Compilation of the annual fixture list and race programme is the most complicated and potentially divisive task in racing. An annual undertaking that never fails to produce heated debate, criticism and often disappointment, it is, however, the single most vital function of the racing industry’s year.
Requiring the judgment of Solomon to find anything like a satisfactory balance between all the conflicting issues and parties, the early skirmishes of this fraught exercise for 2015 are already taking place with yet further layers of complications now having been added to the process.
Not only is the industry tasked with matching the number of fixtures and the minutia of the race programme with the requirements of the horse population; not only must we address the expectations of racecourses and the betting industry in doing what works best for them; but now we also have to try to accommodate the ambitions of the restored all-weather racecourse of Chelmsford City and the requirements of a new artificial venue at Newcastle, which, I am horrified to say, would involve sacrificing their fine turf track. All this at a time when there is acute concern about the proportion of racing that is now on the all-weather.
The problem here is that there has always been a question mark hanging over the ownership of fixtures
Aware that the overall good of racing is better served if average field sizes of ten runners can be achieved, the objective observer might say we should simply rip up what has gone before and start afresh. In a perfect world, they might argue, we should base the whole fixture list on one gigantic auction so that each fixture slot went to the racecourse that bids the most prize-money.
The problem here is that there has always been a question mark hanging over the ownership of fixtures and the BHA would probably find itself in court if was overly dictatorial as to when a racecourse can put on fixtures. In any event, there would be no sense in meddling with the quality end of the fixture list. The big Saturdays and festival meetings are at racing’s core, even though there is discontent with the current trend of shunting some of the festival meetings into already over-crowded Saturdays.
The fact that more money is now flowing into racing from media rights than from the Levy Board adds further complications to the fixtures debate. As media rights money is paid directly to the racecourses, the courses naturally want to maximise their income by putting on fixtures, irrespective of other considerations such as whether a nearby track is also racing on the same day. Disregard for geographical considerations means crowds suffer and horses often have to travel longer distances.
Throw into this mix the desire of some courses to put on more self-funded fixtures (without Levy Board cash) and you can see how the absolute need to cap the number of fixtures from 2014 to 2015 will be difficult to achieve.
With a static horse population, decreasing field sizes are the result of our bloated fixture list, but this could be tackled by establishing a truly centralised race planning programme operating under the auspices of the BHA to replace the largely isolated approach now carried out by racecourses.
With the BHA finally having gained a proper understanding of the horse population in all its complexity, it is crucial that it now creates a race planning matrix that maximises competition and minimises the effects of small fields.
In last month’s editorial I referred to the Gibraltar-licensed company 32Red Plc as being a “levy-avoiding online casino company”. It has subsequently been pointed out to me that 32Red has been paying the levy voluntarily since 2011 and sponsoring horseracing in Britain for over ten years. I apologise for this misunderstanding, regret any offence that this may have caused and can confirm that the ROA greatly welcomes 32Red’s continuing contribution.