It’s become routine these days to hear and read informed commentators, pundits, industry experts discussing the issue of small fields in racing, indeed last year the BHA undertook an expensive consultation into fixture levels in an attempt to combat the issue of small fields and lack of competitiveness in racing.
The result? More fixtures in 2015
BHA announces races attracting small fields will be deleted from the programme
The result? No races removed, a three month trial period suddenly introduced, and one deleted race restored in the face of opposition from horsemen
9 new board members with little, or no experience running racing, at the BHA. Two of these new directors have been appointed to ‘bed in’ six of the others. Tell me you’re joking, or have the stakeholders grabbed two important ‘blockers’ on the board?
The BHA announces the scrapping of small field events to address the appeal of the sport.
The result? The BHA backs down in the face of opposition from the trainers involved in the race and the NTF. It goes further in placing an NTF official to the BHA Board. I’m sure he’ll be supportive of an initiative which followed an expensive consultation.
What’s the value in an authority that doesn’t govern the sport with its best face in mind? Someone tell me.
After the removal of the best politician we’ve ever had in charge, Paul Bittar, from the equation we’re left with an entiely new board, in every sense of the word. Opposing these new directors – the stakeholders. Betting, Owners, trainers and racetracks and their interests. And they’re clearly out for what’s best for them, even if the sport cannot progress
Do you care? Or would you classify yourself as one of the silent apathetic ones- to criticise the sport is wrong, it’s just not done. To my mind, constructive criticism is a requirement and you should get involved and stop taking the guided tour
Quite what the Australian did wrong or whether he had just had enough is unclear. Nobody is asking the question. I didn’t always see eye to eye with Bittar during his tenure, I’m always going to take issue with the pace of change, but it’s clear he shared many of the same concerns. Particularly in regards to ‘stakeholders’ and their negative impact on the sport, and integrity issues relating to low funded racing we seem determined to produce more thereof. He was capable of pulling the disparate parties together given time.
Stakeholders have led racing in so many differing directions, it’s lost focus. We shouldn’t be putting on two races on the same day and employing The New One and Faugheen in different counties, or even competing with the Irish and their graded heats. Surely decisions should be based exclusively upon the health of the sport, and not the finances of the same? Why was a race deleted from the programme when it precisely met the criteria we wanted to avoid, and was then restored? Can’t we make a decision and stand by it? Is the Executive of the BHA just a bunch of good old boys with fancy badges or are they about the production of the most attractive racing programme, designed to appeal to TV networks, sponsors, newspapers and most importantly the fans?
I’m deeply suspicious we’re heading for years more of putting on less than we’re capable of with such a weak board. We’re now led by a ‘bookmaker’ of sorts. A corporate one maybe. I did my rounds with the insiders at the top of corporate betting for their views on the appointee – ‘no one man is more responsible for the proliferation of racing than Nick Rust’ seemed a common theme. To explain, his previous roles in retail involved the building up of tv programming for betting shops – product, and as much thereof. As discussed previously, the majors view betting these days in very much the same way as Casinos view roulette, based on the number of spins per hour. We mustn’t view racing in differing terms, as something special as a betting product. We see too often special offers based on major races to imagine the focus is on profits from our sport. Such as 5/1 Sprinter Sacre on his re-appearance as opposed to Evens to gain market share, not profit from the actual race. My colleagues in betting aren’t evil, they do support over 60% of the sponsorship, but they are about delivering for shareholders. We need to take a step back from their influence.
Can Rust adapt? People argue, with merit, that he should be given his chance, along with this new board. Perhaps we should be charitable and afford the new team that chance, but the leash is short, because experience lends us that way. If you’re standing because the badge looks good and the prawn sandwiches are pleasant you’re wasting your opportunity to really make a difference. Stand down.
Steve Harman wants to commercialise the product and believes there are opportunities therein. He’s a fairly hard-headed individual, my way or the by way just by the way. He’s set about replacing the incumbents with a novicey team evidently more pliable to his vision, but what is that exactly? Three years ago he arrived knowing the square root of zero. If it is about delivering Qatar to Goodwood, then that has to be seen as a positive. If it’s awarding licenses to Catterick and Newcastle, or indeed others, and leading us down the path to more morally questionable grunge nobody pays to see in support of FOBT’s and their limited future – that has to be opposed. There should be a focus on the quality and competitiveness, and not least attractiveness of the product. Not on more races, nor the unfettered influence of betting on horse racing. More racing doesn’t equate to more levy. Write that down. We shouldn’t be about keeping bad racetracks and poor horses in work, who does that in sport? No Steve, you’re legacy has to be more than just occupying space and enjoying the rarefied air of corporate racing – we have to evidence realistic and productive change during your tenure.
So, therefore, to this new team at the BHA, I say this. It’s time to expunge the stakeholders from the decision process. The insidious Rachel Hood and the like must be removed if we are to have a totally independent racing board. It’s not about owners or trainers, betting or racetracks. If you’re not arguing for the whole sport, you’re not welcome. I cannot see David Thorpe of Arena Leisure as a productive appointee at a time when we clearly need to control fixture levels and manage graded events, and two minutes after Arena threatened racing with legal action. Racing needs to control when and what we see. Not Chester, Newmarket, Ascot, and York trading on the same day, nor this focus on Saturday racing. Bring back our Wednesday Derby, because that’s what’s best for the image, profile, and finances.
We have to finally consign the flawed strictures laid down by Peter Saville, and deliver on a vastly reduced programme.
Field sizes and competitive racing are delivered upon by top prize money in middle and lower order racing, rather than a focus on group 1’s and rewarding super rich owners with open goals. A commitment to deliver better prize money, not to the winners of graded events, but in particular to placed horses taking on the higher rated stars.
Lower order you say? Well, I’ve a great deal of sympathy with the views of the excellent Venetia Williams when she says to encourage competitive fields and entries, we need to balance the book. Simply put, we need to encourage good horses to be prepared to combat better horses in the knowledge such as their handicap mark increase is offset by superior prize funds for the placed. Reward enterprise, and I don’t mean putting 80 rated horses in grade 1’s to make up the numbers. That’s a nonsense
OK, so let’s accept what constitutes a red herring – ‘we can tinker with the programme to improve the fields.’ Paul Daniels invented that phrase.
The only way to deal with the issue of poor field sizes is to actually reduce the number of races in direct proportion to the ideal. Therefore, in looking to increase fields by 30% – as is the target, we need to reduce the programme by a similar margin. Any other argument is purely idiotic. Fiddling whilst Rome burns. Yes, there are measures which can assist, but essentially it’s a numbers game. The recent 67 page consultation document into achieving the goal of improved fields made no reference to a cut in the number of actual races- except in the late deletion plan. Did someone forget chapter one, the maths lesson?
As to the National Hunt in particular. Well, (pause for breath), the season has once again been characterised by far too many graded events with appalling turnouts. It seems the tracks are obsessed with having black type on the programme. Most of these have deteriorated to five or less runners. A kind of ‘let’s give as much prize money as we can to our richest owners’ edict. People are bored. The only sponsors are Bookmakers.
We need to thoroughly rework our thinking. Abandon events which consistently offer poor entries and odds on favourites, regardless of the grade. Yes, I know there are those of you out there who think its terrific watching Sprinter Sacre beat up on 3 other rivals rated several stones inferior. But to most ordinary folk, the Hunt Cup is a proper race, and the Sacre affair has become somewhat of a freakshow
This isn’t about betting. To me it’s about ‘engagement’. People who have a wager, howsoever modest, who feel the rate of return made the investment worthwhile, are a part of that experience. And for sponsors? Well if you’re to attract the blue chip, as opposed to Betfair, you need to deliver on events of such diversity and competitiveness that they become compelled to be involved, and certainly not in opposition to football. On a Wednesday for example rather than a Saturday. That’s when you deliver Longines
We also need to stop shooting ourselves foursquare in the foot. How did an excellent Welsh National become a complete sideshow because Colonel Blenkinsop Smythe in the disciplinary department took it into his own head to create an issue out of nothing? Why are we not tackling aggressively organisations such as Animal Aid who turn out less times per year than Quevega? Why have two aspiring amateurs been put off racing in hands and heels events effectively into 2016 (since the bans can only be applied when amateur races take place) when they had clearly made an error? Were the stewards even aware of such conditions effectively putting them out of work for a year? Do the stewards feel such bans as necessary when the individuals themselves are doubtless crushed by their temporary aberration? Is there a purpose in punishment to people whose contrition is so painful, unless that is we’re still in a land governed by the hypocritical views of Big Mac. Indeed in many cases of jockey bans, are the stewards even vaguely aware sanctions are so thoroughly draconian in nature for struggling jockeys plying their trade for pennies driving around the country for one or two rides? There’s a thorough disconnect between the executive and the disciplinary department.
One last thought, and for the new BHA board and racing more widely to properly tackle, before that is the situation gets worse is the National Hunt season. It’s all very well vested interests, to include betting, demanding more and more all weather. Turning the clock back for a moment, I recall the winter being about one code – the jumps. There was no alternate programme for horses to consider. No Chelmsford City. The all weather undoubtedly sucks talent from the traditional code. The current hunt programme is put together in such a fashion that we have ended up with an entirely negative effect.
Specifically, there’s an unhealthy obsession with repeating poorly attended graded races. I can barely remember a Saturday when we’re not talking about a 4 or 5 runner event, with a few notable exceptions such as the Betfair Chase. Thank God for Paul Nicholls, Hobbs and others for their endeavour.
Racetracks have constructed a series of races in opposition to each other which have virtually guaranteed top horses, and top owners the opportunity to collect on substantial prize funds and black type, without requirement to facing their natural rivals. We’re rewarding lack of ambition and penalising fans and sponsors alike. Dividing interest, tv networks, and sponsors. The authority must be able to govern and show an appetite for the same
Finally, and it has to be said, we are permitting horses to avoid actually racing by organising jumpers bumpers and racetrack gallops. Yes, I’ve said it before. But this stuff is childs play. Then without any stipulations whatsoever, top horses turn up at Cheltenham, the blue riband of racing, to finally entertain the public. It’s little wonder, is it, that the entire season each year is focussed more and more on four days in the Cotswolds. That is clearly wrong.
In a nutshell? What’s the purpose in a secretive authority, one hiding its failures behind carefuly worded press releases, if it’s not dedicated to basing every decision for the health and image of British Racing. We need a robust and strong – even unpopular governing body. Is Harman the man to deliver, or just carry the badge?