Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Worcester Sauce

What did you think to the boycott co-ordinated by Charlie Mann that enabled Moulin De La Croix to walk over at Worcester on 11th July? Personally I’m very much in favour of the approach adopted by the Horsemen’s Group, particularly when they are targeting courses owned by companies such as Northern and Arena who persist in putting up sub-tariff races. But I also feel sorry for the local management at Worcester. Indeed, some friends and I took a box and sponsored a memorial race there recently and they went out of their way to make it a really enjoyable occasion, and it is a decent track, even if the facilities are not the smartest.

It was definitely a source of lots of comments, with the Racing Post blog capturing a wide range of views, one being “Prize money is terrible and something needs to be done”; but another saying, “Owners are fulfilling a hobby, no more, no less, most people fund their hobby themselves, why are racehorse owners any different?” So there may be grassroots support, but also little genuine understanding about why prize money needs to increase, how it benefits trainers and their staff as well as owners, and its broader impact across the whole racing community.

I think Rachel Hood, President of the Racehorse Owners Association, strikes the right note when she argues that “an appropriate share of racing’s revenues should go into prize money”. The challenge is how to apply a proper strategy to secure that share, while working with all the major stakeholders to grow the revenue pot. Alas, I think racing tends to focus too much on dividing up that pot, rather than maximising the revenue from the global betting market, media rights, racecourse attendance and sponsorship. A theme that will doubtless be covered again in this blog.

Just to show that prize money isn’t everything, our mare, Ursula, has now been sold and will go to stud in Ireland. The day before the Worcester débâcle, she won a Class 5 at Southwell and the huge pot of £2,264. Everyone was thrilled for her and the new owner, and also for the Burke family. Ursula was well ridden by Michael Metcalfe, who is a really promising rider at Spigot Lodge and enjoying a great strike rate for them at the moment, and the horse was led up by Lucy Burke who has looked after her for most of the last five years. A superb result for everyone. Despite the shocking prize money.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Rip-off Races On

Blimey!  I’ve clearly stirred up a veritable hornets’ nest with the last blog on some syndicate managers’ shenanigans.  Don’t get me wrong – many syndicates are extremely well run, and bring great pleasure to lots of owners.  My criticism was levied at managers who make huge mark-ups on the sales price of horses prior to syndication.

Mind you, in a week when “Big Boy” Barclays’ bankers have been in the limelight for fixing Libor rates, it pales into insignificance.  Or does it?  Arrogance towards customers, no proper regulation, open abuse of the system, readily exploitable and opportunistic culture, self-serving lifestyle, complete lack of transparency and a love of Bollinger .... and that’s just a few of the syndicate managers!

So are there other dodgy commercial practices in syndication that need to be looked at?  Some of the whispers I’ve picked up cover luck money, back-handers on purchase, discounts and rebates not being passed on to the syndicate members, overly generous claims for management expenses, mishandling of VAT reclaims, duplicated mileage and spurious hospitality.  It will be interesting to see if the Racing Post’s series on syndicates even hints at any of this mismanagement.  I suspect that it will present syndication through very rose-tinted spectacles.  I’ll comment further once I’ve read the articles.

On a much more solemn note, what a tragedy to befall Campbell Gillies.  That stirring day at the Cheltenham Festival on Brindisi Breeze now seems such a distant happy memory.  Our thoughts go out to his family, friends and all who knew him.