MARCUS TOWNEND: BHA’s £3.2m gamble to save racing is raising more questions than answers… and is the ambitious plan drastic enough to save the sport?
- The BHA has unveiled a radically new fixture list for 2024
- The body hope increased prize money will attract the best racehorses
- Top-of-the-range fixtures are seeing as pivotal to attract new fans
The BHA yesterday unveiled a massive shake-up of the fixture list for next year, which they hope can at least halt the decline in interest in horseracing and hopefully reinvigorate the sport.
But the worrying question is: are the changes drastic enough to save a sport facing multiple challenges?
Key is 170 new premier meetings and established quality race days —100 on the flat and 70 over jumps — which will have better prize money to attract the best racehorses.
The theory is that these top-of-the-range fixtures will make it easier for fans and those new to the sport to see what is the best on offer amid an all-too-often indistinct 1,500-meeting annual fixture list.
The majority of these premier meetings will be on a Saturday afternoon but there will also be an enhanced Sunday programme, something which has been sadly lacking in this country.
The BHA yesterday unveiled a massive shake-up of the fixture list for next year
The body is hoping the new changes can at least halt the decline in interest in horseracing and hopefully reinvigorate the sport
Saturday afternoons will be de-cluttered to allow the spotlight to shine even more brightly on these premier meetings, with only two allowed between a 2pm and 4pm window when only three meetings in total will be allowed to take place.
That has led to 41 meetings having to move outside that window, to howls of pain from some tracks who have said they will be financially hit.
Just how well, for instance, five morning meetings starting as early as 10.30am will go down with racegoers and punters can only be speculated on.
BHA chief executive Julie Harrington yesterday said the ‘scale of change is significant’ and stressed the new fixture programme is a two-year trial that is part of a long-term strategy.
It is projected that the changes may impact attendances at the meetings that change times, but spreading the racing will generate increased revenues through additional levy and media rights payments, as well as helping racing to better tell its stories and build the profile of star performers.
The need to make changes is clear. Racecourses are experiencing declining attendances and betting turnover on the sport is down.
The average number of horses in races fell last year as owners feeling the financial squeeze sold up or cut down their strings and there was a depressing export conveyor belt of our better horses as they were sold to race in much better-funded overseas racing jurisdictions.
Only two meetings will be allowed between a 2pm and 4pm window on Saturday afternoons when only three meetings in total will be allowed to take place
There will be 300 fewer jump races and 20 fewer jump meetings next year, but the fixture list remains bloated.
The BHA hopes top-of-the-range fixtures will make it easier for fans and those new to the sport to see what is the best on offer
To support the changes the Horserace Betting Levy Board is contributing £3.2million.
If the changes work, industry modelling estimates a £90m improvement to British racing’s finances over a five-year period when compared with a ‘do nothing’ scenario, in which industry revenues would continue to decline.
But that is a big if. Admittedly, the BHA have yet to unveil any marketing strategy around the new proposals meaning it is still hard to see how these changes will cut through to new racing fans.
Speaking to senior racing figures, the mood about the prospect for a positive outcome can be politely described as realistic.
There was a hope that when the planning process started, that something more dramatic would emerge.
Other sports have innovated in exciting ways and produced clearly defined quality products that work, most notably the Premier League and T20 cricket with its coloured kits.
BHA chief executive Julie Harrington said the ‘scale of change is significant’
Vested interests in racing means that never seems to happen. There will be 300 fewer jump races and 20 fewer jump meetings next year, but the fixture list remains bloated.
Harrington said: ‘This is the first major step in what is a long-term transformational plan.
‘The expectation is that the changes should generate more revenue, which will allow us to invest in other key areas — including attracting new fans and new owners and increasing the reward and recognition of all our existing participants.’
Racing, which could take a financial hit because of new government legislation for gambling, is on a slippery slope. The sport desperately needs some positive signs and will hope the fixture list changes work.
More glory for Fev Rover than namesake
There was irony in the fact that the racing career of Fev Rover, the mare so named because some of her syndicate owners were supporters of Featherstone Rovers, hit new heights in Canada on Sunday night as the rugby league team she is named after blew the chance to be promoted to the Super League with a surprise home play-off defeat by the London Broncos.
Trainer Richard Fahey always insisted Fev Rover was Group One class but she never achieved that in the UK. It has been a different story since she was bought for almost £730,000, a price tag that has easily been justified.
Sunday’s night win at the prestigious E.P. Taylor Stakes at the Woodbine racetrack in Toronto was Fev Rover’s second Group One of the year following the equally iconic Beverly D Stakes at Colonial Downs in August.
Throw in another Group Two prize at Woodbine and the mare now trained by Mark Casse could be named as Canada’s Horse of the Year. She also has a date at next month’s Breeders’ Cup in California.
Trainer Richard Fahey’s claims Fev Rover was Group One class have been vindicated after she won the E.P. Taylor Stakes in Canada and the Beverly D Stakes at Colonial Downs in the USA
Desert Hero to skip Melbourne Cup
The King and Queen will not have a runner in the Melbourne Cup after the decision was made not to send Desert Hero to the race.
But they might still have one eye on the outcome of the November 7 meet given Just Fine is a leading contender. He is trained by Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott and earned his place in the Melbourne Cup with a win in the James Squire Metropolitan Handicap at Randwick, under British-born Australia-based jockey, Rachel King.
But before being sold for £300,000 last October, Just Fine was trained by Sir Michael Stoute. He raced first for the late Queen Elizabeth II and when her string was inherited by King Charles, the gelding won at Leicester to go down in the record books
Jockey icons go under the hammer
We have been celebrating the achievements of Frankie Dettori ahead of his retirement, but at a sale at the National Horse Racing Museum next Monday memorabilia connected to three jockey icons — Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Fred Archer — will go under the hammer.
Estimates for the sale, which is being staged in association with Graham Budd Auctions and Weatherbys, are over £350,000. The Piggott collection consists of lots relating to the jockey’s life and career.
Standout pieces include his 1990 Breeders Cup Trophy, which he won aged 54 on Royal Academy, only days after coming out of retirement.
There are press clipping albums compiled by Piggott from his first race, won when he was just 12, and a set of albums created from the 1950s through to the 1980s — a memoir for arguably one of the best flat-racing jockeys of all time
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