Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Targets hit?

It's been good to read plenty of further comment on Peter Stanley's Racing Post letter, all of it echoing his concerns.  One thing which we possibly ought to do is to hail the BHA for having previously tried to address the concern.  One reason/pretext/excuse (delete as applicable) which the guilty parties used to use for retiring short-distance colts at the end of their two-year-old season was that there would be a dearth of suitable races for them to contest in the future.  When one considers how many valuable and/or prestigious sprints there are for horses aged three and above, this was a touch hard to swallow, particularly bearing in mind what a good record three-year-olds have generally had in Britain's principal weight-for-age sprints.

However, the BHA, to its credit, decided to act to try to address the problem of premature retirement by removing this excuse.  The sprint programme for three-year-olds was expanded, most notably by creating a new Group One sprint, the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.  Anyway, this admirable plan has clearly been a failure: decent short-distance two-year-old colts are still being retired to stud, and in greater numbers than ever before.  Furthermore, the results of the Commonwealth Cup have shown why the plan was doomed to failure, having been won by two horses (Muharrar and Quiet Reflection) good enough to win at weight-for-age.

It ought to be the case that a Group One race should be won by a horse good enough to win at weight-for-age, so it is good that has transpired that that is indeed the standard required to win the Commonwealth Cup.  But that means that the race does not solve the problem.  There always has been a good supply of weight-for-age sprints, so genuine Group One horses have never had anything to complain about.  The complaints about lack of opportunities were being made on behalf of horses not good enough for such races; and the creation of the Commonwealth Cup, while it has created an opportunity for good but not top-class horses to run, has not created an opportunity for such horses to win.  Hence we are still seeing an increase in the number of good, but not outstanding, two-year-old colts being retired to stud.  And breeders unfortunately are still rewarding this practice.

On the subject of things not working, ever since QIPCO British Champions' Day it has been buzzing around in my head that one ought to point out that the restructuring of the programme which spawned that fixture has been a failure.  I heard TV pundits on the day telling us what a success the change had been, and I felt that this misinformation ought to be corrected at some point.  The day itself, of course, is a big success.  If you put on a day consisting of extremely valuable Group One races, you're going to get good fields and good races.  And if you have a huge budget to promote this day and put on musical entertainment afterwards, you are going to get a big and happy crowd.  That is obvious.

But the point of the restructuring was not the creation of a very good race-day: this was only the means to an end. The end was to solve one of British racing's very big problems: the fact that the sport is not seen as a suitable sponsorship opportunity by the marketing departments of the big companies.  We are blessed to have very generous sponsorship from studs, from concerns controlled by philanthropic racing enthusiasts (eg Investec, QIPCO, Timico) and from bookmakers (although not as many as previously, now that several bookmakers are not allowed to sponsor races) but we don't have support from the impartial multi-nationals, simply because the geniuses who control the marketing budgets of such concerns believe (incorrectly, in my opinion) that racing does not appeal to a wide enough (nor correct enough) audience.

The Grand National has at times been the one exception among the big races.  Even the Derby has not been able to break through: Ever Ready only sponsored it when Sir Gordon White was in charge, and Vodafone only sponsored it when Sir Ernest Harrison and Sir Gerald Whent were in charge.  The creation of the British Champions' Series in general and British Champions' Day in particular was intended to address this problem.  The aim was not to create something which the racing audience regarded as a major event; it was to create something which the wider audience regarded as a major event (or was believed by the marketing men to regard as a major event).  This change would, or so it was believed, result in a change in the position which our sport holds in the sponsorship market-place.

Of course, no such change has happened.  Whereas in Australia, where big racing events are viewed as big days for society in general rather than merely for racing enthusiasts, during the recent Spring Carnival in Melbourne we had the Group One BMW Caulfield Cup, the Group One Schweppes Thousand Guineas, the Group One Myer Classic, the Group One AAMI Victoria Derby, the Group One Ig Markets Toorak Handicap, the Group Two Dilmah Caulfield Spring, the Group Two Schweppes Tristarc Stakes, the Group Two Schweppes Crystal Mile, the Group Two Antler Luggage Moonee Valley Cup, the Group Two Mumm Wakeful Stakes, the Group Two Lucrf Super Vase Stakes, the Group Two P. W. Glass Fillies' Classic, the Group Two 7 News Matriarch Stakes, the Group Three Telstra Phonewords Stakes, the Group Three Lexus Stakes, the Group Three Merlin Garage Door Openers, the Group Three Cape Grim Beef Stakes, the Group Three Sensis Stakes, the Group Three L'Oreal Paris Stakes, the Lavazza Prontissimo, the Schweppes#flemingtonfling Stakes, the Lexus Hybrid Stakes, the Mumm Stakes, the James Boag's Premium Stakes, the Mss Security Sprint, the 3AW Talking Melbourne Mile, the Tcl Quhd TV Stakes, the Hilton Stakes, the Antler Luggage.

Those races are just from the two Saturdays of Caulfield, the one Saturday of Moonee Valley and the four days of Flemington.  And that's on top of the usual benefactors such as Emirates Airlines, Coolmore, Darley, Crown Casino, William Hill, TAB etc.  Compare that with the UK, where the Schweppes Gold Trophy at Newbury disappeared off the map maybe 30 years ago, the Schweppes Golden Mile at Goodwood maybe 20 years ago, and the L'Oreal Hurdle at Newbury maybe 35 years ago.  See what I mean?  The re-arrangement of the programme will only have achieved its objective when we have a similar breadth of commercial, non-racing-oriented sponsors on our big days here.  That was the laudable aim, but that day is not even remotely in sight.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

two points on this post firstly two year olds retiring I fully agree with every point you made however if breeders are willing to service these early retiring types then financially it is a no brainer for these owners - even if the horse were to become the uk champion sprinter in its four year old season having won numerous races along the way it is highly unlikely given the paucity of prize money available that this would financially benefit the owner the only answer is for the breeders with mares to avoid these retirees entirely BUT we all know they won't - perhaps a little subtle tinkering with race conditions a series of valuable two year old races only open to those sired by horses aged five plus at the time of siring maybe

As to the sponsorship issue this is symptomatic of a problem racing has which it has never addressed in the UK and that is elitism whether this be ridiculously high entrance fees (should be no more than a £5 - the rest of the course revenue should be generated from on course sales of one sort or another) strict dress codes , segregated enclosures (for me racing's biggest issue to the populous as a whole - the only people who should get a separate area are the owners) , the obsession of courses with corporate entertainment over individual racegoers , jockeys doffing caps to owners etc or merely the lack of openess actually on the track why do we not have roving reporters interviewing connections - particuarly the jockeys - pre race on every track for every race - a tv viewer gets a lot better service for avoiding the track . No acceptance by racings elite that people who go racing like a bet but would like a few clues along the way . If the powers that be wish to appear open to all then they have to be open to all qand then just maybe the brands who do not want to appear "targetted" at a particular group may be more open to play If joe public feel racing is in anyway elitist then so will the potential sponsors and the racing industry has never ever got remotely close to addressing this