Reflecting on one of the BHA’s four primary ambitions for the next five years – to bring another 1,000 horses into training – it’s easy to suggest but much harder to achieve, prompting the question: what initiatives are needed to persuade British breeders to produce the extra foals that will be required to satisfy those extra numbers on our racetracks?
It is too simple to suggest that more prize-money is the answer. Bigger rewards for owners would help, but realistically the size of uplift that would be needed to change behaviour substantially looks a long way off, because over the next two years at least it appears that prize-money will be static at best.
BHA statistics reveal that prize-money for the first six months of 2015 is at a record level, averaging more than £12,550 per race against around £8,600 in 2011, while the Levy Board is expecting that its contribution to prize-money this year will be the highest since 2009. Yet the Levy Board has already forecast that its total spending will fall by £4 million next year, and some of that will inevitably come from prize-money.
So we need to be more imaginative in using what scarce resources we have, and projects such as Plus 10 on the Flat and the proposal for a Mares Owners Initiative Scheme (MOPS) over jumps are two important ways in which we can provide valuable incentives for breeders. I am sure other ideas will emerge.
With race programming and race planning in mind, I am delighted that the BHA has recognised their importance by poaching Richard Wayman from the ROA and appointing him Chief Operating Officer, reporting to Nick Rust and working alongside Ruth Quinn. We look forward to co-operating closely with them to create the best possible environment for breeders.
The race programme is critical for the breeding industry, and I am delighted with the initial response to our Stayers’ Report
To reiterate a point I made last month, the race programme is critical for the breeding industry, and I am delighted with the initial response to our Stayers’ Report. The introduction this autumn of four two-year-old maiden races restricted to horses by stallions who won over ten furlongs or more, and two extra valuable handicaps over 14 furlongs for three-year-olds represents a start, but there is much more to do.
While the report highlighted issues in this particular area, we also believe that anomalies exist across the entire racing programme, and we are planning to work with the BHA to review the Flat programme, at every distance and level, and especially as it affects fillies and mares.
The BHA’s review of jump racing is also raising a number of issues, many of which would be solved with more horses in training. I make no apology for again stressing the potential of the MOPS scheme, which I sincerely hope the Levy Board will judge to be worthwhile, not to mention other programming issues that could encourage more fillies and mares to race over jumps.
The introduction of the new Grade 2 race, the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, at the Cheltenham Festival, which was suggested by the TBA’s National Hunt committee, is very welcome and should help in this direction, as will the upgrading from Listed to Group 2 status of the mares’ novices’ hurdle at Sandown in February. The developments mean that there will now be nine Pattern or Listed novices’ hurdles for mares over the course of the jumps season.
It is also encouraging that following the results of a questionnaire sent to owners and trainers of mares that ran in a mares’ Pattern or Listed race last season, the BHA has asked racecourses to pitch for two new Listed mares’ chases to be run in November and February, as a precursor to the possibility of adding a mares’ chase to the Festival programme in coming years.
By its very nature breeding is not a short-term fix, and our work on the Flat-race programme will also take time to bear fruit. But the TBA is ready and willing to build a strategy for breeders that encourages more mares and more foals. The challenge is to bring the rest of the industry with us.