Thinking about the sentiment “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” which was attributed to Winston Churchill while he was working to form the United Nations in the mid-1940s, the crisis that has been Covid-19, while difficult to describe as good, is certainly one from which everyone involved with racing and breeding has much to learn.
The sport and its participants are spread throughout the land. Yet one of the biggest lessons of the last eight months is that we have all learned it is possible to communicate using modern media to a much larger extent than we did in the past.
The crisis has accelerated everyone’s use of technology, and even those of us who might previously have been regarded as fully paid-up members of the Luddite movement have grasped the intricacies of Zoom and Teams, as we meet virtually, rather than travel across the country, spending endless hours in traffic jams that result in frustration and stress.
Several innovations that probably would not otherwise have been introduced immediately, such as staging race meetings with more races and restricting jockeys to one fixture per day, have brought discernible benefits. While these measures will not suit everyone, we must still ensure that the lessons learnt are not lost for the future.
The TBA has never been busier but the team, whether working from home or in our small office in Newmarket, have kept up with all the issues affecting breeders, making sure members are up to speed with all the various developments resulting from government decisions or the reaction of the sport’s administrators.
This emphasis on modern technology means that the TBA executive is learning to look at even better ways of communicating with our members, using educational and informative platforms that will not need the widely dispersed membership to congregate so often in Newmarket or other centres.
With Weatherbys, we are progressing the registration of stud premises, and the provision of movement and vaccination apps on mobile devices is up and running, so the traceability of all horses will become a much easier matter of common practice.
“The crisis has accelerated our use of technoloogy – we have all grasped the intricacies of Zoom”
Brexit is also on the horizon, forcing us to adapt, and I am sure we will look back in a few years’ time and be amazed at the progress made through the use and advancement of technology. The TBA should not stand alone. This is an opportunity for other organisations to look at their structures and practices to see if a more modern outlook, embracing new methods of working, can bring benefits to everyone.
The British Horseracing Authority has changed little since it took over from the much maligned British Horseracing Board in 2007. With a cost base of over £37 million, it must make sense for Julie Harrington, the incoming Chief Executive, to consider a root and branch review of all BHA activities.
Everyone in the sport should set the target of making sure there is an updated structure that is affordable and can be supported over the next ten years. If this crisis has proved anything, it is that much of what we do, such as race planning, fixture planning and day-to-day processes, can be coordinated through modern technology that does not require individuals to be gathered in a central space.
Through the use of a more transparent system, we can ensure that the racing schedule avoids race clashes, while reactive programming, outside major races and racedays, can provide a much better balance of opportunity for the ready-to-run horse population. Modern technology can allow us to be much closer to the US model of matching runners and races to the benefit of all.
Technology on racecourses has improved enormously, but more can be done to make sure everyone is kept up to date on a raceday, for example by publishing all photo-finish data and pictures on a website for everyone to see.
Then again, that section of regulation that does not occur on the racecourse can be streamlined so that only rarely do individuals have to travel to be seen in person.
There are opportunities everywhere to learn from this crisis, to review structures and accelerate ways of thinking. Let’s not waste them.