BHA REVEALS INITIATIVES TO ADDRESS SMALL-FIELD RACES

21 Oct 2014 Financial/Political Racing/Fixtures

Following the publication of the 2015 Fixture List, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has today announced a series of measures designed to address issues regarding the increasing number of uncompetitive, small-field races.

Paul Bittar, BHA Chief Executive, said:

“Set against a list of positive developments such as increased prize money, healthy racecourse attendances and the exceptionally high quality of racing at the top end, small-field races have become arguably the biggest challenge facing British Racing in recent years. Not only are they unattractive to punters and customers but they also reflect badly on British Racing when compared with other major jurisdictions, at a time when Racing is becoming an increasingly international sport.

“The increase in small-field races is the result of a decline in the number of horses in training of around 1,600 horses since 2008, combined with an increase of around 650 races being added to the race programme in this period.

“The measures which we outline today are aimed at tackling this issue head on. If successful, the reduction of both the proportion of small-field races at certain times of the year and the total reduction in the number of small-field races will improve the competitiveness of British Racing, making it more attractive for both the on-course and off-course customer, and as an international product.

“British Racing has so much to be proud of in terms of breeding and training great horses and attracting the world’s best horses to many of the world’s best races. This needs to be underpinned by a Racing product which performs well at all levels of the pyramid.”

The initiatives are as follows:

  • Targeted removal of All Weather races and rebalancing the Flat programme

In the region of 70 All Weather races will be removed from the programme. These races will be removed from the January to March period which is a ‘pinch-point’ for small-field races at All Weather fixtures.

This will be supported by a limit of on average 6.5 races being staged on All Weather cards in this period.

This removal of races will be offset by the nine additional All Weather twilight fixtures which have been added to the programme in September, October and November to provide opportunities for horses at a time when there are generally healthy field sizes as well as a number of eliminations.

Twilight fixtures have been added to the Fixture List in this manner in each of the last few years.

  • Targeted removal of Jump races, in particular Chases

The Chase programme has expanded by over 100 races since 2008 but in the same period the total number of runners in Chases has decreased by over 1,000.

In the region of 100 Jump races will be removed from the race programme, with the vast majority of these races (around 80) being Chases. This is due to the fact that there are currently too many races for the horse population to be able to satisfactorily service.

In addition, racecourses and BHA will work together to ensure that the races which are removed, as far as possible, will be ‘duplicate’ races and under-performing races in order to avoid damaging the Chase programme.

The majority of these races will be removed in the periods September to November and January to March and will be delivered by all fixtures – excluding those meetings worth over £75,000 in prize money – being restricted to an average of 6.5 races per card, and Chases being limited to an average of 2.5 races per card.

Ruth Quinn, Director of Racing for BHA, said:

“There has been a fundamental change in the relationship between the number of races and the number of runners in British racing. This is the primary driver creating the current issue with small fields which is damaging the competitive nature of British racing and its international reputation.

“This is why the rebalancing of the race programme and the reduction in the number of races to be programmed, especially Chases, is an essential step. We are committed to protecting the long-term health of the Chasing programme and these are steps that we feel are in the best interest of that programme.

“The number of Chases staged in Britain has expanded rapidly in the last four years, indeed, even with the proposed reduction in the number of Chases, the programme of such races will still be larger than at any point prior to 2011. This is all at a time when the horse population has been in steady decline, with the number of Chasers competing in races falling by over 1,000 since 2008.”

  • General restrictions on number of races per fixture

To prevent the race programme expanding beyond the target limits, all fixtures must now consist of no more than seven races. This is an alteration from the current Rule which allows up to eight races to be scheduled, with limits to seven for Jumping during summer.

However, courses will be permitted to divide races to create up to an eight-race card, where appropriate.

  • Optimised race planning

The removal of 170 races represents an investment by the industry in an opportunity to improve the existing programme. BHA will work closely with racecourses and horsemen to ensure that as far as possible the correct races are removed with the objective of redirecting runners from the removed races to other, appropriate opportunities.

This is alongside BHA’s ongoing commitment to work with the industry to ensure that the race programme is the most appropriate to meet the needs of the horse population at any time and identify any gaps which develop and rebalance the programme as appropriate.

  • Trial of short-notice race removal

A three-month trial from January to March on the All Weather of removing at declarations stage any races which attract four or fewer declarations.

Races will be designated as ‘at risk’ if they attract 10 or fewer entries, with horsemen being warned and alternatives flagged. Should four or less declarations then be attracted the race will be deleted from the programme.

Only two horses per trainer would be counted in determining the number of entries. Also, races with four declarations or fewer, but which had received more than 10 entries, would not be deleted as they had not been declared ‘at risk’. The above will only apply for non-developmental races and only on cards where there are seven or more races, or where an alternative race can divide, and will not apply to races on Saturdays.

Only races of Class 4 or below are susceptible to deletion and a race will not be deleted if there are no other broadly similar options open to horsemen within seven days.

Ruth Quinn added:

“We believe that short-notice race removal is a proposal that is worthy of trialling. It could potentially offer the most effective and targeted method of avoiding small-field, uncompetitive races being staged, as well as bolstering other races as horses intended for deleted races are redeployed.

“We are aware of the potential inconvenience factor for horsemen – especially owners – and sponsors. This is why we are implementing this on a trial basis only, which at this stage will be restricted to the All Weather in the main ‘pinch-point’ for small-field races.”

  • Review of entry / declarations and non-runner processes

A full consultation will take place on the current entry and declarations processes, including analysis of best practice from international jurisdictions, as well as the consideration of a data-based approach to understanding not only what horses are in training at any given time but also what horses are ready to run.

The review will also incorporate the current non-runner systems and processes with a view to further reducing the non-runner rate. This is in addition to recent measures implemented to monitor non-runner rates for individual trainers more closely and take action when a trainer’s non-runner rates are above a certain threshold.

  • All Weather Championships

The All Weather Championships in their first year produced an uplift in field sizes across the course of the campaign.  It is anticipated that the second year of the Championships will have a greater impact as horsemen better understand the opportunities it provides and have time to respond to the uplift in the race programme.

The measures being introduced today will evolve over time and all be subject to review in their own right. In compiling these proposals BHA has also agreed measurable ‘success rates’ with the industry, which will be used to monitor the effectiveness of the proposals in both the short and long term.

In the short term (by the end of 2016) the success rates are projected to be that at least 70% of all Flat Turf, All Weather and Hurdle races will have eight or more runners, and 50% of Chases. In the longer term (by 2020) the objective is that those will have further increased to 75% and 60% of all races, respectively.

Philip Freedman, Chairman of the Horsemen’s Group, said:

“Both the removal of races from the programme and the trial of the short-notice race removal presents challenges for horsemen; however, we recognise that addressing these issues is in the best interests of the sport as whole and is essential if its income is to be protected. We would hope that optimum race programming, together with the other initiatives that form part of these actions, as well as the continuation of the small but positive increase in the number of horses in training, will ensure that these measures only be required for the short-term.”

Stephen Atkin, Chief Executive of the Racecourse Association, said:

“I agree with Paul Bittar that this year’s Fixture List process has been challenging. The RCA has throughout worked with BHA, the Horsemen’s Group, the Levy Board and our representative groups. We are generally supportive about the size of the Fixture List.

“We share the concerns of BHA and other stakeholders about the issue of field sizes. Whilst more research has been undertaken this year than ever before this is a complex issue and we are all working hard to better our understanding. We have worked, and continue to do so, with BHA and others to address this challenge and have identified and are actioning a range of measures. Whilst we would have liked to avoid a restriction on races being staged, given the adverse impact on both racecourse income and prize money, we have worked hard with BHA to limit this as far as possible. It is vital that we continue to monitor the effect of these changes and react accordingly to abandonments and other factors which may arise in the future.

“In particular we welcome the forthcoming review of the entry system and continued emphasis on optimising the race programme and fixture list to ensure it best meets the needs of the horse population. Whilst the RCA remains concerned about reducing the number of races, it is anticipated that this will be a short term measure to reflect the current challenges to the horse population that will be reversed as soon as possible.”

 

Notes to editors:

1. The 2015 Fixture List was published on 20 October and can be found here: http://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/british-horseracings-2015-fixture-list-published/

2. Graphs highlighting the relationship between the number of races run and field sizes, alongside the average horse population in Britain can be downloaded in the Useful Documents Sidebar.

3. The following chart highlights the number of races and number of runners by race type since 2005.

Year Flat AWT Races Flat AWT Runners Flat Turf Races Flat Turf Runners Chase Races Chase Runners Hurdle Races Hurdle Runners
2005 1,565 17,719 3,736 42,371 1,345 11,753 1,938 22,767
2006 2,076 22,119 3,478 37,123 1,374 12,251 2,006 23,117
2007 2,143 22,001 3,516 38,080 1,304 11,392 1,907 22,157
2008 2,486 23,531 3,642 38,467 1,372 12,461 1,991 23,519
2009 2,322 22,299 3,932 39,670 1,351 11,699 2,017 22,256
2010 2,264 21,205 4,045 39,611 1,317 10,542 1,940 20,667
2011 2,244 20,347 4,026 39,245 1,561 11,481 2,312 23,254
2012 2,373 22,092 3,734 36,501 1,409 10,690 2,131 20,891
2013 2,394 20,822 4,002 36,704 1,494 11,360 2,256 21,950

 

4. Short term race removals:

There were 140 races with fewer than 11 entries in January/February/March 2014.

16 of these races resulted in four or fewer declarations.

Excluding Saturdays, Class 2/3 races and developmental races this resulted in 11 races which would have been deleted under this system.

5. The following success rates have been agreed after discussion with stakeholders:

  Races ≥ 8 runners 2013 Races ≥ 8 runners short-term target Races ≥ 8 Runners long-term target
Flat Turf and All Weather 64.8% 70% 75%
Hurdle 71.1% 70% 75%
Chase 43.8% 50% 60%

 

It should be noted that the focus is on reducing the number of small-field races, rather than setting average field size targets. It is small-field races where the problem lies and it is by addressing these races that the average field size will benefit.

Short-term targets are proposed as being met by 2016, with longer term targets meaning 2017-20.