Last month’s confirmation by Sports Minister Tracey Crouch that the government is committed to replacing the levy system was welcome news. It means that British racing is on the edge of a substantial change, not only in the sport’s funding but also the relationship that must be built with the multifaceted and complex betting industry, which provides so much of racing’s finance.
The relationship can never be simple, as the requirements of retail and on-course customers are so different from the online betting industry, which has an insatiable appetite for more information and more action at different times of the day.
The variety of opportunities required by online gambling are a new and ever-developing demand on racing, which must work with all customers to grow the cake for everyone’s benefit. Yet it should never be forgotten that over many years racing has developed a structure and purpose to improve and advance the breed for the benefit of all.
That structure is vital and, while improvements are always possible, the rush to engage with the new gambling scene must not damage basics that have been built up over the decades.
Racing is not just a gambling product. It’s a many-sided sport that engages with and employs thousands of people who enjoy the thoroughbred and the competition developed through the centuries.
The thoroughbred is a magnificent animal, whose keenness to learn and please shone through the recent Retraining of Racehorses Awards ceremony, where I was constantly reminded by those who have taken on and love ex-racers just how intelligent and willing so many of the horses bred for the sport can be.
Bringing more of them to racecourses where the public, who love animals of all breeds, can see them at close hand and be told how they are cared for must be a good idea, especially as it would enable more people to see racehorses as something other than a betting medium.
By the very nature of the exercise, breeders have the closest affinity with their horses, and explaining their individual characteristics to the public has to be of enormous benefit.
Breeders spend so much time matching characteristics, conformation and racing ability when making mating plans that putting into words the fascination of how or why an individual thoroughbred resulted from a particular mating can provide racing fans with so much more information and stimulate greater interest than if they merely looked at the horse as just another betting opportunity.
We should try to engage others in explaining how and why the racehorse became the finished article they see on the course
This outstanding animal has been nurtured and selectively bred for so many years. As breeders we should try to engage others in explaining how and why the racehorse became the finished article they see on the racecourse.
With this in mind, racing’s new terrestrial broadcaster ITV has made an excellent start by noting the name of the breeder, as well as the sire and dam, of winners in its results’ captions.
ITV Racing has a great opportunity to turn the spotlight on the thoroughbred as an animal to build a special relationship with the public.
Britain is rightly known as a nation of animal lovers. Breeders, as well as owners and trainers, should share their horses with the public, not least because the animal rights lobby could so easily take advantage of any lapse in our continuing efforts to demonstrate how well thoroughbreds are cared for.
Breeding and racing are constantly under scrutiny, and although the sport enjoys support from those familiar with country life, we must never be complacent about the growing urban majority that has been brought up on sanitised wildlife and animal programmes.
The BHA’s appointment of Dr David Sykes in the new role of Director of Equine Health and Welfare is a step in the right direction, and everyone in racing should welcome the opportunity to demonstrate the care and attention paid to the welfare of the thoroughbred racehorse and why animal rights bodies are so wrong to target the sport.