UK racing’s heritage of real value on global stage

14 May 2024

Aintree has been and gone for another year – and it was a huge success. The Randox Grand National did not have a single faller and turning for home there were still over 20 horses in with a shout of victory. The  changes to the famous race made by the Jockey Club and BHA, in consultation with other stakeholders and organisations, included a shorter run to the first fence, a smaller field and a (nearly) standing start. Those, other initiatives and the slower ground conditions combined to produce a great spectacle for the tens of thousands on course and the millions watching on TV.

The media coverage was almost universally positive, with the National even making it on to the front page of the Wall Street Journal, exactly the sort of lift the sport needed. The supporting cast over the three days was equally enthralling and after the slightly gloomy wash up from Cheltenham, this will have been a boost for the Jockey Club as well as the industry.

I have been teased by some of you that the Leader has become the same article each month, as a consequence of the seemingly never-ending discussions on levy reform and the negotiations around affordability  checks. April is the month that the levy reform update is due to be given by the Minister to Parliament, and the industry working group and the Betting and Gaming Council have been involved in intense discussions 
with the Minister and his department about getting a voluntary agreed deal over the line. Racing’s position has been consistent since July last year, not least because the industry’s costs have risen at a much faster pace than levy returns following the previous levy determination. A sensible adjustment would produce much needed funds and allow the industry to plan for the future with more certainty.

Given the obvious lack of time left for this current Parliament, it is highly unlikely that a legislative solution will be on the cards, so we are probably relying on a voluntary deal between the major bookmakers and the  industry. By the time of my next column, we will have more certainty on the levy and hopefully some better news around affordability checks.

The recent news that the Jockey Club has cut its previously announced executive contribution to prize-money in 2024 was disappointing, especially as Ascot, York, Newbury and others have recently outlined increases.

The issues are complex, and each business has different challenges, but it’s a warning sign that must be heeded. 

An industry-wide strategic initiative to attract new investment, outside the existing sources, is vital if we are to move forward. It seems that every day another sport has succeeded in bringing in new investors and this is  something that British racing must strive to do. The appetite for our product on a global stage is well known but while other jurisdiction forge ahead, we seem to be stuck in the starting stalls.

A lot of work has gone into the last 18 months since the new governance structure was agreed, but we now need to build on that and really push for the big prizes. Certainly, an enhanced levy and some better news on affordability checks can help, but these alone are not enough. We must realise the potential of our heritage around the most famous Flat races and racecourses, to access the vast untapped legal betting markets worldwide and the income that could produce for our sport.

As I write, the breeze-up sales are now under way, the National Hunt season is coming to a thrilling finish, with a three-way go for the trainers’ championship, and the first of the Classic trials have been staged. We have a hugely rich and varied sport, but we need to find some new and significant investment to really turbo-charge the future. The alternative is too painful to contemplate.

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