I cannot recall a time when so many races throughout the racing year had so few runners, writes Vernon Grant. Why is this happening? There are fewer racehorses in training. Again, why?
For some time now I have joined the likes of Tanya Stevenson of Channel 4 Racing in pleading for fewer fixtures. We want quality over quantity. Less can be more. There is too much racing in the UK. Too many meetings per day, too many meetings per year.
I doubt that will change. After all, the big bookies call the tune and those turkeys are not about to vote for Christmas (though they’d love Christmas Day racing!)
Prize money, or rather the lack of it, is one reason why fewer thoroughbred racehorses are in training. If we have five, six or seven race meetings per day there simply are not enough horses to go around.
The plethora of three, four and five horse field races these days makes my heart sink. It’s bad for punters, not ideal for bookies and dreadful for racecourse attendances. Why would anyone pay to enter a racecourse when the majority of the races on offer contain so few horses? I have no idea.
The average field size in British Racing has fallen from 11.0 in 2005 to 9.0 in 2013 and while in more recent years the number of fixtures has not increased, the number of races run has. Although in 2008 there was virtually the same number of fixtures run as in 2013, there were 652 more races run with 10,146 races in 2013 compared to 9,494 in 2008. This increase in races has coincided with a significant decline in the horse population of well over 1,500 horses.
The BHA says it will consult with interested parties as to how best to reverse this trend in 2015.
I’m not holding my breath or expecting the BHA to make any cuts in the number of racing fixtures. Indeed, with more courses planning to go down the all weather surface route, we are likely to get more.
We’ve already seen the first year of racing on Good Friday. What next? Christmas Day?
I want to see fewer race meetings per day and for the sport to concentrate on more quality racing. That can be achieved if the powers that be plan further ahead, if prize money is raised.
For trainers, it has to be financially worth their while to send their horses many miles. Why would any trainer box up their horses and send them up or down a motorway when the prize money on offer barely covers the cost of sending the horse to the racecourse?
As on course bookie Geoff Banks confirmed to me during the below on camera interview, people like me and Tanya Stevenson are “pissing in the wind” in our plea for more quality and less quantity.
We don’t pull the strings of the industry. The big bookmaker companies do. I stand up for the punter. Especially those who are tempted to bet on races one up in class from a donkey derby on the beach at Cleethorpes. I tell them not to do so. To be more selective with the selections that they choose to bet on. Allow yourself to be lured into betting in a three horse race, or in every race of a card awash with sellers, claimers and Class 6 dross, and you will lose money.
Racing can be its own worst enemy. More racing is not good for the sport. Tiny field races are an embarrassment to the sport. Empty racecourses shameful.The statement released on the BHA website follows. Paul Bittar, Chief Executive of BHA, said:
“BHA’s objective of producing compelling and attractive racing that is consistently amongst the best in the world is being threatened on account of a horse population relative to the size of the Fixture List that struggles to provide consistently competitive fields. While based on the IFHA World Thoroughbred Rankings a majority of the world’s best 15 Flat races are held in Britain, the situation with field sizes more generally is one that BHA firmly believes needs to be addressed to ensure a secure platform for developing the sport in the medium and long term.
“Quite simply, British Racing has to address the issue of small fields. Unless this trend is reversed, we are in danger of continuing to underperform against a number of key targets and losing our competiveness as a betting product, both in Britain and in international markets. An improvement of performance in field sizes to create value as a betting product will position the sport to optimise future returns from the principal revenue streams that drive prize money. Importantly, it should be recognised that improved performance in this area will help to sustain and enhance the performance of the Betting industry; a key partner and contributor to the sport.
“The 2015 Fixture List is arguably the most complex that BHA has been tasked with compiling. This consultation sets out our research findings to date and resulting proposals, and asks a number of questions aimed at refining and finalising the size and structure of the 2015 Fixture List. It also covers proposals for the allocation of up to 200 BHA-controlled fixtures, including whether All Weather racing should expand as a result of the developments at Chelmsford City Racecourse and Newcastle Racecourse.
“The data collated clearly shows that the issue of declining field sizes and increased frequency of small fields affects all codes of racing, albeit at specific times in the year. Our research has identified these pinch-points during the year which require attention. We are advocating a targeted approach to address specific issues, in order to build a platform from which the sport can prosper and which would underpin the wider ranging strategies for growth that are currently under development.
“The BHA Board is yet to make any final decisions, and in doing so we will take into consideration the responses to this consultation document. We look forward to receiving responses, ideally supported by data, from a range of stakeholders from right across the industry.”
The consultation document has been circulated to the industry’s stakeholders on Tuesday 10 June and will be available to view and download from the BHA website from Wednesday evening. The deadline for the return of responses to BHA is Tuesday 1 July. The findings will then be presented to the BHA Board and a summary of responses published.