Monday 1 December 2014

How Many “Owners” in Owners & Trainers Bars and in the Paddock are Genuine Owners?

I’ve been going to a large number of race meetings over the autumn, following our horses, and as many of you will know I’m quite a critic of the owners’ badge allocation system and its archaic administrative procedures. Ordering and then collecting them is needlessly time-consuming, and often a source of tension as genuine owners often have to convince the O&T desk that they are entitled to them. Definitely a system that needs to be brought into this century, never mind this decade. Smart ID systems, linked to owner IDs, would solve all of it, and also provide really valuable information to racecourses in line with modern customer relationship management practice. Doubtless there would be some technical issues, but as so many other leisure sectors have dealt with them, I can’t believe that there isn’t a perfect system out there, waiting for the racing industry to get up to date and adopt it.

However, in this blog I wanted to switch it round, because I do have a lot of sympathy with racecourses over the widespread abuse of owners’ badges. In effect there is an active black market in badges with lots of people getting access to them, particularly via trainers, jockeys, racecourse officials, syndicate managers etc. This fuels the generally suspicious attitude that prevails at O&T desks. Every person who gets in on a badge that they are not genuinely entitled to, is clearly lost revenue for the racecourse, and it is probably not an insignificant amount of money. Let’s say that 100 people per meeting get in for nothing, then that could easily be £3,000 lost income. Equally that is money that could be spent in the Owners & Trainers facility on better standards of refreshment, food, service etc. as well as improving the overall atmosphere.

As people who know me can testify, I’m very much behind the democratisation of racing and I’d like to see more people from non-traditional areas becoming active owners and investing in our sport. I don’t want to sound snobbish about this, but often I find myself in an Owners & Trainers entrance queue behind “no-good boyos” who are clearly picking up or cadging owners’ badges so that they can go on the lash on the racecourse and particularly in the O&T bar. Similarly at a number of tracks there are groups of people who seem to live there permanently, and yet never go out to see horses. I just don’t believe these people are involved in ownership, but are just exploiting the system and in effect being subsidised to attend privileged facilities by genuine owners.

Another aspect of this is the various hangers-on in the pre-parade and parade ring, who often attach themselves to owners simply because they have some relatively distant contact with a trainer or another horse in the yard. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no problems whatsoever with owners inviting friends along into the paddock, but it is when you find yourself with individuals with whom there are no real links or ties or friendship at all – they have just become non-paying, limpet owners freeloading on a badge system that is not fit for purpose.

What, if anything, should be done about it? The recommended starting point is clearly tightening up the whole process in a way that genuinely allocates badges in a generous way to owners who are investing in the sport, while making it far more difficult for the free-loaders. More guidelines from the Racecourse Association and National Trainers’ Federation would help. There should be a policy actively to discourage the doling out of freebie badges just because many individuals are brazen enough to ask for them. A half-way house might be to allocate a small number of badges to trainers so that they both manage and police the allocation in a way that is deemed to be equitable to their network of contacts and owners. Another and very innovative suggestion (which I know is being examined) is to set up a system for people to become “owners for the day” where they attend the racecourse as owners when a horse’s genuine owners are unable to attend, thereby experiencing at first hand the pleasures of being a racehorse owner. But they would pay for that privilege.

I don’t have any statistics on the scale of the problem, and hope I don’t sound too curmudgeonly, but I think the industry ought to be actively discouraging the freeloading, while equally actively encouraging investment in owning horses.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.


  1. I have paid for owners badge when there are more of us than free ones. This probably only happens with syndicates. So perhaps making all owners pay for their badge all be it at a reduced rate would discourage freeloaders. It wouldn't bother me as just love being there to see horse run. Don't think it would put real owners off going

  2. Hi Jon, just another perspective that I don't think you have covered id that at most courses each jockey is allowed an owners badge, often they will arrange for a friend, perhaps an owner without a runner on the day to use the badge. From working at Aintree this arrangement often causes problems when a jockey may promise more than one person an owners badge and you can imagine the chaos that ensues ! Until recently there was an arrangement whereby trainers from Ireland where allowed owners badges simply by producing the metal equivalent of the NTF that is used here, that arrangement is more strictly monitored now as trainers need to register with ITM prior to the event. I would love to exchange views next time we meet at Martin's, having seen the problems that can occur from both an owner and from the side of the racecourse's who generally do a good job.

  3. I read with interest your article after trying to find any definitive rules and regulations for the badge allocation system.

    I've fallen foul of the system numerous times - and yet I'm not an owner and you may - judging from your article - frown upon the way badges are allocated to me.

    I do photoshoots for the small stables and small yards that can't afford to get a professional photographer to cover their horses as I do. I only ever shoot from Public areas, keep to all the rules and guidance on amateur photography (when others don't - including the owners) and produce good quality photos that both trainers and owners delight in.

    And I fund it myself. The one thing I do ask is that I don't pay to get in as I don't enjoy the Racing when I'm working for them - and that means usually an O&T badge. If I want to have a day's Racing, I don't take a Camera with me and then will pay to get in.

    It's rare that I use the free food allocation - but I do rely on the free tea to grab inbetween shoots. And I have *never* stayed behind for the after Racing entertainment.

    Just recently, I have had a racecourse take exception to me and tried to forbid these badges from being allocated, putting obstacles in the way that are impossible to remove (they imagine there is an amateur photographers' accreditation procedure - which there isn't).

    But, if I am guest of the O&Ts, the badge is a relevant allocation for me - and I'm putting something into Racing, not freeloading on the provisions.

    I mention this so you see where I'm coming from. You talk about the people in the O&Ts bar as abusing the system and not being genuine owners but please recognise that one or two of them you've questioned could well have been me!

    I have *never* received an O&T's badge and *not* done a photoshoot - although I have been offered them for a 'day out'. I just won't take a handout.

    The allocation system at some racecourses is deplorable - and I agree with you. At a certain track on Friday night, I again had a problem with no email being sent - or received - or sent and lost by the Office.

    What was their solution to resolve the matter? They have none. If they don't get an email, you don't get in. Just how *real* owners feel when they've been funding their horse and then are refused entry must be more frustrating than how I feel.

    But they don't have any alternative way of getting you in.

    This has happened twice now and, eventually, the badge was allocated to me *without* an email. So why insist on an email and then not insist on one?! Why create a scene and cause bad feeling?

    From the offensive way I was dealt with, I felt it necessary to register a complaint (not having done so the first time) and also to ask them what the alternative way was to gain entry (as I had brought with me email correspondence from the trainer and this wasn't accepted). I did this so that I could make sure I knew if I could bring anything with me that would be accepted.

    At the moment, I have an apology, a statement by them that I'm not allowed in if an Owner gives me a badge to work and STILL no details about what their alternative method of entry is when they don't get an email!

    For me, it is not and never will be 'come in free' or 'come in by paying'. It's only 'come in and work for the O&Ts' or 'not come in at all'.

    I sympathise with the plight of the Owners who find themselves the object of the sort of stuff I have to endure - after all, they own the horse - and I have watched a few of them outside the O&Ts entry ringing their trainers after telling their fellow racegoers 'There're no badges'.

    I trust that you will understand why I get allocated an O&Ts badge - and why I do more than that's worth to me. I urge you to keep trying to get this procedure standardised, modernised and improved because, judging by my own experiences, it needs to be.