Friday, 15 November 2013

More on the Prize-Money Challenge ….. and the Pleasure of Owning a Horse Such as Shantou Magic

Last Saturday, Anthony Honeyball was kind enough to host the sixth in our series of “Meet the Trainer” mornings at his yard on the Dorset / Somerset borders. Then over 20 owners met up at Wincanton Races to enjoy everything about Badger Ales day from the luxury of a private Owners for Owners box. A magnificent view, great food and an excellent opportunity for owners from various partnerships to meet up and enjoy each others’ company. Racing really is an excellent sport for bringing together people from all walks of life. The shared interest and love of the racehorse guarantees a common bond.

We had no sooner driven back from Wincanton than a number of us headed north for Market Rasen to see Shantou Magic on Sunday, 10th November, and then Houndscourt at Southwell the following day – a Lincolnshire trip that most definitely paid off. Some of us stayed up there and even managed a game of golf at Forest Pines in between the races.

The Timeform review of Shantou Magic’s race says everything: “Followed up his Fontwell success with consummate ease, value for considerably more than the margin of victory; mid-field, travelled smoothly, crept closer from 5th, chased leader approaching next, led 3 out, in command 2 out, forged clear; created a good impression, and is well worth his place in better company.” The dreams have always been alive, but have now rocketed to a different level. One of the owners sent me a smashing email describing himself as “Mr. Excited from Hampshire”. The Timeform rating is 133p – the same as Taquin Du Seuil at this stage last year, who went on to win the Challow by 9 lengths and started at 6/1 for the Neptune at the Cheltenham Festival. My response was, “I think I need to go and lie down!” Charlie Longsdon is going to let the horse have a short holiday now, having had two runs in close succession, and he will reappear after Christmas, possibly in the Challow at Newbury or the Leamington Spa at Warwick, or even a big handicap hurdle, depending on the mark.

In the glorious moments of the race and immediately afterwards, I don’t think any of us were thinking about prize-money. It was just the sheer joy of owning a potential star, and all the dreams and aspirations that flow from that. But clearly, prize-money does matter (and by the way, in the next blog I am going to compare and contrast the way in which Market Rasen treated the owners, as opposed to ARC’s Southwell).

On the bigger stage, the Australian turf authorities have acknowledged this with their recent announcement that they are going to create a £10.5m end-of-season championship meeting – appropriately enough, called “The Championships” – containing eight Group 1s and the world’s richest mile race. It will kick off on 12th and 19th April 2014 in Sydney, and follows on from the Dubai World Cup on 29th March. The goal is to make it “the greatest event for racing in the Southern Hemisphere”. Their 1m 2f race will be worth £2.3m; the 6f, £1.5m; and the Doncaster Mile, £3m. That definitely puts the poor old prize-money at Kempton and Doncaster UK, and our pathetic start to the Flat, in perspective.

While still in Australia, the Melbourne Cup on 5th November had total prize-money of almost £4m. Not bad for a 2m handicap. The winner picked up almost £2.5m, the 2nd, £0.5m, the 3rd, over £0.25m, and even the 6th, 7th and 8th each had over £80,000. These prizes really matter – I’ve already commented on the increasing disparities building up between Breeder’s Cup in the US, the Arc meeting at Longchamp and the Dubai World Cup, and Ascot’s Champions’ Day. Global owners and breeders will increasingly migrate away from the UK to these more lucrative locations – a huge concern for the UK racehorse industry.

Finally, back to the Jumps. On 6th November, there was an ARC meeting at Chepstow and a jumps meeting at Enghien, north of Paris. The total prize-money at Chepstow was £32,552. Three races had win prize-money of a mere £1,949, and a derisory £143 for 4th. By contrast, Enghien had total prize-money of £264,210. One of the more valuable races on the card – a 2m 1f chase for 4yos – had prize-money of £44,713, the winner picked up £21,463 and the 5th, £2,012. For each of six of their seven races, the single race prize-money was more than the total pot at Chepstow. I intend to discuss French jumps racing with all our trainers. Our next National Hunt purchase will be set up as a partnership aiming to go racing in France as well as the UK.

À bientôt, mes amis!

Friday, 1 November 2013

An Owners for Owners Prize-Money Challenge – Step Change in Champions’ Days with the Launch of a Triple Crown and Real Collaboration Across the Racing Territories

As you know, in the last few issues of the blog I have been examining British racing’s prize-money (or rather, lack of it, in terms of its quantum). While I congratulated the Arena Racing Company (ARC) for the launch of their all-weather series, at the end of the day it is only a drop in the ocean, and it was disappointing that they have failed to sign up to a deal sharing more of their media rights money with racing. We need to double or triple the total amount of money that is being made available for owners and through them, trainers, jockeys and stable staff. I’m also more than happy to acknowledge the magnificent contribution of Qipco and the Qataris, and the way in which Ascot’s Champions’ Day has been promoted by all the authorities. People such as Charles Barnett at Ascot, David Redvers with the Qataris, together with the Great British Racing team and the BHA, have brought in individuals of real wealth who are injecting considerable sums of both cash and enthusiasm into our sport. Hats off to all of them.

In common, though, with many of our owners, most of us were at Cheltenham for Showcase Saturday (after a particularly fine “Meet the Trainer” morning, hosted by Martin and Belinda Keighley at their yard, and fortified by a heart-stopping breakfast in the Plough at Ford) rather than at Ascot for Champions’ Day. Why on earth do we have the end of the Flat clashing with the start of the Jumps? Utter nonsense. But then, with the current structure of the racing calendar, there is not a lot that the authorities can do about it.

Cheltenham as always was deeply enjoyable, although it is hard not to feel that this is a meeting that also needs to raise its game with far more prize-money. But it certainly focuses the mind on to the thrills ahead, and the dénouement of the Festival itself. I can already hear the roar before the Supreme Novices. Alas, while watching Ascot from Cheltenham, I don’t think you could ever envisage a similar roar occurring before the start of Champions’ Day. Indeed, the general consensus was that it was a fairly low-key day, with the Queen’s horse Estimate setting the tone with a most disappointing 7th place behind the Johnny Murtagh trained and ridden Royal Diamond. It is also pretty difficult to have champion sprint racing on soft ground, and Slade Power won from a seemingly weak field. Olympic Glory’s success in the QE2 Mile was a great result for Sheikh Al-Thani, and the horse obviously loved the going. But of course he had been beaten in the Prix Jacques le Marois by Moonlight Cloud.

Without any doubt though, Ascot did produce a candidate for “Race of the Season” in the 1½ mile Champion Stakes. This was Farhh’s last race, and will definitely have brought a smile to the faces of all the Godolphin connections after the torrid and controversial year they have endured – a great race, with Cirrus Des Aigles and Ruler Of The World a few heads behind.

But what really caught my eye after this race was the difference in prize-money. I thought that Treve’s performance in the Arc was the champion performance of the whole season. Simply breathtaking, and to win by 15 lengths, quite extraordinary. She won £2.25m, with superb prize-money down to 5th at £111,000. Compare that with the Champion Stakes - £300,000 to the winner and £14,000 for 5th. Says everything. Champion quality racing …… but ten times greater prize-money in France!!!

So, here is an Owners for Owners idea. Why not get all the racing authorities and the richest sponsors together and lay out a European Triple Crown? Kick it off in Ireland at the end of August / early September; move on to Ascot three or four weeks later; and then on to Longchamp for the Arc. Make it the richest sequence of racing in the world. Give the sponsors huge publicity. Tweak all the race terms so that trainers can go for at least two of the three meetings with their absolute top horses from anywhere in the world. Put massive marketing clout behind it that positions Europe in the early Autumn as the only place to be for top-quality Flat racing. Use it to capture the imagination of all the stakeholders in racing and, obviously, the general public as well as racing’s core enthusiasts. To make this work, there would need to be a transformation in collaboration and major changes in race planning. If it could be made to work, it would be absolutely magnificent.