by Richard Wayman, ROA Chief Executive
While the poor state of UK prize-money may be the biggest current concern to ROA members, there is nothing more frustrating than being told by your trainer that your horse is jumping out of its skin, yet there is nowhere suitable to run for the next month.
It is with this in mind that the ROA welcomes a BHA project to identify and then establish a mechanism to deliver the optimal race programme for the horse population.
Drawing on the expertise of those, including trainers, who spend so much of their time thumbing through programme books and racing calendars, it should not be beyond us to identify those areas of the programme where there are too many races and, even more importantly, where there is a shortage of opportunities for a particular type of horse.
If this is to be more than an academic exercise, however, it is absolutely crucial that the sport can also find a mechanism to subsequently deliver whatever races are identified as being required by the entire horse population as part of a core race programme.
This task should not be under-estimated; it will require a significant change from the current modus operandi, which, outside of Pattern and Listed races, effectively allows racecourses to set their own programmes. In my view, we will never have an optimal race programme as long as it is determined by the decisions of 60 individual racecourse managers, albeit with BHA input.
It is understandable that racecourses have many considerations to take into account when setting race programmes, not least the cost of different races and the amount of funding that they will receive for staging them.
As things stand, the vast majority of prize-money related funding received by a racecourse has no direct relationship with the types of races that it stages, with neither the Levy Board’s system of basic daily rates nor media rights payments linked to the race programme.
To its credit, the Levy Board introduced a £5m Quality Support Fund in 2012 and this has provided a relatively small carrot to help encourage a more cohesive approach. Whilst this has proved a welcome first step, a much more fundamental change is required if the sport is going to deliver a race programme that is driven, as it should be, by the requirements of the horse population.
And how might that look? Well, I would suggest that the Levy Board’s funding should be used only to support those races that have been identified as being required by the horse population, being run with prize-money levels offering a fair and reasonable return to owners.
Racecourses would be able to stage other races outside these parameters but, if they did so, they would have to fund them entirely out of their own resources, rather than drawing on the Levy Board’s precious resources.
Whilst other factors outside of our control, such as the ground, will continue to disrupt running plans for time-to-time, a new system is essential if we are going to consign to the history books the situation of having a horse fit and ready to race, only to find there is nowhere suitable to run.
2 October 2012