As we embark upon an exciting new Flat season, we are reminded of the difficult balancing act that any commentator on this sport has to perform in trying to reconcile our pathetically low levels of general prize-money with the fact that in many areas British racing has a deserved reputation for being the best in the world.
When the marketing arm of British racing recently metamorphosed itself from Racing For Change into Great British Racing, it did so because there are, indeed, pretty clear indications that many parts of racing’s garden are blooming. And, if we do not emphasise these positives, we shun the opportunity of making racing more attractive to the wider world, which in turn provides us with a large part of the solution to the industry’s ills.
Equally misguided, of course, would be to ignore the fact that our total prize-money in real terms has actually declined in recent years and that this has dire ramifications for the industry on many different levels, particularly for its everyday owners, trainers and work-force.
Our town rejoiced in the title of Racing’s HQ long before the need for marketing
A system that requires a horse to win five or six low-grade races in a year before its keep and training costs are met cannot be anything other than unhealthy for the sport.
But let us not be curmudgeonly when we are told that the aim of Great British Racing is to broaden the appeal of British racing at every level, with the objective of increasing participation and revenues, and protecting and growing the thousands of jobs that exist within and are ancillary to racing.
And let us join in the celebration when we are reminded that, four years on from the inception of Racing For Change, we have revenues coming into the sport from a new commercial TV deal with Channel 4; racecourse attendances had increased for three years in succession before the weather intervened last year, breaking through the six million barrier in 2011; and that racing is gaining relevance and exposure in the wider media while attracting new sponsorship deals from the likes of QIPCO and Investec.
Great British Racing is supported by racing’s key stakeholders, while in addition to its promotional responsibilities, its role is to market British horseracing to domestic and international high-net worth individuals, a function previously undertaken by British Bloodstock Marketing.
As this part of the new marketing venture begins to pick up from where British Bloodstock Marketing left off in seeking to attract investors with the mantra “buy in Britain, breed in Britain, train in Britain, and race in Britain,” we should also acknowledge the key role that the town and surrounding areas of Newmarket play at every level of the sport. Whether as a racing, training, breeding or sales centre, Newmarket’s unique status within the horseracing world must be protected and enhanced.
Whatever problems may be thrown in the path of these objectives, it is the duty of everyone in racing to ensure that Newmarket is preserved in a way that is in keeping with its rich heritage and that nothing is ever permitted to impair its capacity to provide world-class facilities.
Indeed, those concerned with the promotion of British racing must remain mindful of the pivotal role of Newmarket, of its numerous racing-related businesses and in particular the outstanding work of the National Horseracing Museum which will provide an even more powerful representation of our sport when it moves to its magnificent new home at Palace House Stables in 2015, with a new centre of excellence as part of its plans.
Great British Racing will of course have many beacons to follow in its quest to continue to widen the fan base of the sport, but the one that shines from Newmarket sends out an unmistakable message. Our town rejoiced in the title of Headquarters of Racing many years before anybody thought of putting the words of marketing and racing together.