fashion.  However, that also means that there are some real gems to be found through private sales as many of them will not be offered at auction due to these market pressures on breeders. 

The days of the small breeder, not to mention the diverse pedigree, seems to be rapidly

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Hidden gems to be found through private sales.

disappearing.  This will inevitably lead to poorer racing and less access for new owners.  Sadly it will, and in many cases has already, led to the closure of studs and the loss of jobs and skills from the industry.  Once gone, they will be hard, if not impossible to replace.  Good luck to all us small breeders who strive to keep going – the support of owners and trainers is so important for the future of racing and for the jobs and businesses which rely on it in all areas of the sport.  And if you are looking for a well bred, athletic youngster be aware, the best of them may not be at the auction!

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ROA Election – Let Me Be Your Voice

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).Ad pic

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.

Prize-money

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

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BHA Statistics show that 80% of races (ie. Cl4 and below) earn only 35% of the prize fund – this cannot be right or fair!

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.

Welfare

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.

In Conclusion

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.

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.