Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year’s Resolution for the Racing Industry: Bring in 1,000+ Horses and Retain More Owners

Hope everyone has enjoyed (?) the Christmas festivities and New Year’s Eve. One of our owners commented after our 2m novice chaser, Future Gilded, ran at Plumpton, “If only we could become racehorses” …. go for one 5-minute run and lose 16kg of weight, which is what Frankie did. May all your dietary resolutions be successful.

Anyway, just before Christmas I saw a number of comments that really had me thinking more seriously about resolutions. The first was in the Racing Post under the headline “Crisis mounts as flood of races hit by small fields”. David Williams of Ladbrokes painted a gloomy picture when he said, “The reasons for the small field sizes are complex, but the impact will be painfully straightforward: recreational punters will look elsewhere for their betting entertainment”, while Robin Mounsey of the BHA commented, “We’ve already stated this issue (field sizes) is our top priority. We have already announced a range of initiatives designed to address the situation, but that is not the end of it. We continue to focus on the issue and it will remain a priority for some time.” Completely agree with both of these comments – finding solutions to the problem has to be right at the heart of racing’s overall strategy and operational planning for the future.

But what to do about it? Personally I believe that there should be open acknowledgement of the problem, and then a clear decision taken by racing to resolve its central strategic dilemma. For a number of years, and particularly through the recession, there has been a steady decline in the numbers of both owners and horses in training. That has coincided with a significant increase in the number of races within the overall racing calendar, at a time when all-weather racing has grown considerably. Basically there are just not enough horses to go around and make races sufficiently competitive, with eight or more runners.

So strategically the industry either accepts a contraction so that there are fewer races (and therefore less revenue), or it pushes for an expansion in the horse population (with significant financial gains across all the stakeholders). I know what my preferred outcome would be – go for growth and expansion by making a number of fundamental changes across the whole racing spectrum. I would love to see racing’s new year resolutions aligned to that statement.

This is clearly a multi-layered and complex problem to solve, which is why another comment in December also caught my eye. It came on Twitter from John Basquill, of whom I have no knowledge. He said:

“Experience the joy of horse-ownership by paying a stranger two grand a month to phone sporadically and describe an array of equine ailments.”

Indeed, this stopped me in my tracks. If I were involved in the “training of trainers”, I’d run a workshop on all the implications of this comment, because in many ways it goes right to the heart of the problem. For too many owners, the level of engagement and return on investment just doesn’t add up. That shows in all the statistics on British racing to do with the horrible term, “owner churn rate”. Every year, hundreds if not thousands of owners leave the sport, never to return. Racing doesn’t really know why they leave, and this ought to be a prime target for research. If we want more horses we clearly need more owners but, just as importantly, to keep current owners in the sport. To do that they need genuinely to experience “the joy of horse ownership”.

And I think there is an enormous amount that can be done in racing to help them obtain that experience. I will revisit that again during the year, as the Owners for Owners new year resolution.

May you all be lucky and have a great 2015.

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