Friday 1 January 2016

Ten Simple Steps to Improve the Owner Experience – An Action Plan for 2016

Over the autumn I’ve covered a number of the big strategic and funding issues confronting British racing. I’ve summarised how the BHA has framed its strategic vision, created a new governance structure and set a small number of key targets:
  • Increase the number of horses in training – 1,000 additional horses on average by 2020;
  • Raise betting participation levels – up 5% by 2018;
  • Increase racecourse attendance levels – reaching 7m by 2020;
  • Secure new income for the sport - £120m p.a. by 2018.
The bottom line is that racing needs growth and, particularly, to secure considerably greater income and investment, not least to attract and retain owners in the sport as the number one contributors to the game. Inevitably the big changes will take 3-5 years to be implemented, and frustratingly, shorter-term improvements often appear to be just the wrong side of the horizon. So in this blog I’ve decided to focus on a number of relatively minor changes and “feel-good factors” that hopefully will appeal to owners.
  1. Celebrate Dickie Johnson as champion jockey. Everyone in racing wants Dickie to become the jump jockey champion and not succumb to any bad luck or injuries that could prevent it. Certainly the rate of wins has been extraordinary this winter, and there should be a magnificent celebration when he achieves his long-overdue ambition. As a superb ambassador and role model for racing, it would be great if racing could find a way to use him and other similar ambassadors to bring owners into the sport.
  2. Launch a “smarten up” campaign for racecourses. For a relatively small amount of money, racecourses could really improve the owner experience. Each course should appoint a non-executive director to their board (an active owner) to help them on this. It’s not about superficial PR, but following the “owner journey” on the race track. So for example when owners drive to the course, signage is often poor; car parks are too far away from entrances, muddy and pot-holed; Owner & Trainer entrances are not smart enough, and are inefficient; too many O&T bars are far too small, hot and noisy, and there is a chronic lack of seating. The recent 2015 Review of Jump Racing, for example, flags up that the average age of NH sole owners is now 59.9. Start looking after them properly!
  3. Acknowledge improvements with a “Track of the Month”. Lots of good things are happening at racecourses, and more acknowledgement should be given to that. Find ways to publicise better practice, particularly through the BHA, ROA and RCA. Publicise grass-roots improvement in the owner experience.
  4. Introduce “local food halls” at each racecourse. The food hall at the last Paddy Power meeting at Cheltenham was a revelation to all who visited it: local cheeses, pies, beers and all sorts of artisanal goodies. Lots of scope here for racecourses to be a showcase for excellent speciality produce from their areas. Particularly worth doing at the bigger meetings.
  5. Rewards 4 Owners. Rewards 4 Racing appears to have been a great success; why not launch something similar for owners, and tie it in with an incentivisation scheme? Find a way to identify owners who are investing more in the sport and who go racing more frequently, and provide them with valued benefits.
  6. Promote good syndicate practice. At their best, syndicates and shared ownership schemes provide tremendous enjoyment at manageable cost. At their worst, they exploit owners and pursue fraudulent practices. Finalise a code of practice that makes clear what is meant by both good and bad practice.
  7. Introduce syndicate races. Frame a series of races that are restricted to shared ownership horses, particularly at the grass-roots level. Follow the lead of tracks such as Newton Abbot and have free entry into them. Work closely with syndicates to encourage as many owners as possible to come along, and give a greater than normal allocation of O&T badges to syndicate horses.
  8. Promote ownership in racecards. Why couldn’t every racecard have at least a page promoting ownership, and then tie it in with recommendation 9.
  9. “Meet the Trainer” events. If there is one activity that provides so much enjoyment to current and prospective owners, it is visits to yards, and seeing horses on the gallops in their home environment. Every visitor is potentially a new owner. Set up a network of these events and advertise them through the racecourses.
  10. Owners for Owners horses have a great 2016. We’ve lots of lovely young horses coming through, as well as a number of seasoned campaigners. Here is hoping that Lord Ben Stack can go on to be a Group horse; Jolievitesse to show his undoubted class; Timeless Art to be a real 3yo star; Sunday Prospect to take his owners to top tracks; Future Gilded to return from his injury; The Fugitive to build on his early promise; Bilbrook Blaze finally to put a win on the board; Thady Quil to give his owners something to sing about (particularly the Ballad of Thady Quil); and our flagship NH horse, Shantou Magic, to put his best foot forward in a valuable handicap in the spring.
All crossed for a really enjoyable New Year and throughout 2016! Looking forward to catching up over a pint of local brew in one of the new food halls!

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