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.


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