Addressing small-field races remains top priority

16 Dec 2014 Racing/Fixtures
  • Jump racing statistics to be subjected to ongoing situation analysis
  • Further measures not ruled out in order to help ensure long-term field size targets are met

In the light of disappointing field-size figures in Jump racing over the autumn period, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has today moved to explain the short and long-term strategies for addressing this critical issue for the sport.

Tackling the issue of small field sizes has been a priority for BHA throughout the compilation of the 2015 Fixture List and race programme. In October, BHA published a series of initiatives designed to address this issue, which included the targeted removal of around 100 Jump races from the 2015 programme. The races will be removed primarily in the September to November period, a traditional ‘pinch-point’ for Jump racing fields, and around 80 will be Steeple Chases.

However, these may not be the only steps which are taken to address the issue. BHA has set the long-term target that from 2017 we will be approaching 60% of all Steeple Chase races and 75% of all Hurdle races featuring eight or more runners. In order to help ensure that these targets are met BHA will be carrying out an ongoing ‘situation analysis’ of all available data regarding Jump racing, in order to be best able to react to changes in the industry and make alterations to the race programme or fixture list as appropriate.

Paul Bittar, BHA Chief Executive, said:

“The British racing public’s affinity for Jump racing is clear and its popularity is undiminished. Attendances continue to be very strong for the feature meetings, as exemplified by the record crowds at this year’s Cheltenham Open meeting, while eight of the top 10 betting races so far in 2014 have been Jump races.

“However, we have made it very clear over the past months that arguably the biggest challenge facing racing, and in particular Jump racing, is the issue of small-field races and the importance of competitiveness at all levels of the sport. We are well aware that field sizes and the number of races with sufficient numbers have been well below what we consider acceptable at this stage of this season.

“This trend was predicted and is exactly why we have taken action to address it by introducing a range of robust measures, including the removal of around 100 jump races from the programme in 2015. There were some questions raised regarding this at the time but we hope now that the need for firm action is clear.

“It will take time for the measures implemented in 2015 to have an impact. This is not going to be a quick-fix and we have set what we believe are realistic targets. However, to meet those targets it is likely that more steps will need to be taken. This is why we have instigated a thorough and ongoing statistical analysis of Jump racing so that we can address specific areas of concern accordingly.”

Statistics show that of 1012 Jump races staged in September, October and November this year the average field size was 7.7 and 55% of races failed to attract eight or more runners. In Steeple Chases the average field size in this period was 6.4.

This mirrors the trend over the course of the year for declining field sizes in Jump races. For the period 1 January to 30 November 2014 the average Jump field sizes have decreased to 8.9, down from 9.7 in 2010. In Steeple Chases the average field size is 7.0, down from 7.8 in 2010, while the average Hurdle field size is down to 8.8, from 10.5 in 2010.

Against the background of declining field sizes, the industry’s strategy of expanding the race programme in recent years to optimise income has led to the Steeple Chase programme in particular expanding by over 100 races since 2008. During this time the number of total appearances in Steeple Chases per year has decreased by nearly 1,400, representing a decline of 13.9%.

A notable factor has also been a decrease in the number of Jump horses in training in 2014. After a period of steady decline this key metric had shown signs of stability in 2013, as the average number of Jump horses in training returned a slight increase compared to 2012. However in 2014 there has been another decline in these figures as they have reduced by 3.5% from 4,398 in 2013 to 4,244 in 2014. This is in contrast to Flat horses which have seen a 1% rise in the same period.

Paul Bittar added:

“Central to our ability to meet targets is the size of the horse population set against the number of races run. The industry’s strategy in recent years has been to expand the Fixture List and race programme in order to optimise income, but it would be anomalous for this to continue when set against a flat or declining horse population. The initiatives announced this year were based on a horse population which was showing signs of stabilising after a period of decline, however the further drop in the number of Jump horses in training is clearly a concern.

“It is fully recognised that addressing this issue will require a three dimensional approach that leads to the sport being a more attractive medium for investment. The progress we are making in terms of the future funding and prize money together with greater promotion of the sport will, no doubt, help contribute to an upturn in the horse population.

“Small-field and uncompetitive races are damaging for British Racing. They are unattractive for punters as a betting medium, they undermine the credibility of the sport internationally, and crucially – in a factor sometimes overlooked – they create much greater threat of integrity issues. This may mean some pain in the short-term but the long-term goal is building a more secure future for British Racing from both a sporting and commercial perspective.”

Other initiatives which have recently been announced include:

  • Through establishment of targets for field sizes and strengthening the use of data, BHA – in conjunction with racecourses – will deliver a more optimised race programme.
  • General restrictions on the number of races per fixture, including specific restrictions at certain times of the year.
  • A formal review of the entry, declaration and non-runner processes.
  • The use of £4.2m of the bookmakers’ Additional Voluntary Contribution Fund to ensure that most Class 2 – 6 races will pay down to at least 6th place.
  • The programming of valuable series of Sunday races, such as the recently announced Veterans’ Steeple Chase Series, again using the Bookmakers’ Additional Voluntary Contribution Fund.
  • Lifting the restriction on the number of races that can be re-offered on any one day.

Notes to Editors

1. Detailed statistics related to field sizes and horse population can be found attached: http://www.britishhorseracing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/PRESS-RELEASE-Small-Field-Races-16-12-14-Stats1.pdf

2. Further details of the race planning initiatives published in October can be found here: http://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/bha-reveals-initiatives-address-small-field-races/

3. Details of how the Bookmakers’ Additional Voluntary Contribution Fund will be deployed can be found here: http://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/4-5m-contribution-bookmakers-used-incentivise-competitive-racing/

4. Details of the Veterans’ Chase Series can be found here: http://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/bha-announces-new-veterans-chase-series-worth-400000/