At its most recent Board meeting, BHB endorsed in its entirety the comprehensive Report produced by its National Hunt & Fixtures Review Group, which is published today.
* Strength and Competitiveness of Jumping
– The Review Group found general confidence in the underlying strength and resilience of National Hunt racing within the industry, rather than any gloom or despondency. This was in marked contrast to the atmosphere found at the time of the last Review in 1993.
* National Hunt’s Share of the Fixture List
– Whilst improvement is required in a number of areas, this strength justifies National Hunt racing retaining its current share of the Fixture List, subject to a package of race programme measures to improve competitiveness. The aim should be to restore the average annual number of runs per horse to 4 from its present 3.61, and thereby further reduce the number of races with small fields of 7 or less runners, through:
(i) adjusting the alignment of the grading of steeple chases, and to a lesser extent hurdle races, to the available horse population
(ii) an increase in races for horses around the median of 90, including more lower-grade handicaps and the introduction of Classified Stakes in the 0-80 to 0-100 range
(iii) a reduction in the number of open handicaps but with a compensatory increase in the value of those remaining
– In making these necessary adjustments emphasis will always be on ensuring that horses rated above 100 continue to win almost all the prize fund but that those just below that level with some ability get a fair chance to win races of limited value.
– The present ratio of Flat and National Hunt fixtures is the product over time of a process akin to natural selection with an interplay of financial, regional and horse factors leading to the present division and must not lightly be disregarded.
– BHB has accepted that, whilst the Review Group’s recommended changes to ensure competitiveness are being implemented over a period of 3-5 years, the number of National Hunt fixtures should not fall below the present figure of 525.
* Fixture Incentive Scheme
– Because a much larger proportion of NH meetings take place outside the peak period for racegoing, at a time of worse weather and when maintenance costs are higher, the current Fixture Incentive Scheme (FIS) payments for staging NH racing are inadequate, being generally lower than for Flat racing. To redress the balance, ultimately an additional £937,000 in Fixture Incentive payments is required from the Levy Board. (The current range of FIS payments is £1,500 to £10,000 – the new proposed range is £3,000 to £13,000 with much bigger percentage shifts in some months).
– Important recommendations to adjust the current seasonal arrangements are as follows:
(i) the creation of core and summer periods as separate NH seasons for championships
(ii) the core period to end on Whitbread Gold Cup day
(iii) the summer period to run from then to the end of September
(iv) the practicality of creating a number of blank NH days immediately following the end of each period to be explored
* All Weather Tracks
– No significant change is recommended. However, some minor adjustments to the financial arrangements for the ‘Blanket Period’ from January to March are suggested:
(i) the basis for awarding Basic Daily Rate payments should be simplified
(ii) minimum values for low grade races should undergo a small reduction
(iii) fixtures should receive an improved Fixture Incentive payment
– National Hunt breeding in Great Britain was judged to be in a parlous state, requiring measures of encouragement, to include:
(i) the introduction of owners’ premiums for British-bred NH stock when funds become available to build on recent measures over breeders’ prizes
(ii) the restriction of a small number of NH Flat races to British-bred stock
(iii) the provision of more races for fillies and mares over hurdles and in NH Flat races to enhance their value and classify the dams of the next generation
(iv) an increase in the number of “”National Hunt”” novice hurdles, restricted to horses not raced on the Flat
BHB is setting up an Implementation Group to oversee the introduction and application of the Review Group’s recommendations. This will be chaired by the Racing Director, Paul Greeves, and will consist of Nigel Clark (Vice-Chairman of the Review Group) and the nominated representatives of the NTF (Toby Balding), RCA (Edward Gillespie) and ROA (Adrian Grazebrook).
The Implementation Group will start work shortly but a number of the recommendations have already been adopted or are being actively pursued. These include:
* A review of the type of hurdle to be used (for which a separate Committee has already been appointed)
* Proposed changes to the Fixture Incentive Scheme to achieve equity between the two codes (which have already been proposed to the Levy Board for adoption in 2000)
* An increase in Minimum Values for National Hunt Flat races (agreed from 1st July 1999)
* Measures to deal with slippage in the rating file (an increase of 10lbs in all hurdle ratings and an alignment of the hurdle and chasing files has already been effected)
* Formalisation of Ground Rules for the NH Pattern along the lines of the Flat, (currently under review by the NH Pattern Panel)
* A review of the Weight-For-Age scale (paper shortly to be considered by the Race Planning Committee)
Michael Harris of the ROA said: “”The ROA is strongly supportive of National Hunt racing and believes the Review Group has come up with a set of recommendations that will help to reinforce jump racing in this country. It is something we do better than anywhere else in the world and its status must never be allowed to decline. We particularly applaud the idea of introducing owners’ premiums for British-breds.””
Toby Balding of the NTF said: “”A well researched and comprehensive review of National Hunt racing at the present time and I’m sure the recommendations and follow up will take us well into the Millennium and beyond and establish National Hunt racing as the national sport it is.””
David Oldrey (Chairman of 1993/95 and 1998/99 Review Groups) said: “”Everything says that real progress has been achieved by National Hunt Racing since 1993 but matching the Flat in terms of competitiveness is still unfinished business. I am confident the changes recommended will turn the trick and thereby secure Jumping’s future via its share of the Fixture List.””