Sunday, 15 May 2016

How to “segway” from Beer Consumption to Growing Racehorse Ownership in British Racing – A Further Note on the BHA’s Growth Strategy

I was delighted to read of a research study done by the Mediterranean Neurological Institute concluding that moderate daily beer consumption reduces the risk of heart and circulatory diseases by a quarter. Apparently the phenols in the flavour act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and also protect the body against viruses. Here in the Hawling Institute we have also concluded through even more extensive research over many years that combining this with red wine drinking guarantees receipt of a telegram from the Queen on reaching your century.

So a number of our owners put this latest finding into practice this week at York for the Dante meeting, not least celebrating a game 4th by our horse Jolievitesse on the opening day. Readers of this blog will know that I believe York Racecourse sets the bar for the total owner and racegoer experience. They are continuing to invest heavily at the track, with prize-money this year increasing to £7m despite a £200,000 decrease in levy funding. Last year they achieved record turnover and attendances. Their £60m-plus investment in facilities for horses, horsemen and racegoers over the last 20 years has paid handsome dividends. Jolievitesse’s race was only Class 4 but had a prize fund of £15,000 with £9,700 for the winner but still £721 for the 4th. The 20-runner field will have guaranteed significant betting and substantial levy contribution. It is this virtuous circle that racing is striving to achieve on a broader basis.

We weren’t however debating racing politics after this fine run, but there was a fair bit of discussion about how good the York experience is, particularly when you are staying in country hotels and dining in excellent restaurants. If you’re in the area, do visit The Crown Inn at Roecliffe. I don’t know of any course that offers such good value, with champagne at £30 a bottle and Theakston’s best bitter at £3.30 a pint, readily available in their new bar set up to offer local beers. Indeed York makes a big point of the partnerships they have developed with local suppliers of beef, smoked salmon, trout and fine cheeses from Ryedale, Wensleydale and Hambleton. I bet you feel hungry now! Courses can do a lot more to showcase local produce. Cheltenham did so at the October meeting and it was a great success.

The racing at York, as usual, was top-class, not least the superb runs by So Mi Dar in the Musidora and Wings Of Desire in the Dante. John Gosden came up with a nice comment about his now Derby favourite, that what he most enjoys is “eating and sleeping”. If you add in drinking beer and wine as well, it would cover most of the Owners for Owners network!

So York racecourse definitely demonstrates what can be done to enthuse racehorse owners. At the BHA forum I attended at Newbury on 1st March, Richard Wayman made a typically strong presentation in which he balanced discussion on the disappointing contraction in the UK ownership base (horse population down 9% from 2008; steady decline in registered owners over the same period, down 17%) and an analysis of its causation (the poor economics of ownership in the UK; a need to strengthen owner engagement; insufficient promotion of ownership, not least in syndicates; and needlessly complex ownership structures, systems and fees) with an outline of a number of practical initiatives to improve the situation.

Obviously the key to prize-money is tied in with levy replacement and capturing racing’s rightful contribution from the offshore bookmakers. I’ve covered that before in the blog, so won’t touch on it again. Richard, though, emphasised that it is not all about prize-money and stated strongly that owners must feel valued within racing, and clearly trainers and racecourses are at the heart of that. There is also apparently going to be a major innovation to streamline ownership administration from early 2017 as well as a big push on ownership, particularly with a campaign to promote syndication. There will be a central ownership hub, close liaison with racecourses and the introduction of a code of conduct for syndicates, thereby ensuring far more transparency and helping prospective owners make a more informed choice.

As this was right at the heart of why we set up Owners for Owners, we feel vindicated. Time to reflect on this with a couple of pints of Donnington’s Best Bitter in The Plough at Ford, my local watering hole just round the corner from Martin Keighley’s stables. Maybe it’s time to think about a Plough partnership.

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