Flat's global appeal key to boosting revenue

11 April 2024

Another Cheltenham Festival has been and gone, with Willie Mullins’ horses winning one third of all the races staged and collecting over £1.5 million in total prize-money. Eight of his nine winners were in Grade 1 contests, with his total number of Festival successes now standing at 103, 30 ahead of Nicky Henderson. Nicky had an extremely difficult and disappointing week yet handled the adversity with remarkable stoicism.

Congratulations to all of you who were involved with horses at Cheltenham and especially to those of you who took home some prize-money and memories that will last a lifetime.

Taking a dispassionate view, one could easily see how out of balance the financing system is in the UK compared to Ireland. The Jockey Club and its partners, the Levy Board and of course owners provided an exceptional prize-money pot for the week, but much of that sterling headed west, effectively out of British racing’s ecosystem. Extending our UK levy to include bets placed on overseas racing would in some way even up the playing field and give us a share of a market in which margins are high and the potential yield for the levy could be significant.

Cheltenham and Aintree are obviously fabulous showcases for the National Hunt game, but it is fair to say that the global appeal of jump racing does not resonate beyond our nearest neighbours. I believe that when we are looking to the future and trying to shift the appeal of British racing overseas, we should concentrate much of our efforts on the elements of our sport which garner worldwide recognition.

Our top Flat fixtures are the best in the world, providing huge variety, history, and royal patronage, played out on beautiful racecourses which for centuries have tested and highlighted many of the most talented and robust thoroughbreds. This provides Britain with a fantastic shop window to enhance our national ‘soft power’ currency. As long as we can find a funding structure that allows us to tap into this potential whilst at the same time supporting our wonderful National Hunt game as well as core and all-weather racing, then we might just be able to really shift the dial on racing’s finances for all those who invest in the sport.

The toing and froing on levy reform and affordability checks continues and while the final outcomes on both subjects remain unclear as I write this, it is certainly fair to say that racing is getting its points firmly across to the government.  

Following on from the Westminster Hall debate on affordability checks in late February, Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew was at Cheltenham on the Thursday of the meeting, giving a lengthy interview to ITV Racing and meeting with representatives and members of the ROA, NTF, TBA and others. Early the following week, a delegation of senior industry figures visited 10 Downing Street to meet with and lobby officials, including one of Rishi Sunak’s special advisers, on affordability checks and levy reform. The group included BHA Chairman Joe Saumarez Smith, trainer John Gosden, ROA Board member and leading bloodstock figure Tom Goff, and ARC Chief Executive Martin Cruddace.

We are now in the pivotal final furlong of both the levy and affordability checks races and the outcomes of both will be keenly awaited by all of us who love and support this great industry. Let’s hope that we get the positive results that the sport needs.

Talking about hope, a monthly column puts into stark reality how quickly the year passes, with the Flat season now upon us and the first of the breeze-up sales just around the corner. Good luck to you all with your new horses and the dreams you have for them.

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