Last year was a big year for racing but 2021 is bigger. After everything we endured and rebuilt in 2020, the real test and opportunity is ahead of us. This is a massive year for racing and all of its participants and there is so much to be achieved by us all working together for the sport’s future.
When the news started breaking in March last year of a global pandemic, swiftly followed by the closure of racecourses and the sport, it was hard to know where to look. Racing was pilloried in some sections of the press as the last sport open and its participants and fans up and down the country had their day-to-day racing ripped away.
Yet that would not stop what racing could achieve in the confined circumstances of 2020; even the bleak background of the pandemic did not prevent some astounding work from the sport’s leaders and employees to get the show back on the road.
We have gone from no racing in March to being the first sport back on, piloting crowds and with limited spectators able to attend. We have worked hard to keep owners on courses where possible, liaising with racecourses to improve the experience for owners in these Covid times.
All that fantastic and collaborative work by the ROA, British Horseracing Authority, Racecourse Association and Horsemen’s Group amongst others was vital. We should not forget the fantastic work of the Levy Board in the midst of the pandemic to keep minimum values at the levels they are, which has immeasurably supported owners, trainers and others in the sport’s time of need.
I took up the positions of ROA President and Chair of the Horsemen’s Group in July and have been flat out ever since. Juggling the joys of being an owner-breeder with the responsibilities of my roles has been enlightening, to say the least.
Certainly I am proud, having only been here for a short while, of what the ROA is doing for our sport. We shouldn’t forget that only a few years ago there was little understanding of what owners did for horseracing and why they were so important.
“Moving into this year we are laser-focussed on the task in hand; getting racing back in all its glory”
The ROA has done an immeasurable amount to bring owner priorities to the forefront of racing’s consciousness and that has shown throughout the last year and before. All of the hard work put in on enhancing the raceday experience, improving prize-money levels, and increasing shared ownership has supported the resilience of owners despite the dual threats of Covid and Brexit.
People want to go racing and people want to own racehorses – as an industry we can, and must, make it far easier to do both.
It can be easy to get distracted by the multitude of issues, challenges and opportunities racing consistently presents but moving into this year, we are laser-focussed on the task in hand: getting racing back in all its glory.
In my first column as ROA President, I said I wanted to grow the sport of racing. That remains my unbending priority, even off the back of 2020. Our sport has done so much this year to work together and I know that taking those lessons into 2021, racing has an unbelievable opportunity to grow.
As the pandemic fades with the vaccine, we will still be here working on the structural challenges in racing to grow prize-money, increase racing’s revenue streams and keep improving the ownership experience.
Currently on the menu are new commercial agreements around prize-money, proposed levy reforms, an affordability and gambling commission review, and promotion of syndicates and accreditation, as we welcome a new CEO at the BHA. It’s going to be a busy start to 2021.
To all the owners, breeders and horsemen and women, I wish you good luck for the New Year and many new winners and adventures with your horses in 2021.