Saturday, January 02, 2016

All is quiet on New Year's Day

New Year's Day.  Great excitement.  I came closer than normal to 'seeing in' the New Year, having gone to bed late, at around 10.50.  But that was only because I had fallen asleep in front of the TV earlier on.  So New Year's Eve / New Year's Day isn't really a big thing on my radar, but it'll be a lovely start (more or less) to 2016 if either Indira (pictured in this paragraph with Lucinda having her first exercise of 2016, while we then see the dogs having their last walk of 2015) or Blue Sea Of Ibrox were to win the 2.00 at Chelmsford on Sunday 3rd January.  What has also been a lovely start to the new year was that there was a Scottish-trained winner at Cheltenham today (Seeyouatmidnight) and also a second place there for the wonderful 13-year-old Knockara Beau, who is trained somewhere near Newcastle.

This was good, and particularly good as it came at a time when the dearth of good National Hunt horses in training in the north is noticeable and sad.  (And, on which subject, it is worth noting that the Nicky Richards-trained Simply Ned finished second in a Grade One race at Leopardstown on Sunday).  Anyway, this has been ongoing for a while, but it's particularly topical at present because 10 days ago the Racing Post carried an overview of the recently published Jump Racing Review, a BHA project which is the brainchild (used in its wider sense) of a 20-strong panel which has come up with 41 recommendations to improve the health of National Hunt racing, with National Hunt racing in the north being a particular area of concern.

As I generally share Bill O'Gorman's view that "ideally a committee should contain an odd number of people; three is generally too many", the idea of a 20-strong committee does make me feel slightly ill at ease.  Furthermore, I generally like brevity, so the idea of a 51-page report (particularly if it is a 51-page report which is "intentionally, tightly focussed", a phrase which suggests to me that it ought to be a one-page report) also is a slight worry.  Plus another concern is the fact that the committee contains people with titles (and I don't mean Lord Daresbury etc.) such as 'the BHA's director of racing development' and 'the BHA's new chief operating officer' - although I suppose that we should be grateful (or regretful) that there's no sign of the Minister for Administrative Affairs of the BBC's Head of Values.  I suppose really that it's just a general 21st century thing to give every employee a meaningless title, and I've just got to live with that.

Anyway, I'm probably (as you've already worked out) going to be unfair to this quango - especially as I haven't read the document, and won't do so either as life's too short - but I've read the Racing Post's summary, and I had to shake my head while doing so.  It is a given that when all's said and done, there's a lot more said than done, and I'm afraid that this 51-page document seems a classic example of that.  Tony Smurthwaite is generally a very sensible pundit (and he's almost certainly a lot less allergic to officialdom and its nonsense and jargon than I am) so I think that we'll just restrict ourselves to some of his observations:-

"With its talk of creating logical and deliverable solutions, as if logic and delivery might otherwise have been absent, the BHA review group has found refuge in corporate speak ... What has emerged is a report that is almost dizzying in its reach.  From the sublime to the vertiginous.  Whether even one idea raised has been politely left out is a moot point; the 41 recommendations form a wish list which is wishy-washy.  One idea is for a kiosk, another is to develop a new high-profile event to rival Cheltenham and Aintree.  All are given equal relevance ... Of course, they're only recommendations, but they're recommendations without sufficient grit to allow anyone to grasp whether they are ideas thrown around in a committee debate, or deliverable solutions."

Anyway, the period from April to December has only been long enough to produce this interim report: apparently our 20 saviours have retired for further deliberation and will produce their next update in May.  But in the meantime all we can do is to hope that there is not too much money being wasted on this nonsense.  Am I being unfair in saying that this is nonsense?  Well, I'll just make a brief observation: the problem with racing in Great Britain, Flat and National Hunt, is that the costs of ownership inevitably rise all the time, and prize money levels (for the vast majority of races at least, if not for the ones at the very top) continue to lag behind ever further. In other words, it is becoming ever more expensive to own horses, and the consequence of this is that the domestic ownership base is constantly shrinking.  On the Flat this is partially masked by the patronage of a handful of international billionaires who can lose almost unlimited amount of millions each year, but over jumps there is no such hiding place.

It appears, though, that you wouldn't have thought so from these committees' (which includes this committee's) findings.  We've previously had breeding think-tanks which agonise about whether there are enough horses being bred to fill the fixture list, which overlooks the simple fact that there are more than enough thoroughbreds alive and still being bred, but just a dearth of people willing and able to pay to put them into training.  And, predictably, this committee has fallen into this trap too, witness the observation that, "the board feels a deeper review will be required on the supply of horses, and specifically the state of the British jump breeding industry.  What can be done to provide a sustainable supply of horses and to enable a thriving British jump breeding industry to flourish?"

Furthermore (and this was in the same edition of the Racing Post which highlighted that John Quinn had trained the Triumph Hurdle three years previously, but now has not even one juvenile hurdler in his stable because he can't find any people to own them) we have ideas, including creating a new training centre, to encourage more people to train in the north.  Give me strength!  The problem isn't a lack of trainers or stables in the north.  There are umpteen top-class trainers and stables in the north, but there aren't enough owners to fill them - so creating more trainers and more stables is hardly going to solve that problem.

Anyway, this can be one of the many topics that we can revisit as 2016 develops.  Let's hope that we can also revisit the odd winner's enclosure from time to time during the year - including, if we are lucky, at some point with So Much Water, who can be seen earlier in this chapter having some stalls practice on Tuesday morning in some of the unseasonably pleasant weather we have been having, and who is pencilled in finally to make her debut at Kempton on 6th January.  Fingers crossed she hasn't (yet) showed signs of being as difficult in the stalls as her half-brother and doppelganger Roy.  She's ready to run - even to the extent that she's now clipped, wearing a rug and living in a stable, which have been three new experiences for her recently.


glenn.pennington said...

Your blogs are consistently informative and thought-provoking John. I've learned more about the way the horse racing industry runs by reading them, than I ever have elsewhere, and if ever a trainer deserved some decent bloodstock, it's you.

Many thanks for finding the time to pen these missives, and long may they continue.

neil kearns said...

yet again you have hit the nail on the head until the minimum prize value for winning a race covers six months of a horses upkeep (at least) then all other thoughts are frankly pointless so given the percentages to trainer and jockey you are looking at a minimum winners prize value of any race of around the £ 12500 mark and how you get from where we are now to that is one for 20 people committees to waste even more time and money pondering when it is actually very simple .

Take the total added prize money for the year of whatever number of million lets say 60 million for want of a figure divide by 20000 (allows for place money) which gives if my maths is correct gives 3000 races which can be funded which equates to 500 6 race meetings

so if people (bookmakers) want more - then they should pay for them

and i accept that entry fees can be added to the price fund to you can get probably another hundred meetings out there and sponsorship can be used to boost the 20k race value

second thought referring to last weeks whip debate yesterday we had the sight of the gallant Soll being flogged stupid by Scudamore to get up when out on its feet as I was a punter on the winner I should not complain but to me the horse and all connections should have been thrown out and I note that yet again this is happening in a very high value race which seems to mean that jockeys are more willing to take liberties -I still think the only way to stop this is to ensure that all involved lose out - I also wonder if and when the RSPCA will bring a prosecution against a jockey for this sort of action (my wife thinks Scudamore should be publically flogged for 4 miles round Sandown)

David Winter said...

Your missive is so relevant,,,again and again we hear of yet another strategic F*****G overview...OMG redolent of the demise of the Roman Empire...I can hear the fiddles from here.
By the way, should you feel overlooked and miffed by your lack of status in the world of Beverley House, I here appoint you thus:

The Worshipfull Mayor,John Rathenberry,Chairman Emeritus,CEO of Beverley House Stables and Training Centre,Premier Executive for Health and safety, Senior Race Planning Officer, HR Executive responsible for Staff Holidays and sickness, With special responsibilities for Dog Walking and part time shit house cleaner. Oh..addendum, Senior partner in situ to one Emma Berry, with Bar.

There, that should do it: But you won't be getting the £100K salary John !!!!!