British Horseracing Conference
25th February 2008
Paul Roy, Chairman, British Horseracing Authority
I hope you all agree that this has been an interesting and useful morning.
As Nic has outlined, the BHA and Racing face some big challenges.
In the first few months since starting in my role I’ve sometimes felt, along with Nic and the rest of my colleagues, like Tom Hanks climbing the D Day beaches in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.
We’ve had bullets from the Levy, shrapnel from the betting industry and a fair amount of flak from the press.
Having said that, I was warned that the BHA’s birth would not be an easy one. But I tell you – I’m proud to be here as chairman of racing’s governing authority and I’m really excited about our future. To me this is a sport with untapped potential and untold opportunity.
I truly believe that the British Horseracing Authority represents a new beginning in the way that Racing is run.
Ultimately, the job that we do has to lead to a step change in our sport.
My aim is to lead an organisation that represents the best racing in the world.
We’ll carry out our regulatory responsibilities to the highest standards, putting the welfare of the horse and the rider, and the integrity of the sport, at the top of our priorities.
In my first few months, I’ve been impressed with the way in which sections of the industry have met the commitments that we talked about throughout the formation of the BHA, most importantly the commitment to working together, not giving in to personal agendas, and acting in racing’s wider interest.
This can hardly be more important than in the next few weeks.
Our levy submission was a turning point. Even though it did not result in a bigger percentage contribution from betting, the sport pulled together and we changed the debate.
By focusing the whole industry on the job of producing our submission we ended up with a clear understanding of what racing is worth to the betting industry and what it’s worth to the broader economy.
By working together, we’ve got to the first beach head and we’ve increased our chances of creating a viable and sustainable platform for our sport and industry.
One of the unfortunate things about the levy process is that – to me – it somehow misses the point.
We end up talking about racing’s value to the bookmakers, but of course this is not what racing is just about.
We’re a sport and a bloodstock industry, committed to achieving excellence.
The fact that the betting industry makes money out of us is great, provided they recognise our contribution to their own success.
But as you know we are much more than a contribution to betting.
Our contribution, ladies and gentlemen, is sporting and breeding excellence and everything that entails.
Look at integrity and welfare: both are vital, both are expensive.
Safety and welfare of both horse and rider is, as I said earlier, a top priority for us.
Like all sports, ours carries risk.
The BHA’s welfare work focuses on reducing risk on racedays, and having the resources in place so that injuries are handled quickly and humanely.
Away from the track, we aim to ensure that yards apply high minimum standards of care for the horse.
As you’ve seen, we’ve started publishing facts and figures on key welfare issues to keep this vital aspect of racing uppermost in people’s minds.
This is possibly the most important welfare-related job we do, because it’s only by fostering a racing culture that prides itself on high standards of animal welfare that we’ll see continuing improvement in this area.
Like you, I love my horses and I’m passionate about looking after them both during and after their racing careers. I’m a huge supporter of Retraining of Racehorses (ROR) and the wonderful work that they do.
But as an owner, I know that, at the end of the day, welfare is down to me, not just to a regulator or the equine charities. All of us need to encourage this personal sense of responsibility throughout racing.
As regards integrity, racing has radically improved its approach to dealing with the key issues in the last five or six years.
We should be proud of that, and celebrate the fact that other sports like tennis, football and the Olympics now see us as a leader in this area and come to us for advice.
I’ve spent all my working life in the City, which is no different to racing in one key respect – that fundamentally, most people are honest, but a small minority want to bend or break the rules to get an advantage. Those rules have to be fair and reasonable, but rigorously policed.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the recent City of London trial was actually a trial of how well the integrity function of the Jockey Club, the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA), and now the BHA, did its job.
Without going over too much old ground, I was surprised – but more than that, disappointed – at the way that some saw fit to criticise our organisation as though we’d been found guilty of a crime ourselves.
Let me point out one simple fact. The HRA had been so concerned at what they perceived may have occurred – potential criminal activity attacking the heart of racing – that they referred certain matters to the police.
Reflecting on that fact alone should make people in the sport sit up and think before breaking out into condemnation.
Sometimes I fear that too many people in racing believe they live in a fairytale land where no one ever breaks the rules. They think that any time the regulator sees a breach it should just close its eyes and wait for the problem to disappear.
In our view, the BHA will gain more respect for facing up to difficult decisions – and taking tough action – than for shying away.
In the City of London case, information was passed to the police at an early stage. That information would only ever have formed a small part of any prosecution case. The police and the CPS, took it a long, long way further, and ultimately their case culminated in failure. Obviously, the action wouldn’t have been brought if the flag hadn’t been raised, but it wasn’t our case to prosecute.
After the case failed, when asked about our role, we could neither simply say ‘yes, we are completely linked with it’, or ‘no, it never had anything to do with us’. Sometimes, the answer is never that simple.
Of course, we will look at all the lessons that can be learnt. Yes, perhaps we could have communicated better in the immediate aftermath of the trial. And I certainly don’t expect our organisation to be free of criticism at all times. But let me go back to the point I made earlier – that the integrity of our sport is the envy of others and we shouldn’t let the negative headlines we saw last December allow us to forget that.
I’d also like to add a few thoughts about the fixture list, for which Nic highlighted the principle findings from our review.
One is the importance of quality racing. Our best races and fixtures are not only the main drivers that raise the sport’s profile, but they account for a disproportionately high amount of income. We appreciate that the picture is more complex than that, but it’s clear that we’ve got some big decisions to take in the near future.
We have to stop and ask whether we’ve got it right when some of our newest fixtures are attracting single figure fields, racing for prize money that doesn’t even cover the cost of getting a horse to the racecourse, watched by 100 spectators, attended by a handful of bookmakers, the action transmitted to empty betting offices, with no one watching on TV and serious sponsors never likely to be interested.
Part of our fixture review has been to look at the effect of expansion on the horse population and on stables and staff. The question of imposing a minimum rating for horses to reduce numbers at the bottom end of the spectrum is now worthy of serious analysis and debate.
I’m not criticising our predecessors for pursuing an expansionist policy intended to bring more money into the sport. However, we have to look at the data and question the marginal profitability and the overall impact on the sport. Having previously said ‘yes’ to demands from every corner, perhaps the time has now come for us to say ‘no’, at least sometimes.
I want people here to understand how committed Nic, the team and I are to the task ahead.
And before I close I just want to add that the urgency of this task is increasing.
Over the past five or six years, Racing has attracted roughly the same people in roughly the same numbers, while the broader economy has roared ahead.
But we’ve been standing still. Where are the Chinese, Brazilian, Russian and Indian participants in our sport either as owners or sponsors? Where are the hedge funds and private equity companies?
As you know, money in sport is an emotive issue.
If you didn’t see Simon Barnes’ article on this subject in The Times last Friday I recommend you dig it out.
His key message: “Whoever you are and whatever you’re trying to do, be it cricket, soccer, rugby, racing – money doesn’t half help in sport.”
He noted that Britain went up 26 places in the gold medal Olympic table between 1996 and 2000 – from 36 to 10.
Why? Because the 2000 Olympics were the first to benefit from National Lottery funding.
The money is there, ladies and gentlemen, but we’ve got to go out and get it.
So let’s get creative. Shake off our old assumptions about money and the status quo.
As I said, this task is taking on a lot more urgency.
As you know, we’re in the middle of a banking crisis that could spill over into economic recession.
My fear is that if Racing has only managed to stand still in a period of unprecedented prosperity, what will happen during a period of economic decline?
Those that claim racing is a special case and isolated from these forces are living in cloud cuckoo land.
The only way to avoid being dragged down by recession is to start working now on attracting new participants to the sport at all levels and thereby growing the cake.
We need to broaden our appeal, find new race-goers and attract new owners and sponsors.
Just as an example, we need to open the sport to new ideas to make it resonate more with a new, younger generation of sports enthusiasts. In this respect I very much welcome the Betfair/ROA 18/32 Club initiative.
We need a lot more innovative thinking and creativity.
You’ve heard me talk about hosting the Breeders Cup here .
Many would say that’s impossible because of different standards and regulations.
But why not have the ambition? If they are truly serious about turning it into an international event, who could do a better job at hosting it than British racing?
And if that doesn’t happen why shouldn’t we look to create our own grand prix or world championship. Look how successful the Order of Merit and the Global Sprint Challenge have been. People love competition, especially if it has an international flavour.
In short, we have to start thinking laterally about this sport.
And there’s a job for Racing Enterprises (REL) if ever I saw one.
I’d like to say a couple of words about REL.
As you know, when the modernisation of British racing was under discussion back in 2004, the plan was for a separate company handling the business side of things, run by the racecourses and owners. Of course, with the ECJ ruling and the extension of the levy, central funding has continued to provide the bulk of racing’s income, with data contracts currently earning less that £1 million per year.
Given that, maybe it’s not surprising that REL has taken a bit of time to get off the ground while it seeks to adapt its business model to current circumstances.
But I firmly believe that it can carve itself a vital role in racing, working with us, the BHA, on key strategic issues such as those I’ve outlined.
It can take the lead in many areas: promoting commercial aspects of the fixture list; shaping and packaging of the racing product; coordinating sponsorship initiatives; working with broadcasters to enhance racing’s presentation and so on.
And one final thing. When we start to achieve some of the ambitions that Nic has outlined in his plan, all the time maintaining the high standards that the BHA is committed to, guess who else will benefit? The bookmakers. There is no reason why we can’t blaze a trail with our sport, and help the bookies in the process. That, more than anything, would transform our relationship with the betting industry.
I’m confident that we can bring the same unity of purpose to the task of broadening racing’s appeal as we have shown we’re capable of over the past six months, and I’m looking forward to the job ahead with enthusiasm and optimism, but above all else a love for Racing.
Thank you for being with us today.