Racing Debate: Can 300 fewer races help sport’s long-term future?
A leaked British Horseracing Authority (BHA) proposal to reduce the 2023 fixture list by 300 races has been described as a “joke” by a leading ownership group, but has received the support of the National Trainers Federation (NTF).
Last week, the Racing Post reported that the BHA is consulting with its fixtures and funding group on a significant alteration to race programme, following considerable criticism and concern over notably small field sizes.
The number of both Flat and Jumps fixtures has been steadily growing over the last 10 years, with a total of 10,353 run in 2021, up over 200 on the 2011 figure and up from 7,141 in 2001.
Both the NTF and the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) have reported that the majority of their members are in favour of the proposed reduction.
Speaking on the Racing Debate show on Sky Sports Racing, NTF chief executive Paul Johnson said: “We are supportive of the proposal, we stand behind what’s trying to be achieved here.
“It might be slightly counter-intuitive for trainers to be looking for racing to be more competitive but we think the long-term health of the sport is something that needs to be prioritised at this point in time.
“Racing has grown the size of the fixture list and race programme consistently over the last 10 years and has done so for good reasons to maximise income which can be recycled into prize-money.
“But there comes a point when to keep following that route, you end up doing yourself long-term harm.”
Jon Hughes, a member of the Owners For Owners group and leading voice in the Keep Owners In Racing campaign, believes the leaked plans offer a “great opportunity” for racing to address its fixture list issues, but feels the proposed reductions would not go far enough.
“This 300 figure is a joke,” Hughes told Sky Sports Racing. “It is tweaking, it’s nudging and it’s not really going to have that much of an effect. We’ve got around about 1500 fixtures and 10,000 races. We shouldn’t just tweak around the edges, we should get stuck into it.
“This is a great opportunity to gather the data and start planning fixtures in a way which is fit for the future of British racing. The only way we can reconcile all the different views is to gather the data.
“If we don’t have any data first, we should not make any changes.
“If the leaders of the sport don’t go down this route then an independent group should do it. Keep Owners In Racing would willingly link-up with any people who want to help on this subject.
“If the leaders of the sport ignore it then they are completely missing a great opportunity.”
Johnson disagreed when questioned on how the BHA came up with its figures. “300 is not an arbitrary number, it’s based on analysis from the BHA looking at which months you might look to limit races to a lower number per fixture,” he said.
“This isn’t just about taking races out, it’s about removing programmed races and making it easier for races to divide so that we have a programme that’s more demand-led. If the horses are there, the races will be.”