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Seconds Out: Oli Bell's Monthly Blog

Monday 15 January 2024
Seconds Out: Oli Bell's Monthly Blog

Happy New Year RaceSharers! Hope you are all maintaining your resolutions, and if you’re not, then don’t worry, there is always next year…

For those new to RaceShare this is my monthly blog where I will talk about a variety of different topics. One of the big talking points currently is around Premier Racing and the changes to the fixture list. For those that are unaware of what Premier Racing actually is, in a nutshell, the 2024 racing fixture list has been shaken-up after the British Horseracing Authority board approved a number of changes, with a 'premier' racing tier introduced, along with restricted action at a peak period on most Saturday afternoons and a trial of Sunday evening meetings.

Several "core principles" established as part of British racing's cross industry strategy are at the heart of the reforms, with the aim to grow "the sport's reach, appeal to new fanbases and better engage existing customers", with the changes representing the "vital first step in longer-term improvements to the structure, funding and promotion of the racing product”.

The Sunday before last was the first of the new Sunday evening meetings at Wolverhampton and it caused a few trainers to be quite vocal in their disapproval of this time slot for racing. I fully appreciate that working late on Sunday is very inconvenient, especially given the all consuming nature of the sport for staff, trainers, jockeys and valets. However, the benefits, if they are sustained, outweigh the negatives, in my opinion.

On the face of it the numbers were strong, with the card featuring strong numerical fields and enhanced prize-money with a minimum of £15,000 per race, with most races run for almost three times the minimum value for their respective grade.

So as we get into it you can see clearly that the prize money is greatly increased compared to a ‘normal’ race meeting for the grade of horses competing, this again as highlighted above also helps generate competitive field sizes. At a time when there is a huge focus on prize money in this country (and rightly so), the fact that racecourses are putting their hand in their pockets and offering far greater prize money should be welcomed and supported. It’s important we retain owners in this country and whilst that is particularly prevalent for the top class horses (not selling abroad for big money), we also mustn’t lose sight of the owners who are buying and competing in lower quality races. Each horse costs the same to train and if owners with horses at the bottom end of the ladder are making money or at the very least not losing money, then surely that will incentivise them to stay in the sport and hopefully purchase more horses in the hope of buying the next Frankel or Constitution Hill.

Secondly, eyes on the sport – on a weekend afternoon nine times out of 10 there is a host of sporting options including football, rugby, cricket not only to watch but also for the tens of thousands of people in the UK who play these and other sports. By adding a fixture on a Sunday evening, it may not have millions of viewers but it at least gives racing and sports fans an opportunity to watch the sport without competing with the large majority of others. This also will impact betting turnover on a race meeting and whilst the numbers from Sunday were aligned with a normal weekday all-weather meeting, I would imagine that over time, once the public are familiar with racing on a Sunday evening, those numbers would increase.

Thirdly and this is more a broad point but in racing one of my main bugbears is the incessant negativity when new ideas are trialled, and it is keen to stress that this is a trial. How will we ever know if things work/don’t work if there is this constant negativity surrounding it. I have said on air before on ITV that the industry should welcome new ideas and if some are crap (not every idea lands) then so be it. At least we are encouraging people to think outside the box without the fear of being shot down before anything has the chance to get off the ground. There feels at times to be a bit of a school playground mentality to this whereby the person who is a bit different/thinks differently/goes against the grain gets shot down for being a bit weird. We as an industry palpably don’t have the luxury in 2023 of paddling the same canoe we have for decades before and for us to bring in new audiences, engage different communities and enhance the overall product it will require some new thinking and ideas. Some will fail, but the risk of failure is one I would welcome if the reward is a thriving and vibrant industry. This also requires those in positions of power to think of the long term and not the short term – BHA Chair Joe Saumarez-Smith made a very good point that those who are in the important meetings mustn’t be short sighted in light of 12 month bonuses but think of the big picture in order to allow our children and grandchildren to enjoy the sport that we love. I'm paraphrasing above – but you get the point.

I appreciate there are counter arguments to the points I have made above and I spoke to a good friend of mine Charlie Fellowes who has been vocal about Sunday evening racing in the past – he made a very good point that as a father of two young children, Sunday is the only day he gets to really spend time with his children and having to engage in racing on what would essentially be his day off takes him away from valuable time with his family. Obviously this extends to the stable staff, valets, and racecourse staff who have to work Sunday nights. Therefore, it is crucial that the racecourses and BHA are very generous in rewarding and reimbursing those key members of the industry because not only do we need to incentivise owners to stay in the sport – it goes without saying but we need to look after everyone involved in racing. I’m not sure exactly how that looks, but I hope that everyone is being properly consulted about what each section's requirements are so that this trial can be effectively carried out to see if it works or doesn’t work. If it fails, at least we properly tried.

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Seconds Out: Oli Bell's Monthly Blog

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18 November 2022
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The RaceShare team will be at Ascot on 18 and 19 November at the Shared Ownership Days. This is a great chance for us to meet racegoers and explain...
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19 November 2022
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RaceShare will be sponsoring the opening Novices' Hurdle at Ascot on 19 November. Alongside this, we will have a stand at Ascot's Shared Ownership ...
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