Friday, August 16, 2013

Looking for a ruby in a mountain of rocks

Great excitement: Meat Loaf plays the July Course after racing this evening, which is a real treat, especially when one bears in mind that he had previously retired.  Apparently he heard that the Rolling Stones had come out of retirement for a tour; he worked out that they're older than he is, and thought, "Why not?".  And, to my massive surprise and excitement, the July Course is on his agenda.  So that'll be something to look forward to, as will Chester tomorrow.

We've just had a torrential mid-afternoon shower, so I hope that that's our lot for today, as it wouldn't be ideal to have heavy rain during and after racing here this evening.  It would, though, be even less welcome from my point of view if they're getting heavy rain at Chester (or if they get some tomorrow) because Ethics Girl is declared to run there at 5.25 tomorrow afternoon, and she likes a sound, rather than a loose, surface.  The ground is supposedly good, but that's after 8mm last night (before which it was good, good to firm in places) so how good, or otherwise, it really is we'll find out tomorrow.  Chester is a narrow track which stages a lot of racing and whose turf consequently suffers a lot of wear and tear through the year, so I won't be going there expecting too much.

Aside from this afternoon's downpour, we've had some more very nice weather, as is shown by these photographs which were taken since the last chapter was written; and it remains very warm.  So that's the weather news - and, having pontificated in the previous chapter about Sungate etc., I'll now move on to another hot topic in this chapter.  So I'll give a few sentences to the supposed under-production issue.  You'll recall that there have been a lot of small fields this summer, which isn't surprising when the period of the year with the most racing coincides with plenty of firm ground, a surface which only suits a minority of horses and which increases the risk of horses jarring up (especially when it's firm ground on tracks which race a lot, because there's a very strong correlation between how often the ground is raced on and how much it deteriorates).

Anyway,  these small fields have ignited debates among the chattering classes about whether there are enough horses in training.  Plenty of people have decided that there aren't (or that aren't enough to satisfy the demands of the currently crowded fixture list) and have followed this conclusion by asking, "Why not?".  Well, I think that that one is easy to answer.  It is becoming ever more expensive to own a horse in training, while prize money levels are becoming ever more unsatisfactory.

In this stable it costs approximately £42.50 per day (plus VAT) to have a horse in training (on the basis that the fee is £37, but that farriery and Newmarket Heath Tax are extras, and they average out at £2 and £3.50 per day respectively).  And that's doing it at no profit, which isn't the case everywhere, so one could be paying a lot more than that, plus hefty vets' fees, elsewhere.  Add on top of that an average of £400 per race (to include transporting the horse to the track, and paying staff expenses, jockey's fee and jockey's insurance, entry fee and BHA/Weatherbys administration charge).  You can do the math yourself, but you don't have to boast a mathematics A-level to work out that prize money of approximately a couple of thousand pounds for winning a race (and one doesn't win them very often unless one has a lot of horses) makes the economics such that very few Britons can maintain strings of horses.

Under the circumstances, it's clear that, while there are thousands of foals being bred in the British Isles every year, maintaining the diminishing pool of owners to put them into training is becoming an ever-increasing problem for racing.  And it's a problem which will persist and increase for as long as racing's rulers continue to find no meaningful solution to the current situation which sees British prize money levels far lower than those in all of the world's other major racing nations (ie USA, Ireland, France, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore) not to mention places such as Macau, Malaysia, Turkey and Mauritius.

Under the circumstances, it's baffling that one can read supposedly intelligent people putting forward the idea that the supposed under-supply of horses in training stems from the supposed fact that there aren't enough horses being bred.  Unbelievable.  Ask any trainer whether the problem is getting hold of horses or getting hold of people to own them, and you'll be left in no doubt at all as to the root of the problem.  Of course, there's always more to anything than meets the eye, and it strikes me that there's an element of disingenuity (is that a word?) in people putting forward the idea that the problem is that there aren't enough foals being bred to meet the demands of the supply of people wanting to own horses in training.

Where to start?  This line of reasoning suits our leaders, because it takes attention away from just how badly they are failing in their task of finding a solution to the sport's financial woes.  (The current, and probably temporary, glut of overseas-owned horses - which is illustrated by the current situation which sees 60% of the horses in training in Newmarket owned by overseas investors - also suits them, because it takes attention away from the fact that it is becoming ever harder to maintain the core of British owners on which British racing's future depends).  It suits the stallion owners, a small but very influential group.  It further suits the BHA (and Weatherbys) because the registration fees gleaned from any increase in the foal crop would represent a nice bonus.

But it doesn't suit anyone who believes that the best way to promote the health of British racing is not by pretending that its problems don't exist, or that they are other than what they are.


neil kearns said...

We are 30 miles from Chester as the crowflies on the same weather line and it hammered down all night and till mid morning that wet the dogs wouldn't go out

Has been hot and sunny all afternoon though I reckon by late tomorrow the ground will be very churned up

Sorry for that bad news

John Berry said...

Thanks, Neil. Seemed too good to be true that the ground could indeed be 'good'. Likelihood is that 'bad' could be an equally appropriate description. She ran there last September on ground officially described as 'good', and my view then was that you could only have viewed it as being a good surface for horses to gallop on if you disliked horses.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

neil kearns said...

And finally somebody mentions the elephant in the room well done as usual beautifully put (except Math horrible americanisation)John you have addressed the relevant points the problem is that as usual those in power will ignore the problem
There is no simple answer to the prize money issue but until someone comes to the table with something radical as a proposed answer nothing will occur .It can be done but too many sacred cows are out there - just as a for instance why put any prize money into group racing their status should be sufficient to get major sponsorship for each of these races and allow the prize money to spread around -oops that would mean sponsors at Royal Ascot - sacred cow time

John Berry said...

I hasten to add that I use the yankee phrase 'do the math' with my tongue very firmly in my cheek, Neil!

neil kearns said...

I assume this is the effect of too much Berry TV time

neil kearns said...

I have done the sums !!

OK we are going for 25 meetings per week 2each Monday, Tuesday, Sunday 3 Wednesday, Thursday,fFriday 4 on Saturday and 6 night meetings

This gives us 1300 meetings per annum

7 races per meeting

Gives us 9100 races

Our minimum price fund is 10000 made up 6000 for the winner 2000 second 1250 third 750 fourth

This meanns we need 91 million total minimum

We have 73 million from the bookies

We charge courses 10000 for the privilege of having a meeting stagger this if you want but let's keep it simple or know this yields 13 million

We charge on course bookmakers 2000 per meeting for the privelege yields 2.6 million

Entry fees first stage £20 per horse final declaration £ 50 per horse our aim is 30 at initial Declaration and 12 in the race - no refunds for allotted out runners

This yields 10.9 million and we have 99.7 million the surplus over the 90 can either be used for the integrity funding - which to my mind should be totally funded by an extra bookie payment as they are the oonly real beneficiary of this service

It is then up to the courses to enhance the value of the races which they wish to make the bigger draws with sponsorship and getting more expensive entry fees to chase the higher prize money

What we have done here is enhance the minima at the expense of the middling and the top and as such probably will not suit many what it does show is that the money is there if choose to distribute it differently

John Berry said...

Now that's what I call doing the math!