Strategy essential to grow ranks of owners
In a recent television interview, Richard Hannon described a trainer’s job as “selling a dream and delivering a nightmare”. This sums up what most of us owners feel as we buy a share in a yearling in the autumn, spending the winter dreaming of success but then suffering the setbacks that almost inevitably come. However, the times when the dream stays alive and is fulfilled to some degree keep us coming back for more.
Hannon also described how days out to visit the training yard and trips to the gallops to watch the beautiful horses work, followed in many cases by a drink and lunch, are as much a part of the whole experience of ownership as going racing itself. Indeed, the off-course experience, without the stress of a having a runner, can be far more enjoyable than a trip to the races, which we all know is going to end more frequently in disappointment than euphoria.
The point is that racehorse ownership is about so much more than pure results, yet the financial burden increases daily in these uncertain times, with trainers’ fees rising in order to balance the books, and sundry costs escalating at a frightening rate.
The ‘trainer experience’ therefore becomes increasingly important in maintaining and attracting ownership participation in whatever form. If you drive out of Lambourn on a Sunday and look to your left, often you will see rows of cars parked at Seven Barrows as Nicky Henderson hosts yet another open morning for one of his syndicate ownership groups. It is undoubtedly a huge draw for people to be able to visit their trainer’s yard and get close to the other equine stars that reside there, alongside their own horse(s).
The industry strategy work that has concentrated initially on the fixture list and the importance of giving the highest profile races increased funding and the ‘space to breathe’ in a busy racing rrogramme must also look at other areas, including ownership. The Commercial Committee has made good progress in trying to combine what is clearly working well today with an overarching strategy to promote and support new and existing initiatives to grow ownership.
Whilst there has been progress, we all know that in many cases the raceday experience, recognition of owners, facilities on the racecourse and trainer communication can all still be improved to make the ownership journey more straightforward and enjoyable. Returning to a common theme in this column, in order to achieve this, the industry constituents must come together to allow data to flow and the processes to be managed better. There is undoubtedly a lot of work to do, but the results would be beneficial to the whole industry.
By the time you read this, we may have seen some white smoke rise above the levy reform negotiations, although I wouldn’t necessarily be holding my breath on that. The government is undoubtedly keen that some form of agreement is reached quickly between the betting operators and the racing industry, thereby avoiding the need for the government itself to opine on the subject. There has been some public disagreement over numbers this summer, with incorrect figures being quoted initially by the Betting & Gaming Council. However, the participants have been strongly encouraged to get on with their discussions, so my hope is that we are nearing the conclusion of a process that has been rumbling on for months.
In the meantime, the Gambling Act and the dreaded white paper seem to cause more worry by the day. The Gambling Commission’s recent musings seemed to suggest that the consultation process that they are running is not designed to result in any significant changes to their draft, but more to reinforce what they believe is the brief supplied by the government.
The BHA has run its own consultation process, via a much more open and straightforward survey than the GC version, which has garnered a response far larger than was anticipated. The feedback received is a clear indication of the feelings that followers of and investors in the sport have regarding invasive affordability checks. My hope is that sense will prevail, and the weight of evidence will persuade the government to tone down the rhetoric around the checks and see racing’s links to betting as the special case that it undoubtedly is, otherwise the dream could really turn into a nightmare.