News that a record number of people have enjoyed a day at the races in Britain during the first six months of the year should be music to the ears of the entire industry.
Competition for the leisure pound is fierce and racing’s often-knocked PR folk, including the Great British Racing team, deserve a collective pat on the back for their efforts.
While the prestigious festivals and major racedays attract impressive crowds, they are but small pieces in the jigsaw of 1,471 fixtures. Forming a cohesive strategy with all these meetings, an increasing number of which now take place on the all-weather, is a puzzle that has proved too tricky for a succession of racing administrators to solve, but perhaps Nick Rust can change that.
While the prestigious festivals and major racedays attract impressive crowds, they are but small pieces in the jigsaw of 1,471 fixtures
The BHA Chief Executive, who has made a strong impression despite his brief time in the role since switching from the bookmaking sector, is banking on the success of the Members’ Agreement. This is a tripartite arrangement that will see the BHA, horsemen and racecourses join forces to co-ordinate future growth for the sport.
It is hoped the Members’ Agreement will help to put an end to geographical clashes and fixture congestion that have caused so much frustration, with racecourses frequently accused of putting on races and meetings to serve themselves and not the sport. Time will tell if such problems can be overcome.
At the time of writing the racecourses still had not signed up, being accused of “dragging their heels” by ROA President Rachel Hood in her Leader column this month.
If Nick Rust’s hopes for 1,000 extra horses in training by 2020 are to be realised as part of a more “ambitious view” on the fixture list, he’ll need the support of British owners and breeders. Men like Jeff Smith, who has been a significant investor for the last four decades.
Smith’s famous purple and light blue silks have been carried by a number of top-class horses including Chief Singer, Lochsong and Persian Punch, the last-named being one of the most popular Flat horses of recent times.
As someone who races all his stock, selling only a small number of horses in training to recoup some of his expenses, Smith doesn’t have the commercial concerns of those breeding purely for the sales ring. Racing to him is a passion, one that hasn’t waned since his first ownership experience in 1976.
“I still love the game,” he tells Julian Muscat. “I’d much rather do this than be sat on a yacht in the middle of the Caribbean.
“Whether we break even in a given year depends entirely on the sales [of the horses in training]. I can make sense of the outlay over a number of years. I certainly wouldn’t claim to be making a profit, but let’s not forget: this is a sport. It will continue to be a sport until I can no longer afford it.”
The statistics show that Smith has had more than 100 runners every season bar two in the previous 20 years. His value to the British racing and breeding industries cannot be underestimated. Let’s hope his homebreds win enough prize-money to keep that involvement affordable.
David Simcock understands the finances of racing only too well. The trainer started out with seven horses 11 years ago and describes the early days as a “massive struggle” financially. But the early effort was worth it – he now oversees a string of over 100, including exciting colt Balios, who gave him a first Royal Ascot winner this year.
Simcock talks to Tim Richards about his early days in the sport, including time spent working for legendary trainers Ian Balding and Dick Hern, his approach to training and why it’s unlikely he’ll ever handle another thoroughbred as good as Dream Ahead.