New Year brings fresh opportunity for progress
Covid waves and government restrictions aside, 2021 has been a brilliantly exciting year for racing. We have kept the nation going, inspiring and entertaining people in the UK and around the world. Day in and day out, from the biggest festivals to the mid-week nights, we have continued to put on a show.
I am delighted to have held the ROA Awards in December to recognise those incredible sporting achievements and the contribution of owners to our sport. None more so than the two deserving winners of the headline awards – Honeysuckle as Horse of the Year and the late Trevor Hemmings as Owner of the Year.
It was a fantastic night and a great opportunity to show those both in and outside of the sport what an important role owners have in supporting racing but also their pure unadulterated passion for horses.
Yet as we reflect on the past 12 months, so too must we look ahead at what is coming down the track in 2022.
There has been an unnerving sense of déjà vu over the last few weeks as Covid has crept back into the rear-view mirror. I for one remain positive and am confident that racing is well prepared to manage the situation. We have already ridden out a few storms and our participants and venues have remained ready to address Covid-related challenges, even as the government focus on preventative measures subsided.
Beyond Covid, participants will be all too aware that racing has some additional challenges. Whether it is governance, fixtures or prize-money, the ROA is acutely aware that there is a lot to be done to ensure that participants’ interests are being properly represented and addressed. It is vital and indeed at the heart of our strategy, ‘For the Love of Racing’, to look at racing’s future and build the foundations to support growth in collaboration with other stakeholders.
Too many times this year I have seen participants frustrated by decisions that seem out of touch with what is needed at the grassroots of the sport.
On corporate governance, we want to see a structure that better represents participants and makes quicker decisions on key commercial or sporting decisions that can improve revenue, potential earnings, and audience. This is key to areas such as the fixtures and funding or the improvements to prize-money that were mooted. There have been initial discussions to look at the restructuring of the BHA and I am sure there will much more lively discussion on governance through 2022.
Regarding prize-money, it is widely agreed that we need to do something to ensure we can continue to retain and attract owners as well as compete internationally. Recent announcements by the Jockey Club, ARC and Ascot are welcome, but I believe we need robust agreements that can give us certainty and allow investment to be maintained and enhanced. We are a sport with huge international significance and heritage yet our prize-money falls short. We need to protect our status and prize-money plays a vital part of the wider picture of improvement to the sport.
Whilst we have done what we can within the bounds of the current governance structure – with new changes to prize-money distribution supporting higher potential earnings further down the classes – we can and should be doing more. Through elements such as commercial agreements, changes to fixtures and funding, as well as levy development, we can see improvement for participants in 2022. It will again take serious collaboration and an honest look at governance to make real progress.
The ROA wants to go further still in its modernisation agenda to ensure that we really look to maximise opportunities for participants. A primary focus will be to explore the opportunities that
effective data collection, management and sharing can bring to horseracing.
It is a real weakness of the industry that it lacks a centralised database, be it racegoers, syndicate owners or just fans in general. How can we really claim to be a world-leading industry when our infrastructure is so outdated and not fit for purpose? This is low-hanging fruit and one which the ROA is keen to help harvest in 2022.
As ever in racing, I expect it to be a non-stop year and the team at the ROA will be determined as always to deliver for owners and the sport.