March field sizes continue positive trend at end of ‘pinch-point’
In the first of a series of monthly updates regarding field sizes, Antonia Newman from the BHA’s Racing Department analyses the figures for the first Quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014, and the impact of initiatives to address the issue of small-field races.
The end of March marks the end of one of the ‘pinch-points’ in the Racing calendar when field sizes over Jumps and at Flat All Weather fixtures tend to be lower. Whilst field sizes continue to be a concern through this period, the signs are there that initiatives designed to address the issue across the three months have had a positive impact.
Overall average field sizes are up 2% from 8.20 in 2014 to 8.39 in 2015. The majority of this increase is on the Flat, up 4% from 8.00 to 8.32, while Jump field sizes are up 1% from 8.35 to 8.43, arresting a trend towards decline in recent years. Perhaps more importantly than this, the percentage of races with eight or more runners has also increased by 3.8% to 55.9%, while the number of races with fewer than six runners has dropped 3.5% to 15.6%.
What’s causing these early signs of improvement?
We are of the view that these promising figures are in part attributable to the initiatives that the Racing industry put in place to cover this ‘pinch-point’ from 2015, the most prevalent of which was a targeted reduction in the number of programmed races.
On the Flat there were 107 fewer races run on the All Weather compared with the same period in 2014. Primarily this was down to the removal of six Flat AWT fixtures from the Fixture List, alongside a further deduction of around 55 races from the race programme. Two races were also deleted at short notice as part of a trial of voiding small-field races.
Over Jumps c. 60 races were removed from the programme, yet we actually ended up running 65 more races in this period compared to 2014, owing to the fact that there were far fewer abandonments this year (just 22 compared to 59 in 2014). It is pleasing then that Jump field sizes have held up despite the running of more races, and it is possible that these field sizes would have been negatively impacted if it wasn’t for the decision to remove a number of races from the Programme Book upfront.
Alongside the initiatives to reduce programmed races, there is no doubt that field sizes have benefitted from the increased population of horses in training which we published recently (https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/promising-signs-amongst-horse-population-for-first-quarter-of-2015/). There is further optimism to be taken from the figures however, as it is worth noting that the total number of Flat horses in training has increased by 3%, but the biggest increase has been in 2yo horses, which are up by 8% – the vast majority of which have yet to reach the track so there may yet be some further improvement in field sizes still to come for the Flat season ahead.
It is also worth drawing your attention to the substantial increase in prize money offered on the All Weather in particular during this period. The introduction of the All Weather Championships, not only on Good Friday itself but in the months leading up to this finale, have more than doubled the average prize fund of Flat races which is up from £3,182 in 2011 to £7,069 this year and underlines the overall improvement to programme. Average Jump prize funds over the same period have increased by 40%, albeit from a higher base, and total prize money in 2015 is forecast to reach c. £130m.
We are now through the first of two traditional pinch-points (another appears in September through to November over Jumps) and are looking forward to what will hopefully be an exciting and competitive Flat season ahead. At times it can be difficult to determine and adjust for factors which are outside of the BHA’s control, such as the unseasonably dry weather we are experiencing at present causing fast ground and small-fields over Jumps. Nonetheless, a great deal of work remains to be done when it comes to the issue of field sizes. They are a critical element of our sport that requires a joined up approach across the entire industry, including stimulating an increase in ownership and horses in training, areas in which we are starting to see positive signs already.
For a full comparison of the BHA’s statistics over the first Quarter of this year, compared with each of the last five years, click here