Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Cheltenham Festival – The Ace in the Pack. It’s Certainly Bigger, But Is It Better?

My wife and I went along to The Centaur at Prestbury Park on Sunday to listen to an excellent OLBG-sponsored preview evening chaired by Jeremy Kyle, with the panel consisting of Ruby Walsh, A.P. McCoy, John Francome and Fergal O’Brien. John was definitely the star of the evening – informative and witty in equal measure. I believe, probably like many people, that he’s the finest NH jockey I’ve seen and certainly the one with the best sense of humour. Throughout the evening he was the butt of lots of Kyle comments, but he wafted them away with wit and aplomb, even at the interval when Kyle kept emphasising that the show had to stop to enable John to go to the toilet. Rather grossly, when he came back, he enquired whether he’d had time to “empty his bag”. We all know that Mr. Kyle spends lots of time with losers, so he’s probably not used to dealing with one of the all-time stars of the game. At one point during the evening John was reflecting on how, in the early days, he had to fill in a form stating who he wanted contacting in the event of a serious accident on the course. He just wrote on the form, “a doctor”. Oh, for the days when racing was more light-hearted, and real characters dominated the stage.

Listening to John also had me thinking back to the first time I went to the Festival in 1981. What was the big talking point on Day One that year? Anyone who was there will immediately say it was the famous Francome pull on Sea Pigeon going into the last hurdle. The horse was travelling so well, he didn’t want to hit the front too early, so the brakes were put on before he scampered away from the magnificent Monksfield to win by seven lengths at the top of the hill – the most breathtaking piece of riding I’ve seen in National Hunt.

Nothing like nostalgia in our sport, is there, and all the debates on who the greatest horses of all time would be, and the best trainers, jockeys and dare I say it, even owners. Mentioning Monksfield is what the marketing and media types call a “segue” – a link to another subject. He wasn’t a big horse at all, but an incredibly game battler who had a huge, raking stride on him. In Owners for Owners, we’re in the really fortunate position to have a horse with a similar and almost freakish action in Acey Milan, who at the time of writing this blog is 3rd favourite for the Champion Bumper and on form, having won two Listed bumpers at Cheltenham and Newbury, is the second top rated horse in the race and the highest rated bumper in Great Britain. He’s had quite a long season now, with four races – three wins and one second – so how well he does depends on whether he has held his form going into the Festival. As he can only have a fifth bumper run in a Listed race, we didn’t really have any choice but to head into the Champion, and once he’d won the top-quality Newbury bumper by 11 lengths we all decided that he had to take his chance. No matter what happens this week, he looks a lovely prospect for the future.

The only similarity I have with John Francome is age, and the four days of the current Festival certainly take their toll – on the liver and the aching knees as I rack up miles of walking around the course and mountainous climbs up the various stands. It sometimes feels like a test of endurance, with similarities to the 4m National Hunt Chase on Day One, which hopefully Anthony Honeyball (trainer of Acey Milan) will win with Ms Parfois.

One of the recurring themes throughout the week is bound to be whether the predominance of Cheltenham is sometimes to the detriment of National Hunt racing. Superficially it seems obvious that the whole Festival frenzy is a most wonderful promotion of racing as well as a huge revenue-generator. When I saw Sea Pigeon the attendance was a quarter of what it is now, and the facilities were dreadful in comparison. This week, over a quarter of a million people are likely to attend. If they all spend, say, £100 minimum getting in and having a few drinks on the course, then as the Americans would say, “do the math”. Indeed with Guinness at a fiver and a glass of wine at a tenner, it doesn’t take long to get past that minimum figure.

It’s probably inevitable that the four-day Festival will soon span five days, with the Gold Cup on Saturday. For the large numbers of people for whom the Festival is all about being at a big occasion and drinking yourself horizontal, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re an afficionado who wants to see the most competitive, highest quality racing, then the risk is dilution of that through a wider range of additional races that trainers can pick and mix from. As we’re now in an era where four trainers in Messrs. Elliott, Henderson, Mullins and Nicholls, and prime owners such as Gigginstown, J.P. McManus, Simon Munir / Isaac Suede and Rich Ricci, there is an increasing risk that trainers and owners with their top horses can avoid the competition that genuinely produces champions. However, I’m sure that economics will prevail and that the mighty, heroic clashes of yesteryear become less frequent, which is a real pity.

In the last blog I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed going over to Leopardstown for the two-day Dublin Festival. Even in my dotage I think that I could survive a two-day Cheltenham Festival, which of course is never going to happen, but that would be my absolute ideal. Three days I thought was excellent; I’m dubious about four; and I definitely wouldn’t attend five. Of course, if Acey Milan has ended up by winning the Champion Bumper, then I can probably invest in a top-of-the-range zimmer frame.

Enjoy the week, everyone.

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Thursday, 1 March 2018

Book the 2019 Dublin Racing Festival into your Diary – An Antidote to Dreary Winter Racing

At the beginning of February, my wife and I and a few owners went over to Ireland. Some went direct to Dublin while others went via County Tipperary, where we called in to see a couple of our youngsters who are being brought along superbly by P.J. Colville and his wife Grainne. It was probably a foretaste of what was to come when we were sitting in Mikey Ryan’s Bar and Restaurant (interestingly, owned and renovated by John Magnier, who apparently fancied a nice place in Cashel to have his supper), savouring a pint of Guinness at 7pm, watching the Ireland vs. France rugby game on TV. When Johnny Sexton slotted in his wonderful dropped goal to grab the game back from the French, the place absolutely erupted. Never have I been kissed by so many people in such a short period of time. The dinner wasn’t bad, either.

From then on, the weekend only got better. We went up to Leopardstown for Day 2 of the superb inaugural Dublin Racing Festival. Racing is always bandying around such phrases as “Sensational Saturday”, but this time the whole meeting lived up to it in spades. I don’t know about you, but I have felt that the 2017 / 18 NH season has been something of an anti-climax, with very few stand-out performances and lots of small field races being mopped up by Messrs. Henderson and Nicholls. An indication of that is the number of horses that Buveur D’Air has actually beaten, and his average starting price of about 1/5. There used to be a time when the Saturday NH meetings really did seem to be something to savour, with heroic performances from horses and riders. Somehow we seem to have lost that sparkle, with the whole of the season having shifted to an undue focus on the Cheltenham Festival. Horses aren’t racing against each other with the frequency that they used to, and it increasingly feels as though we’re just waiting for the denouement without really having enjoyed the lead up to it.

The Irish racing authorities seem to have felt the same, with a number of their better races spread over a period of weeks. They decided to consolidate the best races into the two-day Dublin Festival, and the competition and the craic were magnificent, with so many sparkling performances: Faugheen vs. Defi Du Seuil, Min vs. Yorkhill, Samcro vs. Sharjah, Footpad vs. Petit Mouchoir and then a fairytale outcome to the Irish Gold Cup with the “horse who came back from the dead” Edwulf putting in a gallant performance, although admittedly helped by the last fence fall by Killultagh Vic, who seemed to be travelling best of all. The Leopardstown stand erupted and it must have been 50 deep around the winner’s enclosure. It’s a long time since I’ve seen so many hats being thrown up into the air. It almost felt like going back in time to the great win of Dawn Run, which still stands in my memory as the most emotional and heart-felt reception for any NH horse. The whole atmosphere at Leopardstown was captivating – real enthusiasts, there to savour the racing rather than just the alcohol …. although there was a fair bit of that consumed as well.

Lots of English fans travelled over for the meeting. It was surprising though how few English trainers and horses made the journey, which is pretty unenterprising. Indeed the British trainer who gave the meeting the greatest support was Phil Kirby, and he doesn’t have many horses. Even stranger when you consider how many horses Nicholls and Henderson took up to Musselburgh on the same day, and stranger again when you consider the prize-money. Cheltenham Festival Trials Day only managed £204,688 of prize-money whereas Day 2 at Leopardstown was a whopping great €825,000, at an average of €103,000 per race and with prize-money often down to 8th. I’ve already said to all our trainers that if we have any horses suitable for this meeting next year, we’ll definitely make it the season’s target.

One of the themes discussed by the Brits in Ireland was whether we need to strengthen the British season with a similar high-profile mid-season festival. For some time there has been a debate about whether the Kempton King George meeting could be significantly upgraded, although the refrain seems to be that “logistical challenges” (whatever they may be) preclude it. That seems a real pity.

Anyway, a couple of weeks on from Ireland we were lucky enough to have a runner – and emphatic winner – at Newbury during Betfair Super-Saturday with Acey Milan (who may now go for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham). The sponsorship of Betfair has brought in significant money, which we were lucky enough to participate in; the total on the day was £303,102. This triggered the thought that maybe Newbury and Betfair could work together to stage a Wonderful Weekend as a stepping-stone to Cheltenham. Indeed, as we were supping celebratory Champagne in the Royal Box after Acey’s victory, I floated this to a couple of the directors of Newbury and it definitely seemed to strike a chord.

As a postscript, I can only congratulate Newbury for the huge improvements that have been made at their course. Their spanking-new Owners’ Club is one of the best facilities on any British track and the investment all round the course from car parking to pre-parade has transformed the track. They have just started the second phase of their developments and Newbury must now be the course with the greatest improvement trajectory in our sport. A huge change is taking place, not just in investment and infrastructure, but just as importantly in mind-set. For those with a long memory I wrote a couple of scathing blogs about the course following a PR disaster in December 2013 (the link is to “Nonsense at Newbury”). The Chief Executive was fired shortly afterwards, to be replaced by Julian Thick, who can be commended for all the changes that have been made. Here’s hoping that they can put on a Wonderful Weekend – or maybe even two of them – so that they replicate Leopardstown’s Champions Weekend on the Flat as well as the Dublin Festival.

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Thursday, 15 February 2018

“The Ace in the Pack” …. But with More to Come, Hopefully. The Change of Plan Pays Off with Acey Milan

As anyone who reads this blog regularly will know, I’ve been astounded by the huge increases in bloodstock prices for National Hunt horses in recent years. Horses that used to be selling for £30-40k are now going for £60-100k, and there is no shortage of very rich owners who are prepared to pay considerable multiples on top of that. The average hammer price now for a three-year-old store horse at the top sales in Ireland is €50k, so with sales commissions on top, and then maybe a year’s training before you get the horse to the track, you’re knocking on the door of £70k or more on average and, unfortunately, paying that amount of money most definitely doesn’t guarantee you a nice horse. In fact increasingly it looks as though the good horses are being taken out of the equine supply chain very early in their life, and there is no shortage of trainers and agents scouring England, Ireland, France and Germany looking for them.

So, back at the end of 2014, in Owners for Owners we decided to change tack and adopt the policy of “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Rather than buying the majority of our horses as ready-to-go point-to-pointers with some form on the page, we created a new buying plan in conjunction with trainers and agents. The focus shifted to foals, yearlings and the occasional unraced 3yo store so that we had more confidence that we were dealing with a “blank canvas” and not buying into someone else’s problem. Fortunately we found quite a few owners who shared a very similar philosophy and had come to the same conclusions. They all wanted to enjoy the development journey of watching a youngster grow up into a racehorse, and were prepared to fund that for three years or more. Patience became the key virtue, with absolutely no pressure whatsoever to kick on with the youngsters too soon.

In 2014 / 15, we bought the first three foals, all by proven or up-and-coming sires: Milan, Sholokhov and Oscar. We also bought a beautiful year-older Getaway at the same time, and since then two more foals, one by Beat Hollow and one by Mahler, as well as a 3yo by Presenting. Quite an investment in seven youngsters, and inevitably with horses there will be one or two disappointments. However we felt that if we managed to achieve better results than we had been doing with the ready-to-go horses, it would be a vindication of the policy.

I’m not in any way crowing about this because, alas, we did have a tragedy with one of them, which hit all his owners extremely hard. But with one of them, Acey Milan with Anthony Honeyball, we appear to have a seriously smart animal on our hands who won the Listed bumper at Cheltenham and then, last Saturday, following up in the top bumper of the season so far, at Newbury. He annihilated the field, going away to win by 11 lengths, in the process probably establishing himself as the best bumper horse in England and entering the betting as 4th favourite for the Champion Bumper at the Festival. He’s the only four-year-old of the first 20 horses. The last 4yo to win this bumper was Cue Card!! Whether or not we go there will very much depend on whether the horse is in the same form by mid-March, and if he starts to train off in any way after four bumper runs, we’ll put him away and look forward to staying novice hurdles in the autumn. He is running over two miles on heavy ground at the moment but there is a view that he might be better over 2½ miles plus on better ground.

It was obviously amazingly exciting to win the two Listed bumpers as well as one at Wincanton in November, but the real source of pleasure has come from watching Acey Milan develop. When we bought him from Bryan Murphy’s stud near the Dunraven Arms in Co. Limerick, he was pretty small and quite sickly. Anthony and Rachael Honeyball came over to Ireland with us, and when we were shown him we were all very impressed by his beautiful long stride. The deal was done on the basis of that. Nothing in the meantime has changed our view of his conformation and action, and it is a noticeable feature when he’s racing. As you can see in the three photos below, he has developed considerably since, although he is still not a big horse – just a very fluent athlete. We used to joke when he was still a little tiddler that he was saying to us, “Don’t worry – when I grow up I’m going to be a racehorse”. None of us lost the faith, and it is tremendously satisfying to be where we now are. Special mention has to go to his groom all the way through, Chloe Emsley, who as you can see on one of the pictures to the right absolutely adores him. There was a day up on the gallops with Anthony back in the early autumn when Acey Milan was doing a breeze with Regal Encore. Chloe gave him a bit of rein and he shot past his older companion. Anthony just looked at me and said, “Hello …..” We haven’t really looked back since.

We’re just about to start partnering out a couple of new babies and store horses, and if you’d like to get involved in a similar journey, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Here’s hoping we have lots more Aces in the pack.

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Thursday, 1 February 2018

“Money, Money, Money, it’s a Rich Man’s World” (And, Alas, a Poor Man’s): Moral Dilemmas of FOBTs and Bloodstock Sales

In last month’s blog I had a look at the prices vs. returns of NH horses at the Tattersalls’ Cheltenham Sale in May 2016. The total spend including purchasing the horses and then training them came out at £1,922,300. Yet they only went on to win five races in total, and the measly prize-money of £63,169, at an average per horse of £6,317. That gave a total return on investment (or as I like to refer to it, Return on Ownership) of a staggeringly dismal 3.2%.

This struck a chord with a number of blog readers who sent me similar examples, including Tattersalls’ Book 1, October 2015. I’m sure you can guess the record of the top 10 there as well. Many of you, I know, will shrug your shoulders and say that if rich people want to waste such prodigious amounts of money, that’s up to them. But before I list out those lots, why not just reflect on the moral dilemma that is now facing politicians and in turn British Racing over Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).

The Department for Culture, Media & Sport launched a review 15 months ago in response to widespread concerns about the addictive nature of FOBTs. This culminated in a decision in October 2017 to cut the maximum stake from £100 to somewhere between £2 and £50. The Department then launched a 12-week consultation period which came to an end last month. The review also encompassed wider socially responsible measures to protect the vulnerable. This is definitely a case of a poor person’s world.

The Sunday Times led a scoop front page announcing that the Government was going to cut the FOBT stakes to a maximum of £2. Many of you, I know, will strongly agree with this. However it didn’t take long for the bookmaking industry and British Racing to examine the impact of a £2 maximum stake. Whether the figures are accurate or not I don’t know, but Martin Cruddace, boss of Arena Racing Company, caught the headlines when he forecast that an FOBT limit reduction would lead to 4,000 to 5,000 betting shop closures. Some took a more cautious view that maybe only 3,000 shops would close, but apparently the average shop pays £30,000 for media rights so the loss of income could easily be in excess of £90 million per annum with a view that, in turn, at least £55 million could be axed from prize-money.

Clearly, this is a very sobering story and it cannot be easy to deal with. Racing needs every pound that it can get its hands on, but surely not through the “crack cocaine” of FOBTs. A moral dilemma indeed.

In this context, the lunacy of bloodstock prices at sales such as Tattersalls almost appear like comic relief. Here are the top 10 from October 2015.

Lot 304, Dubawi – Loveisallyouneed. £2,205,000. Hasn’t raced, prize-money zero.

Lot 30, Galileo – A Z Warrior. £1,365,000. Named Key To My Heart. Won twice, prize-money £47,652.

Lot 43, Galileo – Alluring Park. £1,312,500. Named Douglas Macarthur. Won twice, prize-money £122,189.

Lot 255, Galileo – Jacqueline Quest. £1,260,000. Named World War. Won once, prize-money £26,068.

Lot 254, Oasis Dream – Izzy Top. £1,155,000. Named Dreamfield. Won twice, prize-money £12,291.

Lot 293, Galileo – Like A Dame. £1,050,000. Named Longing. Won once, prize-money £9,285.

Lot 71, Dubawi – Badee’a. £945,000. Hasn’t raced, prize-money zero.

Lot 204, Dark Angel – Folga. £866,250. Named Dirayah. Hasn’t won, prize-money £385.

Lot 439, Street Cry – Shastye. £840,000. Named Secret Soul. Hasn’t won, prize-money £,684.

Lot 107, Oasis Dream – Caphene. £787,500. Named Watchman. Hasn’t raced, prize-money zero.

Dear, oh dear. If we add a million or so for training fees and commissions, then the ROI / Return on Ownership is 1.72% on a total prize-money of £219,554. Indeed it must be even worse than the return on FOBTs, which says something.

Just to finish on a sobering note though the gross gambling yield, i.e. the amount kept by the betting shop operators after winnings are paid out, in the year to March 2017 was £1.39 billion from traditional betting ….. and a staggering £1.86 billion from FOBTs. It will be very surprising indeed if the Government doesn’t crack down hard on these machines and in turn, bookmakers ….. and I’m afraid, on racing’s income.

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Monday, 15 January 2018

Beware Expensive NH Horses at Sales – Even If You Want to “Dine at the Top Table

I know, I know …. I must put into practice the New Year’s resolution and get out more; stop being Mr. Grumpy and doing an impersonation of The Curmudgeon; forget the stats and put away my anorak …. But yesterday, when I was watching racing from Warwick, the names of two owners triggered a memory of one of the sales. The horse was Mr. Whipped, who won the Gr.2 Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle over 2m 5f. The owners were Grech and Parkin. After the race, when interviewed, one of them said, “If you want to dine at the top table, you’ve got to be prepared to spend the money”, which they certainly had done on this fine son of Beneficial, having paid £160,000 for him.

I remember going to the Tattersalls’ Cheltenham Sale on 26th May 2016, where one of the top ten horses from that sale is also now owned by Messrs. Grech and Parkin, so in an idle moment between the end of ITV Racing and supping the first glass of claret, beyond the witching hour of 6pm, I went to check my records.

If you’ve been following the blog over the last few months you’ll already know my views that the Irish point-to-point scene, and the way in which winning horses appear in the top boutique sales, is questionable to say the least. Before m’learned friends sue me for libel, here is the performance of the top ten lots from that sale.

Lot 17, Redhotfillypeppers. Sale price £200k. By Robin Des Champs and trained by Willie Mullins. Had won a 4yo mares’ maiden P2P at Necarne thirteen days prior to the sale. Has won once since and total prize-money is £9,440.

Lot 37, Lough Derg Spirit. Sale price £190k. By Westerner and trained by Nicky Henderson. Owned by Grech and Parkin. Had won a 4yo geldings’ maiden P2P at Athlacca nineteen days prior to the sale. Has won twice since, and total prize-money £33,372.

Lot 28, Secret Investor. Sale price £175k. By Kayf Tara and trained by Paul Nicholls. Had won a 4yo geldings’ maiden P2P at the same meeting as Lough Derg Spirit. Has not won a race since, and total prize-money of £4,694.

Lot 64, Super Follo. Sale price £150k. By Enrique and trained by Noel Meade. Had won a 4yo maiden P2P at Barlemy ten days prior to the sale. Hasn’t raced since.

Lot 47, Drovers Lane. Sale price £135k. By Oscar and trained by Rebecca Curtis. Had won a 4yo geldings’ maiden at Necarne twelve days prior to the sale. Hasn’t raced since.

Lot 52, One More Hero. Sale price £100k. By Milan and trained by Paul Nicholls. Had won a maiden P2P at Dromahane 32 days prior to the sale. Has raced once since, winning £286.

Lot 34, Minella Rebellion. Sale price £90k. By King’s Theatre and trained by Nicky Henderson. Had come 2nd in a 4yo maiden P2P at Dawstown 24 days prior to the sale. Has not won a race since and total prize-money £1,145.

Lot 32, Searching For Gold. Sale price £88k. By Gold Well and trained by Charlie Longsdon. Had won a 4yo maiden P2P at Ballindenisk eighteen days prior to the sale. Has won once since and total prize-money of £2,093.

Lot 45, Westendorf. Sale price £85k. By Coroner and trained by Jonjo O’Neill. Had won a P2P Flat race at Tipperary fourteen days prior to the sale. Has won once since and prize-money £12,139.

Lot 26, Glen Rocco. Sale price £80k. By Shirocco and trained by Nick Gifford. Had won a 5 & 6yo geldings’ maiden P2P at Ballindenisk eighteen days prior to the sale. Hasn’t won a race since and prize money of £954.

Dear oh dear. Apparently great P2P form going into the sales, but equally apparently pretty lamentable performances subsequently. Total hammer spend of £1,293,000 and a cool 10% commission to sales house and agents of £129,300, let’s say £50k each on training fees and associated costs as most of the trainers are not exactly the cheapest is another £500,000, giving total spend of £1,922,300. Between the lot of them, they’ve only won five races since the sale, with total prize-money a measly £63,169 at an average per horse of £6,317. If you then do the maths and work out the return on total investment, it is a staggeringly dismal 3.2%.

Methinks there’s not too much fine dining at the top table for anyone involved with these horses. Without doing a massively time-consuming exercise looking at all the other sales, I think I’ll stand by the assertion that turning up at top sales and spending money like water is the way to the poor-house. Anorak now taken off again. Time for another glass of fine claret. Cheers!

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Monday, 1 January 2018

A Turning of the Tide on Prize-Money in 2018 – New Year’s Resolutions Being Put Into Practice

Firstly, Happy New Year, and may it be a truly successful one with lots of winners for all our owners. May the horses all be happy, healthy and improvers. One of the horses we are closely involved in running – Buckle Street, with Martin Keighley and the Condicote Clan – definitely fits into that category, putting in a really game performance to win at Catterick over 3m 2f. That was a super Christmas present for all. While up there, a number of us had an excellent discussion over a beer with the BHA’s Chief Executive, Nick Rust, whose horse Paddling was also running. This horse won at Catterick the following week, so well done to Nick and his co-owners. Indeed, he was the first person to come up to me in the winner’s enclosure to congratulate the Clan.

During the discussion with him, he flagged up the imminent announcement that prize-money in Britain is likely to reach a record £160 million in 2018, an increase of £17 million from 2017. This is a really welcome development, particularly as it follows on from an autumn announcement that £8 million of central levy funding is being channelled into grass-roots racing. Readers of the blog will know that I believe raising prize-money is the number one issue in British racing, because without it the risk is that the sport is in a downward spiral, with owners not being attracted or retained, the number of horses in training declining, and through that a lack of competitiveness in the sport that is the lifeblood of gambling.

Although the discussion with Nick over a pint and a very unusual-coloured and flavoured Catterick lamb curry was anything but formal, his statement to the press on this announcement was rather more measured. He said: “It is very important for all those involved in our sport that we are due to see such significant prize-money increases in 2018. Although there has been a gradual recovery in total prize-money in recent years, driven by increased investment from racecourses, the returns to our sport’s owners and participants have not been sufficient, in particular to those who are not competing at the top echelons. The support we received from the government and, indeed, all political parties in establishing the new levy has been crucial and means that we can target support towards those operating at the racing’s grass roots. The increased prize-money on offer in 2018 does not resolve the sport’s prize-money situation outright, but it is a step in the right direction. We hope that this good news will serve as an incentive to racehorse owners who are thinking of putting horses in training, and provide a timely boost to jockeys, trainers and stable staff, who rely in part on prize-money for their livelihoods.”

I can only raise a glass to Nick and the BHA for both the extra money and the sentiments expressed. Having said that, there will probably be a wry smile on his face when he sees the prize-money summary after deductions on the next BHA or Weatherbys statement relating to Paddling’s win at Catterick, which as an independent is definitely not the most generous of courses with its prize-money.

At the same time as this announcement, a couple of racecourses also confirmed the way the tide is now flowing. A few years ago I took issue with Newbury on a number of fronts, and like to think that I was one of the pressure points for change that led to the previous CEO being dismissed. I have a lot more time for the latest CEO, Julian Thick, so was pleased to read that prize-money is set to exceed £5 million in 2018 following an injection of £250,000 by the racecourse. As a result, total prize-money at all the track’s 29 fixtures will amount to at least £50,000, with the feature race at three-quarters of all meetings offering £20,000. Thick commented to the press that: “As an independent racecourse, Newbury is committed to ensuring prize-money levels increase as and when we can afford to make additional investment, and 2018 will see a continuation of that policy with our own direct prize-money spend increasing …. Since 2013 we have increased our executive contribution by over £1 million and 2018 will see us break the £5 million mark for the first time …. This is a reminder of our commitment to reinvest in the sport, and complements well the substantial capital investment we’ve made on fabulous new facilities for horsemen in the past three years.”

Time therefore to raise the glass again to Julian and his team at Newbury. A couple of years ago we ran our horse Shantou Magic in the Challow Hurdle, and I complained strongly to Newbury that the prize-money was less than it had been ten years previously, so it is great to see a reversal in that trend. Also for those who haven’t been there recently, the new Owners’ Club is superb. Great to see this track being improved so radically, and it is now a course that owners really like to go to, even if the preponderance of “luxury executive apartments” is not to everyone’s taste.

Finally another glass to be raised to the very progressive Chief Executive of Perth, Hazel Peplinski, who is increasing their prize-money by 35% this year to nearly £1.25 million. That also includes a new appearance money scheme across their 15 fixtures with average prize-money per race increasing to £11,500 from £8,500, with the hope that it will stimulate a rise in field sizes. Personally I am going to do everything I can to support Perth this year and will be suggesting to our trainers that if we have suitable horses, we take them there.

I’m definitely a believer in credit where credit’s due, so it’s most encouraging to be able to start the year on a positive note on the prize-money front. Don’t worry, I’ll still be applying pressure on those tracks that don’t yet seem to have picked up the message that prize-money really matters.

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.