Sunday, 1 December 2013
The Importance of the Owner Experience – Comparing Our Wins at Marvellous Market Rasen vs. Skinflint Southwell
By email to: Simon Bazalgette, CEO, Jockey Club Racecourses; Richard Wayman, CEO, Racehorse Owners’ Association; Colin Booth, Chairman, Pip Kirkby, General Manager and Jane Hedley, Clerk of the Course, Market Rasen Racecourse; Tony Kelly, Managing Director, Arena Racing Company and Roderick Duncan, Clerk of the Course, Southwell Racecourse.
Earlier in the month, Owners for Owners had horses running on two consecutive days in very similar races. Shantou Magic ran on Sunday, 10th November in the Class 4, 2m 3f BDN Construction Novices Hurdle at Market Rasen, and Houndscourt ran the next day in the Class 4, 2m 4f 32Red Casino Novices Hurdle at Southwell. Both won. All the owners present were extremely pleased, and delighted for their respective horses. We won £4,548 with Shantou Magic and £3,195 with Houndscourt. In many ways these were fairly ordinary novice hurdles, of average quality and interest. Very few people will have clocked both horses – just typical horses running in typical races. However I am writing to all of you because the overall owner experience at the two courses was completely different and I felt it would be helpful to illustrate that comment with more detail. It seemed to me that these two races, at their respective courses, encapsulate the very different approaches to owners of Jockey Club Racecourses (JCR) and Arena Racing Company (ARC).
Let’s start with prize-money. During and immediately after the race, none of us as owners were thinking much about that. We were just overjoyed for our horses. But our prize-money at Southwell was considerably lower than at Market Rasen. If you look at the total win prize-money between both meetings, it was £29,329 for six races at Market Rasen (average £4,888) vs. £18,547 for seven races at Southwell (average £2,649). A marked difference. Yet again it illustrates the comment from Rachel Hood, President of the ROA, when talking about ARC (in the context of their refusal to sign the media rights prize-money agreement), that “Their business is about running sports stadia; they are putting profit before all other considerations and will pay as little as they can get away with for what they perceive to be their raw material – the runners and riders.” So on this specific criterion, JCR (and particularly Market Rasen) should be congratulated, with all the owners involved also appreciative that they have committed to increasing prize-money over the next few years, in marked contrast to ARC who have no plans to do likewise.
While prize-money is a critical issue, the quality of the owner experience when attending a particular racecourse is clearly driven by many other factors. So let me contrast the two courses, and follow through the actual behaviours encountered when we came into contact with various personnel. Alas there was little evidence of professional owner / customer management skills that might have been expected from an organisation such as ARC whose business competence is supposed to be managing sports stadia. Positive or negative experiences in the retail or leisure industry are usually generated by interpersonal encounters at a number of staff touch points. Southwell was lamentable.
We arrived at Market Rasen, parked the car and went over to the Owners & Trainers entrance, where we were greeted by a couple of friendly and knowledgeable members of staff. They welcomed us immediately, chatted about the weather, the going and our horse, and wished us well. We were given a programme and meal vouchers, and proceeded to the Owners and Trainers bar. It was Armed Forces Family Fun Day. There was a large crowd, numerous stalls and stands and a general buzz to the whole proceedings. In the paddock before our race, there were lots of owners and also Market Rasen personnel mingling with us. Our horse won and we were delighted to meet the parents of the race sponsors, who awarded us a prize and a lovely hamper of cheese. They had obviously studied the race and chatted to us about Shantou Magic’s future. Their son, the CEO of BDN Construction, was sponsoring a number of races that day. We went across to the winners’ room, where we were plied with as many glasses of champagne as we could drink and members of the Market Rasen executive came along to celebrate the occasion with us. Our trainer, Charlie Longsdon, has done very well at this course and everyone thanked us profusely for bringing our horse to the track. A great experience.
After staying overnight at Forest Pines Golf Resort nearby (with even a few of us braving the elements to fit in 18 holes on the Monday morning), we travelled down to Southwell, looking forward to a similarly enjoyable race-day experience. We were directed to park in a large puddle – not a good start. When arriving at the entrance, I wondered if racing had been cancelled, as staff took no notice of us and seemed in no hurry to let us in. We were completely ignored for several minutes. Grudgingly they eventually gave us an entry pass and we went off to meet up with co-owners. The Owners and Trainers bar and meal were perfectly acceptable. However, when we went into the paddock it was deserted at the start and clearly very few owners had bothered coming up to support their horse or the meeting. Houndscourt duly won (perhaps somewhat fortuitously) and we greeted him back in the winner’s enclosure. From then onwards, it felt as though everyone connected with Southwell just wanted to get us off the premises. It was the last race on the card. There was a desultory prize-giving with an individual who didn’t introduce himself, and we were ushered away for “a glass of champagne”. The one Southwell employee present could not have been more miserable if he tried. After a thimble full of champagne each, he refused to provide a top-up (“It’s against the rules”) even though three-quarters of the bottle remained (presumably he took it home?) and, as a true jobsworth, urged us to drink quickly so that he could wash up and leave. If it hadn’t been for the owners being on such a high, this would have been a dismal end to our long racing weekend.
So, Market Rasen clearly won the owner-experience race hands down. Congratulations, Mr. Booth, and please pass on our thanks to all your team. I’m sorry, Mr. Duncan, but Southwell appeared to us to be a track that is just milking the stadium asset and doesn’t really have much regard for us as owners. Obviously because ARC controls such a large percentage of fixtures we may have to return, but if we have a choice between visits to Market Rasen and Southwell, we’ll be heading to Lincolnshire every time. Increasingly, I’m sure that many owners will also feel the same about voting for other tracks rather than supporting those of ARC.
Owners for Owners.
Reader note: the Arena racecourses are Bath, Brighton, Chepstow, Doncaster, Fontwell, Yarmouth, Lingfield, Newcastle, Windsor, Sedgefield, Southwell, Uttoxeter, Wolverhampton and Worcester. None have signed up for the prize-money agreement with the Horsemen’s Group and the BHA. Jockey Club racecourses are Aintree, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Epsom, Exeter, Haydock, Huntingdon, Kempton, Market Rasen, Newmarket, Nottingham, Sandown, Warwick and Wincanton. They have all signed up for the Premier Tier Agreement on prize-money.