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.