By ROA President, Nicholas Cooper
Owners are central to the wellbeing of the sport of horseracing. It may seem strange that this simple fact has not always been recognised within the industry, but now, at last, there is a strong industry-wide impetus behind a new strategy for the retention of existing owners and the recruitment of new ones.
Not surprisingly, the ROA is pivotal to this strategy. Of course, it has always been part of this association’s raison d’être to increase the number of owners, but there is now buy-in from all parts of racing to create an action plan to bring this about.
It is difficult to name any element of racing that is not affected by the number of owners. Self-evidently, more owners provide more horses in training and this allows us to maximise betting turnover and give racecourses the opportunity to put on a better show, thereby boosting their attendances and TV audiences.
An increase in the number of owners and horses in training is also good news for horsemen, putting racing’s workforce on a sounder economic basis. Perhaps, however, the most important benefit stemming from the promotion of ownership is that it provides a natural marketing energy for the sport overall with greater buy-in and participation.
With all this in mind, plans are already in place for a launch, early next year, of an online hub from which owners will be able to manage their ownership administration. There is to be a simplification of ownership registration types and a consolidation of owners’ fees. There will also be a general streamlining of different types of ownership and, crucially, changes made within the area of partnerships so it will be mandatory that all syndicate members own a share of the horse.
Group ownership of horses provides a natural entry-point to owning a horse or horses outright. For nearly three-quarters of owners, a first experience of ownership comes from taking a share in a horse. Such owners are then often encouraged to take a further step, not always because that first horse has been successful but simply because the social side of racing appeals to them.
Recognising the importance of pointing potential owners in the right direction, Great British Racing is about to launch a new comparison website called ‘In the Paddock’. This will list many syndication companies, showing their structure and prices, and the trainers with whom they have horses.
As much as the acquisition of new owners must be seen as fertile ground, however, the first priority of racing’s ownership strategy is to tap into the pool of existing owners and, importantly, those who have lapsed. It is a salient statistic that one in four owners have, at one time, taken a break from ownership, mostly due to finances or horse injury. Also, that three out of four lapsed owners say they would return to owning if the circumstances were right.
Through its benefits and the services it provides, the ROA plays a huge role in encouraging existing owners to stay in the game and for lapsed owners to return. But the overall strategy can only be complete if trainers and racecourses are also central to the process.
Trainers often act as recruiting agents for owners and their relationship with an owner will frequently determine whether that owner enjoys the experience and stays in the game, irrespective of success. Neither is it necessarily about fees or even prize-money. Most owners enter racing to have fun and the trainer will usually play a big part in this.
Similarly, the owners’ racecourse treatment is crucial. Thanks partly to pressure from the ROA’s raceday initiatives, a good number of racecourses have improved their treatment of owners enormously in recent years, with complimentary lunches, good owner facilities and, in some cases, generous ticket allocation now usually being part of the standard provision.
And this strive for excellence must continue as racing seeks to find more owners in the increasingly competitive world of leisure activity.