Bold vision essential as we look to the future

12 October 2023

Owning racehorses provides huge amounts of joy, excitement and disappointment, although rarely in equal measure. We all know that our hopes and expectations are seldom fulfilled, but when they are, that feeling of sheer excitement is what keeps people of all walks of life and backgrounds coming back for more.

Seeing the King and Queen at Doncaster with a Royal runner in the final Classic of the season was quite a contrast to being in the paddock at Kempton for a five-runner  0-65 handicap, but this sport that we all love needs the support of every owner to keep it on the road. 

Whether ownership comes from international sovereign wealth, our own royalty, owner-breeders, successful businesspeople or the members of a partnership, syndicate or club, without us there would be no racing industry. Owners need to be looked after at all levels, from the communications with our trainers to the raceday experience, but collectively it is vital that we continue to have a strong voice at the centre of the sport’s leadership.

The ROA is represented on all of the important committees and boards that are responsible for the regulation, leadership and strategy development of British racing and we will continue to promote all issues relating to ownership.

We also participate in the vital ongoing work around levy reform and the responses to the much-discussed Gambling Act review. It came as no surprise that the Betting &  Gaming Council (BGC) had to revise the numbers it had submitted to DCMS. To overstate your case by £115 million was at best a significant blunder and at worst an attempt to frame the debate. Claiming that betting operators already pay too much for the racing product via levy payments, media rights payments and sponsorship, and then having to issue a statement confirming that they had got their numbers so wrong, completely undermines their case.

Racing’s own calculations show that since 2017, levy contributions in real terms have fallen far from the original target and a recalibration is needed. Levy reform is so  crucial because a significant proportion of those payments from betting operators are distributed via the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) into prize-money. The  HBLB is among the most important contributors to horseracing’s finances, as the original intention of establishing the levy was to compensate racing for the loss of  income that was anticipated when off-course betting shops were legalised in 1961. 

Today, the HBLB applies levy funds to a wide range of schemes in direct support of horseracing, with a majority of that funding being redistributed into prize-money. Other funding through media rights payments goes directly to the media companies and is distributed to their shareholders, the racecourses, who invest a proportion of that income into prize-money but also have many other ‘mouths to feed’ in their businesses.

Having cleared up the rounding error, the BGC and the BHA are now in discussions with the government in trying to reach an agreement on recalibrating the way that  levy payments are calculated, which if successful would provide a welcome boost to prize-money in the years to come. 

Work on the 2024 fixture list is nearing conclusion and by the time you read this should have been made public. What the strategy group now needs to do is to seize the opportunities presented by a new and exciting racing product. We need additional international investment to kick-start the much-discussed strategy and we need to be bold in our approach and in the way we promote this wonderful sport. To that end, I believe we need to learn from other sports that have repackaged their assets in such a successful way. If football, cricket and even volleyball can do it and attract new income streams, then surely British racing can too.

With the yearling sales in full swing, the demand for our bloodstock remains very strong and the BHA’s data packs show most of the key performance indicators trending in the right direction. Ownership numbers and participation remain the key to a healthy future and significant boosts to prize-money would provide further  encouragement and engagement. As always, there will be many bumps in the road, but the signs for once are beginning to look positive.

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