With the arrival of Paul Bittar, the striking of commercial deal between British Racing and Betfair, I couldn’t think of a better time to attend the Overview of British Racing Seminar, so away I went to Norther Racing College, Doncaster.
Robin Mounsey – Communications Manager, BHA
Subject – The British Horseracing Authority
Dr Paull Khan – Director of Racing, Weatherbys
Subject – Weatherbys
Sam Cone – Communications Officer, RCA
Subject – The Role Of Racecourses
Howard Wright – Journalist, The Racing Post
Subject – Racing and the Media
Lyn Williams – Disciplinary Team Manager, BHA
Subject – Rules Of Racing
Nigel Roddis – Development Director, Betting – REL
Subject – The Betting Industry
Caroline Turnbull – Education & Employment Manager, TBA
Subject – The Breeding Industry
Alan Delmonte – Operations Director, HBLB
Subject – The Levy Board
Here are some of my notes and comments for each subject.
The British Horseracing Authority
The British Horseracing Authority was launched in 2007, merging of the core functions of BHB (Governance) and HRA (regulation) and Racing Enterprises Ltd the central commercial arm. Talk was very much Pre-Bittar and Post-Bittar here. Before his appointment, impression was that the sport authority was “fragmented” and pulling in different directions, no surprise when he started reeling off acronym after acronym, RCA (Race Course Associtation), ROA (Racecourse Owners Association), NTF (National Trainers Federation), PJA (Professional Jockeys Association), NASS (National Assocation of Stable Staff), TBA (Thoroughbred Breeders Assoctation), The Horsemen’s Group and The Jockey Club. Throw in The Horserace Betting Levy Board, Weatherbys and REL, then that is a bus load of chefs.
Theme which ran through the day is that many, if not all, expect the heady days of 2008 to be the norm, and are striving for a return of those glory days. You do learn through the day that these expectations are a pipedream, and the we are very currently going through a leveling out period. Here are some stats, Racing’s key metrics as Robin put them:
More races in 2010, but less horses and less runners…problem is all there to see, but as mentioned later, once you increase the fixture lists and get involved in commercial deals which has a minimum requirement re fixtures, then it’s impossible to reduce.
Anyway, back to The BHA. This was very much a Bittar Love In, Paul Bittar came in and handled the “Whip Crisis”, BHA is very much about showing Leadership and offering a Service, and you get the feeling that his role when in Australia is very much the role he will be carrying out here, Chief Strategy Officer; with responsibility for areas including media and broadcast rights, relations with the betting industry, industry funding and planning. “Clarification of Roles” looks like a main task that Bittar has ahead of him for the remainder of the year. Maybe there’s one acronym that is missing when it comes to Overview of British Horseracing Bodies – WALOS.
In short, these get bloody everywhere. Racing publications, Racecards in paper, racecards at courses, book compilations, breeding publications, Bloodstock Reports, Bloodstock Catalogues, iPad apps, Insurance, cheque books, credit cards, loans, bank accounts, and this is before you even get to the Racing Admin site – WOW!
Very impressed in what they do for racing, and given that they have a financial arm to the business, which is where they make their money, it’s very evident when it comes to marketing, apps and publications. Contract with British Racing to 2020, it is one part of the industry which I feel is very strong, and got the impression it was very well run.
Interesting point was the “Stalls Checklist”, they provide checklist to starter re trainers request for their horse, last in etc or rug. This would be of some use to punters, and when discussed with Dr Paull Kahn, said this information was handled by BHA, and request would have to be made to them re publication.
The Role Of Racecourses
Put off from the off with this subject. Overview showed there was 4 All Weather Courses, and Arena/Northern courses were not merged to show the current state of ownership, but to be fair Sam did mention this during the presentation. Again I was put off though by the amount of “you know”‘s coming from Sam, I counted 63 before I lost the will to continue tallying them up, petty maybe but as said, put me off.
Points re Raceday Management is that CoC are told to avoid Firm going at all costs as increases likelihood of injuries, and they should always work to getting the ground to as close to “Good” as possible, unlucky you fast ground lovers!
59 of 60 are signed upto this Association, Towcester deciding against too, and re Great Leighs, unsure why failed license application.
Alot of work being done to try to bring in non race day business, conferences etc, as well as the usual promotions for race days.
Personally feel it’s a nothing organisation, with racecourses split between a number of groups, and independent owners then I struggle to grasp how they could have an impact on the Racecourse/Raceday Management.
Racing and the Media
Howard Wright was sporting a Ronseal look, but this presenting certainly didn’t do what it said on the tin, more Racing Post than Racing and the Media. He’s Vice Chairman of Northern Racing College, and has been speaker on this course for more than a decade, and I very much doubt that the presentation has changed over those years, other than to bask in the demise of The Sportsman.
Racing Post only daily paper, I think he may have reached Sam’s quota, but that was what he was looking to drill home. Mentioned how they were worried about the introduction of The Sportsman, but scorned their layout and mythical bet headline on first copy – Loony Toon (George Graham 20s into 5/4 for Newcastle job). Took pleasure in highlighting that come October 2006 the paper was set up like RP, racing news at front, sport at back and improved all in line cards, but too little too late.
Couple of interesting pieces “Racing Post driving force behind Sports Betting” – choked on my ginger nuts I did, and also the arrival of Racing + to the table. With RMG (Racecourse Media Group) having 49% share in Racing+, Racing Post do not want to run pieces that are pro Racing UK and their courses. He said that it’d be very interesting if RUK Courses would sign up with Racing + given the lack of exposure in Racing Post they have experienced as a result. Only mentioned BBC/C4 deal during Q&A, stating that be very surprised if reached 5m viewers for Grand National next season. Never mentioned Social Media once, no surprise given he’s not tweeted #unfollowed
Rules of Racing
Lyn Williams seems to be another who sleeps in a “In Bittar We Trust” vest here due to Bittar’s handling of the “Whip Crisis”, but firstly stewards. Lyn focused on Race Riding, and roles of the stewards. They have a 5 minute window post race to review and see if any infringements have taken place, and they are broken down into 4 categories; Dangerous, Careless, Improper and Accidental. If actions deemed to be Dangerous, then the horse is disqualified, any of the other 3 then race to be reviewed for interference and if required alteration of placings.
Lyn pointed out, on a number of occasions, that consistency is the key here when applying these rules, and that alot of effort is made in working with stewards, jockeys and associations to ensure that the decision-making is consistent throughout the process. This is what Paul Struthers complained about last week, where stewards are not going to overturn the decisions of other stewards on a regular basis. However, appeals have been more successful in 2011 than 2010. 2010 Appeals 22, Successful 7 2011 Appeals 33, Successful 14. Press & PJA never focuses on the fact that 99.5% of Racecourse Decisions are accepted, just the successful appeals.
Hyped up BHA Site saying that their website is the “Finest of any regulatory body in the world”, but not one for Rule Jargon ie doesn’t quote Rule number after Rule number, and very much likes to keep things simple. Re Whip, accepted that they “got it wrong” on penalties, and praised Bittar for taking the flak from the off for it. Videos at end of presentation was of Casella Park re non-trier rule, and of Richard Hughes on Barney Curley runner Avisio for careless riding. No questions which disappointing as would have liked to ask re the “consultations” that took place before implementation of initial Whip Rules, and also the boycott @ Worcester.
The Betting Industry
Presentation rushed a little due to time constraints, and don’t have copies of the slides which is disappointing, will try to get copy and update later.
The Breeding Industry
Another that was slightly rushed, even rushed I thought was very interesting.
Anyone can breed a racehorse, obviously there’s an element of skill to it, just as there is an element of luck to it also, but anyone can breed a racehorse. TBA supplies 52% of horses in training in UK from 3962 mare owners in 2011. 81% of those owners only have 1-2 mares, and 0.3% have 31+ mares, them are the commercial stud farms, your Juddmonte and Darley etc. As I said earlier 2008 was when the bubble popped, and in 2008 there was over 4500 mare owners in UK, 10000 in Ire, in 2011 that fell to 3962, and 7200 respectively, and similar story re Active broodmares. Foal production in 2008, UK 5900 Ire 12000, 2011 UK 4502, Ire sub 7000. With that in mind, there has to come a point where the reduction of fixture list becomes the only viable option to keep the races competitive. Even though numbers are dwindling, Bloodstock sales in 2011 are impressive. Increase in turnover for all sales companies, Increase in 15% in combined average of sales to 26,634.
The breeding programme itself is interesting too. With the need now for early speedier types when it comes to the flat horses, so covering cycle starts earlier, to ensure that coming the sales they are seen as on paper the early and speedy type which many purchasers seek, obviously the commercial studs can play the long game. Like any involvement in racing, gambling aspect is never far away and breeding is just that; “Breeding is a futures game and the matings for horses sold in 2011 were planned in 2008 so you have to have the foresight to have horses by the right sires” John Warren, 2011
I would like to highlight the 18-35 Membership which TBA run, as I feel that for £50, you can’t go far wrong with the package they are offering to anyone aged 18-35 year olds with an interesting in learning more about the bloodstock industry:
The Levy Board
Punters are a big aspect of racing, yet as many will testify, we are not a voice that is regularly heard when it comes to decisions that impact this sport, very surprising given that 66% of funds pumped back into racing is from gambling.
The Levy was brought in to compensate the loss of income to racecourses when LBO opened in early 1960s, and we saw a growing trend until period of 2007/08 to 2010/11, falling from £115.3m to £59.5m, main reason for this is Bookmakers moving offshore to avoid paying the Levy. An extra £4.2m in prize-money this year compared to 2011, but you do get the impression that the days of the Levy are very much numbered, and once again we turn to Paul Bittar, and the “Clarification of Roles”.
HBLB and The Horsemens Group were not involved in meaningful discussions relating to the commercial deal between BHA and Betfair, and I get the feeling however loud they cry, they won’t be involved in any meaningful discussions going forward. Yes they will be there to sign off on deal and sing from a hymnsheet, but that hymnsheet is very much BHA’s and the coming months will no doubt see changes throughout the structure of British Racing. As at today, HBLB have not actually received the funds from Betfair relating to this deal, they are working under the impression that BHA will transfer the funds to them for distribution, but could this be the first of many roles that Paul Bittar will clarify, and ultimately do in-house?
The Overview of British Racing Seminar is well worth the attendance fee of £90, and would recommend it to anyone who is looking to continually improve their understanding of the industry to a point. However, whereas through years of recession many industries have streamlined, Racing has seen a flood of Associations and Groups were roles are not clearly defined, and their voice is not united. Tonight, and for the foreseeable future, I will sleep in a “In Bittar We Trust” vest, as we could very well be about to witness a much-needed purge.