Thursday, 15 September 2016
Ever since we set up Owners for Owners we have differed from the vast majority, if not all, of partnerships and syndicates by not having our own colours. Our horses race in the colours of one of our owners, drawn by ballot every season. If an owner doesn’t have colours, we encourage and help them to select a set of racing silks because we genuinely believe that watching a horse race in one’s colours adds significantly to the overall owner experience. If you look on the Home Page of our web site, you’ll see photographs of recent winners, all of them in the colours of different owners.
So it was with some interest that I saw on the Racehorse Owners Association web site details of an imminent auction of six sets of racing silks that have never been seen before, and which are vibrant and multi-coloured, to say the least. You can see them on www.roa.co.uk, and you may need to put the sunglasses on beforehand! Whether you like them or not is not the issue, because it is really all about whether the racing industry can and should liberalise the rules on racing colours, thereby increasing the number of available designs and colours beyond the current restrictions.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the racing industry worldwide has a distinct, and for a lot of the time necessary, tendency towards rules and bureaucracy. In Britain they are covered by our domestic rules of racing and there are international requirements and restrictions as well. At the moment there is a limit of 25 allowable designs on the jacket, 12 on the sleeves, 10 on the cap and then an allowable two shades on each of the jacket, sleeves and cap. I haven’t calculated this but have been told that this results in 12 million combinations of colours, and putting that in context there are currently 14,000 sets of colours registered.
When I was a member of the BHA’s pillar team on ownership, as part of the strategy for growth, a business case was developed that I found very compelling and convincing. We recommended that there should be a liberalisation of racing colours, thereby increasing the number of colours, permutations and allowable designs. Not everyone, of course, would be in favour of this and we accepted that it could lead to some confusion, problems for judges, commentators, racegoers, racecard production and the TV. Aesthetically, some people wouldn’t like designs that they felt were garish and there was also the possibility that inadvertently someone’s intellectual property rights or branding could be infringed, leading to legal challenge.
Notwithstanding all the potential negatives, however, the positives appear dramatically to outweigh them. The two most important arguments in favour of greater flexibility are to enhance the overall owner experience (particularly for different types of owner) and hopefully to attract completely new kinds of owner into racing. More specifically, football clubs, universities, pubs, golf clubs, companies etc. all have logos and branding that they are proud of and to which they are emotionally committed. Indeed in some of the sporting clubs you can argue that there is almost a tribal element associated with the colours. If racing allowed the incorporation of these colours then, the argument goes, it might well be much easier to persuade them to invest in ownership of racehorses. At the top end there is a powerful case for corporate partnering and brand alignment between racing and very affluent third parties.
If the broad principle of liberalisation of colours is accepted, then racing can look for ways of maximising the opportunities for ownership as well as additional income streams. For example once you have the colours of companies of major sporting clubs on a horse, then you may be able to persuade such organisations actively to sponsor yards. A tiering of colours could create an opportunity for different levels of charging between more routine colours and premium ones. Colour auctions can be established (as in the trial at the end of this month), both of new, highly creative colours and older, dormant ones.
I really hope this is an initiative that leads to a tremendous amount of creativity, flexibility and new owners coming into the sport. As a minimum it should encourage stronger personalisation and self-expression on the part of owners, and could be one important element in maximising the overall ownership experience. Bring on the sunglasses!