Through this column, I would like to add my support to the Horsemen’s Tariff, which was launched in January. The tariff sets out the minimum values which the horsemen believe racecourses can afford to pay for each class of race. I too received a copy of the RCA Chairman’s letter setting out the racecourses’ position and of course I have sympathy for their plight. We do after all appear to be fighting over the few crumbs that remain after someone has taken our cake.
Breeders have not been shy in making their own contributions to prize-money through the British European Breeders’ Fund, the Racing Post Yearling Bonus Scheme and individual race sponsorship. It is in our commercial interests to do so. Indeed, the breeding industry is the second largest race sponsor in Britain and is one of the few funders to sponsor races purely for the benefit of this industry.
It is vital that breeders support this campaign to improve prize-money, which is crucial to the future of our industry. We do need to work with the racecourses to ensure that during these financially straitened times races that are important to breeders aren’t disproportionately affected by the proposed cuts, particularly when sacrificing them for short-term cheaper options which would appear to make economic sense to racecourse executives struggling to balance the books.
It was, therefore, encouraging to see the RCA Chairman acknowledge that maintenance of quality racing adds value to the horse and assists the export of British bloodstock. But for how long will our horses retain their international attraction when the rewards for running in Britain and our world renowned quality black-type races start to fade?
We have already witnessed a disproportionate cut in prize-money for a National Hunt black type mares’ race and we understand that a wholesale reduction in Listed races, as well as a virtual removal of higher-class handicap opportunities on the all-weather in the early period of this year, are proposed. More Listed races are to be dropped later in the year and these include opportunities for fillies and mares.
We will be lobbying the BHA to maintain a balance of opportunities in difficult circumstances, but racecourses should be under no illusions as to what is at risk should the overall quality of the race programme and opportunities for fillies and mares, in particular, be diminished.
In the longer term, if the only way for owners to reinvest in racing is to continue to enjoy the significant overseas interests in our horses-in-training sales, a properly structured race programme, with career paths for our better horses, remains vital. In the absence of adequate prize-money, the latter is probably our only hope of retaining owner/breeders during the economic downturn.
Commercial breeders need all the practical support and encouragement racing can offer to continue to produce the raw material. That is why our relationship with individual racecourses remains important to us. We have to find some way to work together to our mutual benefit, to find a path through what I sincerely hope is only a short-term problem. It is surely in nobody’s interest for breeders to walk away from this sport, but at present the risk of this happening seems very real.
Forgive me for once again pointing out that foal production has been hit hard by the economic climate. Whilst breeders have traditionally remained in the industry for the long term, we anticipate a 6% decline in the number of mares covered in 2011, following the 16% drop in British-bred foals in 2010.
With British- and Irish-bred horses accounting for over 80% of the horses in training in Britain, and with the current fixture list requiring some 29,000 individual horses in training, at some point in the future, without attention, we will simply not have enough horses for races to remain competitive and for the betting industry to maximise its profits. This is no longer a mere threat, it is reality.