Happy Birthday to us! Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder magazine turns ten this month. In the first issue, published in September 2004, alongside reader-friendly features on Kieren Fallon and Michael Stoute, Cheveley Park Stud and David Loder, came an article that highlighted a future vision for British horseracing.
At that time, the industry’s bigwigs had been in the process of ratifying a document entitled the ‘Modernisation of British Racing’, a blueprint on which the sport’s finances and prosperity would be built. As the late and much-missed Chris Deuters, then President of the Racehorse Owners Association, explained so succinctly in his Leader column: “In 2006 the Levy Board will close.
“The body that has for over 40 years been responsible for the bulk of racing’s funding is to be replaced by a commercial mechanism between the racing industry and the bookmakers.
“Racing’s product is based on data rights and it is these rights that bookies will pay for from 2006 and beyond.”
It all sounded so simple. Yet, within a matter of months, the plan lay in tatters after a successful legal challenge in the European Court by bookmaker William Hill. Racing would not be allowed to charge for the use of data: the Levy Board, a relic of early 1960s legislation reflecting a time when high street betting shops were a new phenomenon, would have to continue to help fund the sport.
Ten years on and the Levy Board is still in operation. A commercial mechanism has now been established, except it exists between horsemen and racecourses, relating to media rights revenue. The hope for a true business relationship between racing and betting remains unfulfilled. Will it ever happen?
My guess would be that we have now reached a tipping point and that the current level of fixtures is unsustainable
Paul Bittar has had his critics but he has worked harder than any of his predecessors to foster a good working rapport with the bookmaking fraternity and his decision to step down as BHA Chief Executive early next year will come as disappointing news to many in the industry.
The man or woman who takes over the BHA role will, amongst other things, inherit a fixture list that is positively bursting at the seams, the result of the industry’s deep reluctance to cull meetings.
It remains to be seen if the number of horses in training, which has been dropping year on year since 2008, can sustain competitive field sizes for so many races. My guess would be that we have now reached a tipping point and that the current level of fixtures is unsustainable, particularly with the British breeding industry in such a fragile state, and with so many of our good older staying horses being cherry-picked by overseas buyers.
Of course, the essence of our sport is in the continued production of brilliant racehorses and in Kingman and Australia we have two sublime thoroughbreds capable of capturing the public’s imagination.
For Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, surely the benchmark for any breeding operation, to have foaled Frankel and Kingman just a few years apart is remarkable.
Coolmore’s Australia, on the other hand, with his Classic-winning parents, might just be the best-bred horse in training, of this or any other season, and is certainly the most valuable on the planet. The hope and expectation will be that he follows in the hoofprints of his magnificent sire, Galileo, at stud and goes on to produce a host of champions himself.
The temptation to the owner, as with Kingman, must be to retire at the end of this season with the guarantee of massive interest from breeders all around the globe, yet this would represent a huge loss to the sport – how many people travelled to Goodwood or York specifically to catch a glimpse of these wonderful horses? – and it must be hoped that both remain in training as four-year-olds next season.
Certainly the magazine couldn’t wish for two more outstanding horses to follow in its second decade.