The growth, in value and importance, of media rights has been one of the biggest changes in the racing industry over the past few years. As levy income continues to slide – and with a replacement funding scheme looming, possibly in place by April – this booming revenue stream has assumed a vital role in the sport’s finances.
Payment for providing the live racing pictures goes to the venue, the racecourses, which have organised themselves accordingly to maximise income. It is the reason why the Horsemen’s Group devised contractual agreements to ensure that a percentage of this money is put into prize-money, previously a discretional spend for the tracks.
There has been a great deal of secrecy and indeed a lack of clarity over exactly what figures are being paid and received for media rights, but Howard Wright (pages 64-70) tackles the subject head on and gets to grips with the numbers and players involved, explaining the significance for racecourses, broadcasters and bookmakers.
Owners may not be rewarded financially for providing the runners on which the racecourses build their businesses but the standout performers – and the people who pay their bills – are acknowledged every year at the ROA Horseracing Awards (see pages 43-55).
This year’s glittering ceremony at the InterContinental on Park Lane in London in early December recognised the highest achievers from the past 12 months. The Coolmore team scooped three trophies courtesy of brilliant fillies Minding and Found, and leading juvenile Churchill, with Sue Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor also being named Owners of the Year.
Undoubtedly the biggest roar of the night came when the recently retired Sprinter Sacre was announced as the Horse of the Year. This brilliant two-miler, owned by Caroline Mould and trained by Nicky Henderson, captured the imagination with his sheer ability but also courage to come back from a serious heart problem. It was a reminder, if one were needed, that the National Hunt racehorse has the edge on his Flat counterpart when it come to public adoration.
Brian Hughes (Talking To, pages 58-62) may not have anything of the calibre of Sprinter Sacre to ride this season, however the Ulsterman is enjoying a superb time in the saddle, partnering a mammoth 31 winners in November, a haul that included a first five-timer at Musselburgh.
There has been a great deal of secrecy over exactly what figures are being paid and received
Hughes has become the go-to man for the better horses in the north and is currently top of the chasing pack behind runaway leader Richard Johnson, who is hoping to land consecutive jockeys’ championships after filling the runner-up berth so many times during Sir Anthony McCoy’s 20-year reign.
This year’s Flat title race featured a cracking dual between Silvestre de Sousa and eventual champion Jim Crowley, a battle that illuminated many a mundane midweek card. The Crowley/de Sousa story was played out over many weeks, providing the kind of ‘narrative’ that we have heard mentioned so often by those in charge of the marketing of horseracing.
The current parameters of the jumping season do not suggest that such a scenario will be replicated – so should the jumps follow the Flat and introduce a ‘truncated’ championship? It’s certainly food for thought.
Hughes himself is not bothered by any title-winning talk, content to take each day as it comes and keep doing what he’s been doing. Nor is he too worried with what people have to say when things don’t go quite so well on the racecourse.
“Nowadays there is a lot of pressure from social media, which I think is a load of bollocks,” he explains. “It doesn’t concern me, but you get these clowns who’ve had a fiver on your horse and when it gets beat they call you all sorts. As long as the owner and trainer are happy, then so am I.”