My Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen, honoured guests.
Welcome to this, the second annual British Horseracing conference.
As well as giving us a forum to talk about our work over the past year and our strategy for the future, I hope it will give you the chance to participate in the discussion.
Alongside me are:
• BHA Chief Executive, Nic Coward;
• Paul Dixon, President of the Racehorse Owners Association;
• Kirsten Rausing, Chair of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association;
• David Thorpe, Chairman of the Racecourse Association;
• Rupert Arnold, Chief Executive of the National Trainers Federation and representative of The Horseman’s Group;
• and Chris McFadden, Chairman of Racing Enterprises Limited.
We also have with us my fellow BHA Board Members and the Executive team.
And later this morning we’re being joined by the Minister for Sport, Gerry Sutcliffe.
We have some specified times for Q&A and in the interests of an orderly conference can I request that you reserve questions until then.
May I also point you towards the BHA Annual Review, which we are distributing at this meeting.
This contains information about BHA’s activities over the past year.
I can assure you that the content is highly informative.
Some people say the BHA’s had a low profile over the past year. I’m not sure that’s true. Perhaps our style is not to court publicity and make a lot of unnecessary noise but we’ve been intent on getting the job done in a professional, measured and structured way. There’s been a lot going on and the Annual Review, today’s conference and Nic’s presentation should leave you in no doubt of that.
There were a few shafts of light amidst the economic and financial gloom of the last twelve months.
Great Britain re-emerged as a sporting power, bringing back a record haul of medals from the Beijing Olympics.
And in Racing we witnessed more sensational moments than I can possibly list.
Who can forget the sight and sound of Denman powering up the hill to beat Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup?
Or Tony McCoy reaching his astonishing total of 3000 victories in the saddle over jumps?
Or Hayley Turner becoming the first female jockey to ride 100 winners in a year in this country?
Or Ryan Moore’s success on Conduit in the Breeder’s Cup – the perfect finish for a year in which he dominated Britain’s flat jockeys’ championship.
And let’s not forget Anthony Knott on “Wise Men Say” at a gloomy Wincanton.
I hear that this footage was even shown on the ABC network in America!
As I say, you can’t possibly list all the racing highlights of the last year.
But if you did, it would just remind you that British Racing is rich in athleticism, sportsmanship, determination, guts and all of the qualities that make our sport what it is. “Pure passion” as Steve Dennis described it in Sunday’s Racing Post.
However, I suspect that you probably have one big issue on your minds this morning.
Will Racing be able to afford to keep up this level of achievement in an economic environment that’s getting tougher and gloomier by the minute?
We all know that we’re poorer than this time last year. The data is shocking. Stock markets around the world at 6 to 10 year lows. Government and private debt at record levels. $5 trillion wiped off the value of pension schemes alone during 2008. House prices in freefall and millions of jobs under threat.
The crisis in banking and financial markets is taking an increasingly severe toll on the broader economy. It’s translating into the scariest economic recession in our lifetime. No one knows how long this will last but markets will almost certainly not recover until banks worldwide get properly recapitalised and are stable enough to return confidence to the system.
So I‘m going to spend most of my time this morning addressing these issues, what they mean for Racing and how as an industry we must adapt.
The first thing to say is that this recession should not have come as a surprise to any of us.
You may recall that I mentioned the possibilities of a downturn at our first conference a year ago and cautioned that Racing had failed to do much more than stand still over previous years, during which time Britain had enjoyed strong economic growth.
That failure reflected Racing’s perennial leadership crisis.
As a house divided, we could never get our component parts to walk in step.
The BHA’s biggest achievement over the last 18 months has been our work in pulling together the sport and the industry. The racecourses, owners, trainers, jockeys, breeders and others have all put in more effort than I can ever recall to establish a common way forward.
A simple but good example of this closer relationship is that our offices are now shared, not just by the Jockey Club, Racing Enterprises Limited and also the Race Course Association, and soon the Racehorse Owners Association. This promotes a much closer working relationship and of course it makes good financial and business sense.
As you know, perhaps the clearest illustration of Racing’s teamwork is the way that, together, we’ve pursued, presented and argued our case on the Levy.
You’ll see that teamwork in other achievements too – the strategic review of the fixture list, our ongoing work in welfare and integrity and our increasingly coherent commitment to community projects.
We – by which I mean Racing and the BHA – have also been effective and responsive in short-term emergencies. Think of the rescheduling of York’s Ebor Festival and more recently Kempton Park ……… all examples of efficient, effective and close co-operation.
Co-operation is infectious so I find it very encouraging, for example, to have seen more across the board collaboration (Racing, media, betting) this year under the Racing Promotions Group.
So what does this mean in the context of recession?
Well – If we can save a festival here and a raceday there, find some synergies in our individual marketing budgets and make efficiencies in our use of property, it certainly all adds up at the end of the year.
But more importantly, it shows that Racing’s becoming more efficient and more agile.
The BHA has been instrumental in bringing the whole sport to a higher level of fitness, and in that respect alone I think that it’s been worth the sometimes difficult ride.
Unification has been the main focus over the last 18 months, but we also recognise that, as a regulator in this economic environment, we need to become even more sensitive to what costs we impose on the Sport.
While BHA is now more streamlined as an organisation, we continue to look at ways in which we can cut out unnecessary expenditure. We’re keeping budgets tight and will continually re-visit them during the year. Nic Coward will talk about this in more detail later this morning.
Every recession also offers opportunities to redefine your business and build revenues so later this morning we’re going to hear from Chris McFadden, Chairman of Racing Enterprises.
We know it’s taken too long to get REL off the ground, but it was worth the wait to get it right. This is exactly the time for us to be getting proactive and promoting the sport to attract new owners, new sponsors and new racegoers and yes, new punters. You’ve heard me say before that for every loser in financial markets there’s a winner elsewhere. We need to get out there, find the winners and make them a part of British Racing.
In my meetings with the BBC, I’ve already added my voice to The Racing Post’s campaign to persuade them to change their mind about reduced Racing coverage, and I applaud the many MPs who signed the Early Day Motion. It cannot be right that, despite the soaring popularity of Racing over the jumps, Racing will be cleared from BBC TV screens from October to April. It just doesn’t make any sense and furthermore with its unique licence fee funding the BBC surely has a duty to present a sport that covers a wider spectrum of the population than any other.
We need TV to capture the overall excitement and attraction of a Raceday. We want it to focus on the heroes of the sport, communicate the intensity, enliven viewers and create a momentum that will get them off their sofas to come and see the sport for themselves.
We need a broader audience – one that’s fascinated and intrigued by the spectacle and the dynamics of Racing, as well as the odds. Like football, we need an audience that – consistently over a season – loves the game, not just the result.
I’ll leave it to Chris McFadden to explain how he plans to attack this challenge.
And in some respects the environment’s quite encouraging when it comes to attracting new owners. Obviously people have their own financial pressures but the major correction we’re seeing in bloodstock prices means that the opportunity to buy a quality horse at an attractive price has never been greater. If we can maintain a balanced prize money structure then owners’ returns on their investment can even be enhanced.
When we look at costs in Racing, there are some items that we can’t – in all honesty – do much about. Of these, equine welfare is probably the most important.
The thoroughbred is the sole reason that this industry exists. It has always been, and will always be, the foundation on which everything else is built. As such, the racehorse is our single most valuable asset.
Racing must and will continue to do everything within its power to ensure that we protect that asset – through research into equine disease, through rehabilitation of retired horses, and through accident prevention.
You will have seen some recent stories in the press suggesting otherwise, and I’m glad to say that Tim Morris, our Director of Equine Science & Welfare, will be answering questions on this later. We’re committed to operating to the highest possible standards of horse welfare, whatever the state of the economy.
We’re putting major emphasis this year on gathering information about horses in training, and what happens to horses before, during and after their racing careers. This will help us to steer resources towards areas where they will be most effective. It will also help us to counter some of the less accurate claims made against Racing.
On the racecourse itself, we are the only horseracing nation to collect all fatalities and injuries data on a systematic basis, and we’ve recently started publishing that information on our website. Naturally we want the numbers to get better, especially in jump racing, where we are funding research to identify the biggest risks and how they can be mitigated.
Racing’s record on welfare is improving as result of better organisation, better track surfaces and closer co-operation with horse welfare organisations, as well as DEFRA. By aiming to be more transparent on welfare issues we’re reinforcing this message, and also reminding owners of the very high standards that are expected of them.
Nor will we lower our standards of integrity as a sport. I mentioned this at our last conference following a rather turbulent start to the year and I make no apology for emphasising its importance once again.
‘Integrity’ must be a “built-in” not a “bolted-on” element to our Regulatory responsibilities. Without it, confidence in the Sport would be damaged.
Like Welfare, we can never allow short term considerations to compromise our integrity.
These are all very big issues but as we discuss and debate the future of British Horseracing today and in the year to come, let’s not forget the people who are ultimately most affected by the strategic direction that we decide upon.
Thousands upon thousands of families depend upon racing for their livelihoods, and they’re not just the big owners, racecourse operators and bookmaking companies.
They include people working in the stable yards and behind the counters at betting shops.
I’m delighted to welcome the finalists from the Betting Shop Manager of the Year Awards, who are with us here this morning. Special congratulations to Andrea Baker of Coral who was the overall winner, but thanks to all of them for the part that they play in the promotion of British Racing.
Andrea, I know that you and your colleagues love Racing as much as we do and that you can see very clearly where our mutual interests lie.
I’m very much looking forward to meeting you after the conference because I know your insights and knowledge are hugely valuable to helping get the Racing product right.
Also, I was honoured last week to present the annual Stud and Stable Staff Awards. Anyone would be deeply impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of those who work in the engine room and at the grassroots of our sport. They embody the true spirit of Racing.
As I said at the awards luncheon, I believe that spirit is hugely resilient whatever the economy has to throw at us.
Thank you all once again. We now have a short film to remind us why we’re here.