It was so obvious, wasn’t it? No, not the phenomenal Frankel’s 14th and final win. I’m talking about next year’s fixture list. With a fall in the number of horses in training and registered owners, the only sensible action was to increase the number of meetings in 2013. Am I missing something here?
While the rise in fixtures, from 1,456 to 1,464, may only be slight, the real question is why the BHA believes it is appropriate to sanction even the same number of meetings – never mind more – when the evidence says we need less horseracing in Britain.
Perhaps the answer to this conundrum can be found in the words of BHA Chief Executive, Paul Bittar. “For 2013 we have sought as far as possible to meet the needs of horsemen and the demands of our varied customers,” he said. The horsemen don’t need more fixtures. For varied customers, read the betting industry.
Given the chance, bookmakers – especially those on the high street – would broadcast and bet on racing 24 hours a day. Banded racing, all-weather racing, cartoon racing – you name it, they want it. Racing’s share of the sports betting market may be declining but without it, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral et al would disappear. Anyone who says otherwise is in denial. Or a bookmaker.
The point is there will never be too much racing for the betting industry, which is why tailoring the supply of races to suit this particular “customer” is a dangerous course to pursue.
A bloated programme is even more of a concern when you consider that there will be two fewer racecourses in operation next year
Using bookmaker input and data to find the type of races and time slots that are most popular with the betting public is a good idea, yet that doesn’t merit an increase in the product itself. The fixture list needs to work smarter, not harder.
A bloated programme is even more of a concern when you consider that there will be two fewer racecourses in operation next year, following the closure of Hereford and Folkestone. That means more meetings will be divided among fewer tracks – all-weather fixtures will rise, including at Southwell, with 51 racedays scheduled.
Now, singling out one venue for criticism may seem a little unfair, but it strikes me as somewhat odd from the BHA’s perspective to boost racing on a course that, as far as I can tell, adds very little to the British racing landscape, while at the same time allowing (or, at least, not trying to stop) the closure of two that did.
If anyone can explain what Southwell’s Fibresand does for our sport I’d love to hear it – watching sprinters finishing like three-mile chasers is not my idea of enjoyment – and I’m not interested in the argument that the surface provides “variety”. So would running races up Tottenham High Road but that doesn’t happen.
We often hear from those at the top of our industry that protecting and bolstering our best races is of paramount importance if Britain is to sell its product successfully and retain its position as racing’s world leader – if it still is.
Giving poor horses increased opportunities to run is not in keeping with that idea and I don’t think the two concepts are compatible, especially in a climate where prize-money is sourced from a mechanism that is not fit for purpose.
The subject of low-grade racing is aired by Harvey Smith, husband of trainer Sue, in this month’s essential feature.
Never backwards at coming forwards, Harvey is also quoted on issues including Wetherby’s turf management (good), Graham Wylie (bad) and the BHA’s new system for novice chases (ugly).
As for Sue, she’s enjoying training jumpers, though isn’t sure what the future holds. “Five or six years ago it was hard work,” she tells Alan Lee (pages 42-46). “I was very hands-on, always setting targets. I used to ride out four or five every day. Now I ride one or two.
“I’m looking forward to the new season but the older you get, the harder it is and you can’t be held by racing all your life. If it came to a point where we couldn’t earn money because of the way racing has gone up north, we would stop.”