People who don’t understand the importance of prize-money to owners and to the sport of horseracing generally sometimes ask why racehorse owners should have their hobby subsidised. If you own a yacht, so the argument runs, it would be preposterous to expect help with paying for it. So why should owning a racehorse be different?
Even in today’s world, it is surprising how this specious argument is still trotted out. The answer is as simple as the people who pose the question. Racehorses, paid for by owners, provide the foundation stone of this sport and industry.
It is why approaching £11 billion a year is bet on British racing alone. It is why £70m annually is received by the Levy Board to reflect the betting operator’s right to take bets on British horseracing; why well over £100m a year is paid for the rights to televise racing in betting shops and through TV broadcasters; and why six million people attend racecourses annually.
Leaving aside all those arguments about overseas-based betting operators not paying their dues, this is quite enough to illustrate how the racehorse and therefore the people who own the racehorse are at the centre of this world in which we exist. We, as owners, are generating huge sums of money for third parties and, just as a professional footballer is highly paid because of TV rights and the like, so the owner of the racehorse must get as close as possible to seeing a return on his investment.
Of course, for most racehorse owners there is no return on the running costs of their horses and even less so when the capital outlay of the horse has been taken into account. The best we can hope for, across the board, is to minimise our losses and by so doing continue to encourage owners on the lowest rungs of the ladder to retain and even increase their investment in the sport.
It is well-known that British owners receive the worst financial deal among all the developed racing nations, with, on average, somewhere under 25% of running costs coming back to the owner through prize-money, while the figure in France, for instance, is between 40% and 50%.
Just as well, therefore, that a better return on their investment is not the only motivating factor for most British racehorse owners and that the fun and excitement of owning a horse, or even a leg in a horse, often supersedes the prospect of monetary reward.
The recent ownership survey has confirmed how the ROA plays an important role in stimulating that enthusiasm, with the work of our association and the benefits attached to membership persuading owners to stay in the game much longer than non-members.
There is now a general acknowledgement from all sides of racing that the first priority to achieving a successful industry is retention and recruitment of owners
Indeed, there is now a general acknowledgement from all sides of racing that the first priority to achieving a successful industry is retention and recruitment of owners, while encouraging syndication to operate as a gateway into the sport.
More owners gives us more horses in training with all the associated improvements. Not only because it provides a greater opportunity for horseracing to accentuate its position as the ultimate betting medium and a wonderful entertainment for racecourse and television audiences, but also because there is a knock-on benefit to racecourses, trainers, jockeys and stable staff, as there is to the rural economy – a message clearly taken on board by the last government.
Never let it be forgotten that every time a horse runs in a race, however moderate the horse, however lowly the race, someone bets on it and someone watches it and someone is making money out of it.
There is no subsidy to racehorse owners. On the contrary, we are the first in line for paying for the sport we love and we should therefore be the first in line to receive the benefits. It is a premise on which the ROA has existed for the past 70 years.