We are all well aware of issues associated with the poor level of prize-money in Britain and while the 2019 total of £165 million was a record, the rewards are still woefully short of those offered by our major competitors in an increasingly global sport.
It was extremely concerning to hear recently that some of the largest breeders and owners are reviewing their operations in Britain, compared with their activity in other jurisdictions where prize-money at every level is far greater than ours. Such a development is perhaps not surprising, but it needs to be at the forefront of the industry’s thinking as we recover from the impact of Covid-19.
Tackling the imbalance requires a sensible strategy.
Of course, it is important that those horses running in the lower tier of the sport should receive as good a reward as possible, but if our sport is to thrive internationally, serious consideration must be given to how our Pattern races in particular, which are intended to attract competition from overseas, are funded.
We can only live off the reputation and past quality of our races, and the prestige and experience of racing in Britain, for so long. The drift away has already started and if we want to avoid Britain’s becoming a second-tier racing nation, we must address the issue of international competition head-on.
The number of British-trained runners who supplement Pattern-race fields in France on almost every occasion when quality racing takes place has become very noticeable.
Take a seven-day period in the middle of July, for example. Three meetings, including the midweek Bastille Day fixture at Longchamp, attracted a total of 24 British-trained runners to nine Group and Listed races. There were seven individual winners, including Pinatubo in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, and British-trained runners finished second in the two races that got away, the Group 2 Prix de Malleret and Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan. In all, 12 horses picked up place prize-money, although it has to be admitted that not all would have covered the cost of travel.
“Serious consideration must be given to how our Pattern races in particular are funded”
British runners Royal Crusade, Glen Shiel and Dubai Station were first, second and third in the Group 3 Prix de Ris- Orangis at Chantilly, while
Ventura Tormenta and The Lir Jet were first and second in the four-runner Prix Robert Papin.
Taken overall, UK-based horses represented 35 per cent of runners across the nine races, bolstering not only numbers but also their quality, to the detriment of British racing. This will soon show itself in the Pattern and then on to grading of British races. Very few French Flat horses now cross the Channel, and why would they, when there are plenty of opportunities with better prize-money at home?
The top Irish-trained horses, who have a much smaller domestic racing programme, still come to Britain, but they also target France. How long will it be before the prize-money differential lures more of their best horses to France?
I accept that Covid-19 has exacerbated the situation and even getting Pattern races back to 75 per cent of their 2019 values is a struggle, but this just highlights the issue when even full values were becoming uncompetitive.
Quality in any sport promotes interest and a following. The racing public will soon spot the difference between top- end racing and something more mundane. The premier tier of every sport leads the way and Britain must aim to stay competitive with other racing nations.
This global sport makes quality racehorses very attractive in other jurisdictions and it is difficult for the average owner to turn down an offer from overseas for a horse that can win good prize-money elsewhere. If major owners feel the same way, or look to race elsewhere themselves, then the depletion of our bloodstock and dilution of our racing will become of real concern.
If the sport aspires to remain at the top table and maintain its position as a world leader, we must consider how we support our Pattern races against this global threat. Racing is an aspirational sport and we need to make sure everyone can aspire to a top level in Britain that offers appropriate rewards.