Boosting grass-roots level vital for owner retention

Increasing level of participation in ownership is in the interest of breeders

Congratulations to everyone involved in getting reform of the outdated levy system over the line. As I have pointed out before, reaching this stage has been the result of hard work and consistent messaging from the whole of the racing industry, resulting in the position where the sport is in charge of its own finances and its own destiny.

The ongoing review of fixtures and funding, which has been looking at how to spend some of the extra income that will be generated, especially in the prize-money field, has focused very much on the lower end of the race programme, where in reality most horses in training are running.

Inevitably, many new and existing breeders and owners find their horses in this bracket, and so any boost to returns here must be welcome, as long as it does not damage aspirations to progress up the scale.

The constant complaint that the middle and lower tiers of breeding and racing are suffering has some validity, particularly when judged by the distribution of increased media rights income, which racecourses have used over the past few years to boost their feature and high-end races. Owners at the lower end of the scale become disillusioned and leave the sport. They are the ones who need to be encouraged, even if only in a small way, so that they retain their interest and reinvest, in the hope of getting the better horse who takes them on the even more exciting journey that ownership can provide.

This initiative will not have everyone’s support, but I do believe it deserves to be given a try for three years, to see if it changes behaviour not just among owners but also racecourses, for which new and differently based media rights deals kick in from 2018. The number of runners per race will become increasingly more important to racecourses’ finances, and hopefully they will react to encourage those runners to come to them. Competition for runners can be no bad thing for horsemen, which most definitely includes breeders.

Of course, it is to be hoped that the new funding arrangements produce more than the £6-7 million that has been put aside for this scheme, so the other income allocated to prize-money will need to be used in more innovative ways.

Foals and yearlings by staying stallions must be sufficiently attractive to become sought after by buyers in the sales ring

A number of initiatives have already been devised around the staying programme, all of which will help in the long term. But even after the welcome elevation of the Goodwood Cup to Group 1 status this year, serious thought should be given to other high-profile, headline-grabbing ideas to ensure that the staying programme, and with it the all-important breeding of stayers, remains high on everyone’s agenda.

Foals and yearlings by staying stallions must be sufficiently attractive to become sought after by buyers in the sales ring. Breeders and owners require the proper incentive to see and believe that investing in this area, while inevitably longer in coming to fruition, is worthwhile and can lead to greater rewards. Members of the TBA can be assured that the council and executive will be working strenuously, with others, on various ideas to help bring about this situation.

However, the work should not stop there. Efforts to boost our breeding and racing in the long term will continue, so that we are not so reliant on our European neighbours in the future.

The risks to the breeding industry from Brexit will become clearer in time, but the resurgence of Britain’s National Hunt breeding sector, which was evident at the TBA annual awards evening held in the Jockey Club Rooms last month, is very encouraging, and it can only become even more important as Brexit looms.

The awards event was a great success and every one was a worthy winner, none more so than Dr Richard Newton, for his work at the Animal Health Trust on infectious diseases, and David Oldrey, for his many years at the TBA and as the BHB’s race planning committee chairman. They were long overdue recipients of the Dominion and Andrew Devonshire awards respectively.