Wednesday 15 August 2018

A Major Milestone for The Owner’s Opinion – This is Our 150th Edition

Doesn’t time fly! We set up Owners for Owners in the summer of 2012 with the intention of helping owners come together to share the costs, risks and pleasures of racehorse ownership. As well as setting up the web site, we also launched our fortnightly blog, The Owner’s Opinion. With dedication, fortitude and on occasions liberal supply of strong red wine, we’ve managed not to miss an issue and built up a worldwide readership. On occasions the blog hits have been over 30,000, so hopefully those of you who read it find that we are both topical and sufficiently interesting to secure your continued readership.

It’s also incredible to reflect that since 2012 we have personally been involved in buying well over 50 horses and indeed at the moment are managing ownership of 23 horses at all ages from foals to 7-year-olds, in sole ownership, joint ownerships, partnerships, syndicates and a racing club and there aren’t many weeks when we’re not racing. With the exception of trainers we probably have as good an insight into racecourses and the owner experience as anyone, which is why we have participated in a number of working parties over the years, not least the BHA’s Strategy for Growth Pillar on Ownership and Bloodstock.

It is also no surprise that we’ve enjoyed both the highs and the inevitable lows of ownership. I’ll never forget the thrill of watching Lord Ben Stack lead the field of the Dante into the home straight, before sadly succumbing to colic a couple of years later – a gorgeous horse and much missed. On New Year’s Day this year, it was a similar thrill to see Acey Milan galloping the field into submission in the Listed 4yo Bumper at Cheltenham, and the dream is very much alive with this youngster. And also I’ll never forget the day at York Races when Buckle Street, ridden by the irrepressible Belinda Keighley, won the Macmillan Charity Race – absolutely no prize-money was gained by this win but it was a magnificent achievement, with Belinda raising an enormous amount of money for charity. The champagne celebrations in the paddock straight afterwards and throughout the evening were heroic. Brilliant days like these are what sustain us.

While trying to convey in the blog the mix of pleasures and frustrations that come from ownership, we’ve also had a campaigning edge throughout the 150 issues. The executive teams of a number of racecourses, particularly Newbury, Cheltenham before its improvements and some of the Arc tracks, became well aware of our lobbying for dramatic improvements in the owner experience. At heart, Owners for Owners is a very democratic, grass-roots body and we’ve long felt that the privileged top end of racing receives far too much money and attention, so we’ve lobbied hard for more prize-money and better facilities on the lesser days of racing. Some of our fellow syndicate organisers have also received a number of blasts as we’ve pushed hard for proper transparency and standards in syndication, which have now been adopted. Most of our campaigning has been well received, although we’ve doubtless made an enemy or two along the way – so be it. As a great friend of mine always says, “smooth diamonds don’t cut glass”.

And I’m sure the campaigning will continue. Indeed in the last blog I started to describe the new ownership strategy for British Racing and indicated that I was going to apply pressure for far more publicity about the strategy, while ensuring that the grass-roots owners had the right level of involvement in framing it particularly through the Racehorse Syndicates Association. I duly took this up with all the top executives in the industry and have received reassurances from them that this will now happen. Rest assured that The Owner’s Opinion will be holding their feet to the fire through late Summer and Autumn as this strategy is duly developed and published ….. Something tells me however that this won’t necessarily be a smooth journey. Don’t worry, I promise to keep you all posted.

On to the next 150!

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.

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Have You Heard About the New Ownership Strategy for British Racing? I Bet You Haven’t

Towards the end of July full details of the 2019 Fixture List were published with all the powers that be in British Racing claiming it as a great example of the tripartite structure working together well to balance the different requirements of the sport and the betting industry. A quick summary is that there will be a record 1,511 meetings next year, three more than in 2018: 951 Flat fixtures, 596 Jumps; 23% of the total will be all-weather meetings with floodlit fixtures January to April starting at 4pm (including 20 at Southwell); there will be a three-week gap between the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals. It was very easy to access and while not everyone agrees with the precedence of quantity over quality, at least it was an announcement with transparency and lots of detail. Well done to all concerned.

Unfortunately the so-called Ownership Strategy for British Racing appears to be at the other end of the scale for transparency, detail and ease of access. Indeed, has anyone actually heard of it? If you are an assiduous reader of the Racehorse Owners’ Association Annual Report 2017/18 you will have found a couple of pages on it, but it is devilish tricky to find out any more. Your diligent Owners for Owners blog writer has been sleuthing the case for almost a year now, with repeated email requests to the chief executive of the ROA, Charlie Liverton, but alas, to no avail. There is a total refusal to provide any meaningful insights or detail about the strategy, which is pretty scandalous because significant industry funds (almost £1m) have been committed to the strategy, its promotion and marketing, with the ROA as the lead body on behalf of the whole industry.

Owners for Owners has a particular interest in ownership strategy, not least because I was one of the unpaid volunteers who sat on the original strategy pillar team launched by the BHA, and spent a considerable amount of time examining ownership issues and requirements with substantial input going into the business case that proposed 1,000 extra horses in British Racing by 2020. That clearly counts for nothing with the ROA. You would have thought that my involvement in the pillar team would have guaranteed access to the latest strategy, and that is before you consider the large investment that OfO has made in bloodstock in recent years – indeed under various banners we are managing almost 30 horses in training and a substantial network of owners. Ironic that this doesn’t seem to count for anything with the ROA either. And then finally I’m on the committee of the Racehorse Syndicates Association which wants to work on an “inclusive” and “collaborative” basis with other stakeholders in British Racing to ensure that ownership strategies properly reflect the needs and demands of the ever-increasing numbers involved in syndicates. I put “inclusive” and “collaborative” in inverted commas because these are words much used across the tripartite structure of the BHA, Horsemen’s Group and Racecourse Association. With the ROA being central to the Horsemen’s Group, it is again somewhat surprising that they are not prepared to apply the same principles and values in their everyday dealings with owners whom they purport to represent.

Here is a summary of what the ROA terms their “development of a collaborative and inclusive ownership strategy for British Racing”. The ROA project highlights “the continued importance of the role of owners within racing. The strategy will give owners an enhanced brand and identity, emphasising their role as supporters of the sport in so many different ways.”

Apparently four work streams have been developed within the framework of the Ownership Strategy for British Racing:
  • Retention: “the project focuses on the key elements of retention of existing owners.”
  • Ownership Promotion: “investment in the development of a united identity for ownership will open the door to further simplification and streamlining of the ownership journey.”
  • Trainers: “a key element of the project relating to trainers is about enhancement of the service and the improvement of information provided by trainers for owners.”
  • Racecourses: “this work stream addresses owners’ racecourse experience on a number of levels. There will be a focus on creating minimum racecourse standards and assisting courses to deliver these”.
Nothing at all wrong with those four work streams. Bearing in mind that they have been described in a report dated 2017/18, then presumably all the different facets of the strategy have now been developed. What I am trying to find out are the specifics, i.e. exactly what initiatives are going to be launched, by whom, at what cost and by when, to achieve what specific goals? It is true that the ROA does flag up a number of goals, but they are far too woolly.

When I was a management consultant I was working with major companies where the problem wasn’t a lack of strategies, but too many. You would often find hundreds of strategies but scant evidence of their successful implementation. Indeed while I was working with one international bank they even had a strategy to reduce the number of strategies!! Seeing the rather comic side of this, I used to refer to “Yeti strategies” – much talked about, never seen. I do hope that isn’t the case with the one that Charlie Liverton is leading.

The intention after this blog is to approach all the leading executives across the tripartite structure, namely Steve Harman, Nick Rust, Richard Wayman, Charlie Liverton, Philip Freedman, Stephen Atkin and Rupert Arnold and see if they can help me obtain more details of the practical implications of this strategy for owners.

I’ll keep you posted through this blog!

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.