Positive indicators from January field sizes

09 Feb 2015
  • Positive early signs following implementation of measures for the All Weather programme
  • Increase in races with eight or more runners, decrease in races with six or fewer runners
  • Jump field sizes also showing improvement compared to 2014

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has today published figures for field sizes in January, the indications of which provide optimism following initiatives implemented to tackle the issues of small-field races.

The wide-ranging initiatives, developed in consultation with stakeholders and announced in 2014, include a targeted approach to certain ‘pinch-points’ in the racing calendar when field sizes are a critical issue. One of these pinch-points is All Weather racing in the period from January to March and as such a number of the measures were implemented with effect in this period. They included:

  • The removal of 70 races from the All Weather programme in the January – March period
  • A limit of, on average, 6.5 races being staged on All Weather cards in this period
  • A trial of short-notice race removal for certain races which achieve fewer than five declarations

Other factors include the All Weather Championships, which are in their second season, and the distribution of the Additional Voluntary Contribution fund from the big four bookmakers being under way. Around £4m will be distributed to races between Class 2 and Class 6 in 2015, ensuring prize money down to 8th in most Class 2 races and 6th in most Class 3-6 races.

After one month the initial signs indicate that the measures are having a positive impact on Flat racing field sizes in this period. The average field size for Flat races in January 2015 was 8.6, an increase of 7% compared to the same period in 2014 (8.1).

In addition, the proportion of races which featured eight or more runners rose by 8% from 56% to 64% and the proportion of races featuring less than six runners reduced by 3% from 18% to 15%.

Ruth Quinn, Director of Racing for the BHA, said:

“We are encouraged by the upturn in performance of All Weather racing in this period – which has recently struggled with small field sizes – while acknowledging that it is difficult at this stage to say with certainty which of a wide range of factors had the most influence on this uplift, including the initiatives implemented by BHA following consultation, the All Weather Championships or other possible contributory factors.

“Addressing the issue of small-field races is a priority objective for the sport. We also recognise that it is not an issue that can be fixed quickly. The initiatives such as those implemented in January are intended to help reverse the previous trend of declining field sizes but they form only part of the equation in terms of factors needed to deliver wholesale positive change in this area.”

The short-notice race removal trial has seen 28 races in January designated as “at risk”, i.e. receiving 10 entries or fewer. Of these races, only five received fewer than five declarations. Of these five races, four were retained, two because it was felt there was a genuine need for the race to take place owing to a lack of suitable alternative races, and two because the race in question was part of a six-race card, which made the race ineligible for deletion. The average number of declarations for “at risk” races was 6.5.

Ruth Quinn added:

“The trial of short-notice race removal has arguably already been instructive. The fact that only one race has so far been deleted could imply that the trial is meeting an objective of driving behaviour by stimulating entries and/or declarations for races in order to ensure that they are run. It is fair to say that around 6.5 declarations would be a higher average than we would expect for races with 10 or fewer entries.

“However, only one race having been deleted so far means that we are not able to accurately assess whether one of the trial’s other objectives is operating successfully – namely that horses which would have run in races that were subsequently deleted are then successfully redeployed to other races.

“The trial will continue until the end of March at which point we will assess all the data around the trial as well as the feedback from those affected before deciding how to proceed.”

The picture for Jump racing in this pinch-point period was also promising, especially in Hurdle races. Average field sizes were up in both Hurdles (9.1, up 8%) and Chases (7.1, up 1%) while the proportion of races with fewer than six runners was down by 7.4% in Hurdles (5% from 13%) and 3.4% in Chases (27% from 31%). The number of races with more than eight runners was up by 13.8% in Hurdles (69% from 55%) but down by 2.4% in Chases (34% from 36%).

This may be partly due to the targeted removal of races from the Jump programme in this period, many of which are Chases. Meanwhile further specific initiatives related to Jump racing, including the targeted deletion of races from a further pinch-point period in September – November will come into effect later in the year.

Ruth Quinn said:

“The positive figures for Jump racing are pleasing but must be put into perspective. They remain some way below what we would envisage British Racing delivering as the world leader in Jump racing. Obviously it is early days, ther is still much to be done and it remains an urgent matter – the recently announced, ongoing situational analysis of Jump racing is likely to lead to more initiatives being implemented as a result.”

Notes to Editors

1. The full list of initiatives already announced to address the issue of small-field races is as follows:

  • Targeted removal of 70 All Weather races in January to March and rebalancing the Flat programme;
  • A limit of, on average, 6.5 races being staged on All Weather cards in the January to March period;
  • General restrictions on the number of races per fixture, including specific restrictions at certain times of the year;
  • A trial of short-notice race removal for certain races which achieve fewer than five declarations in January to March;
  • Targeted removal of 100 Jump races, in particular Chases, from pinch points in January to March and September to November;
  • 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;
  • 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 (8th place for Class 2 races);
  • 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;
  • Extending the declaration window for 10am until 10:30am your all races with fewer than eight declarations (previous thresholds varied from four to eight declarations, depending on race type);
  • Ongoing situational analysis of Jump racing.

2. January field size data

Average field size

Code 2015 Vs. 2014
Flat 8.59 0.53
Chase 7.10 0.09
Hurdle 9.11 0.67
NH Flat 9.08 -1.20
Hunter 8.75 1.25
Total 8.46 0.39


Races with eight or more runners

Code 2015 (Year to 29/01) 2014 (Year to 29/01) Variance (%)
Races8+ Runners % Races8+ Runners %
Flat 165 64% 182 56% 7.8%
Chase 43 34% 41 36% -2.4%
Hurdle 133 69% 92 55% 13.8%
NH Flat 18 75% 25 86% -11.2%
Total 359 59.6% 340 53.7% 5.9%


Races with fewer than six runners

Code 2015 (Year to 29/01) 2014 (Year to 29/01) Variance (%)
Races<6 Runners % Races<6 Runners %
Flat 38 15% 56 17% -2.6%
Chase 35 27% 35 31% -3.4%
Hurdle 10 5% 21 13% -7.4%
NH Flat 2 8% 1 3% 4.9%
Total 85 14.1% 113 17.9% -3.7%


3. Details of the initiatives announced in 2014 to address small-field races can be found here: https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/bha-reveals-initiatives-address-small-field-races/

4. Further information about Racing’s commitment to tackling the issue, and the ongoing situational analysis of Jump racing, can be found here: https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/addressing-small-field-races-remains-top-priority/

5. Short-notice race deletion trial: For the purposes of this trial, races that attract 10 entries or fewer are flagged as “at risk.” If these races then receive 4 declarations or fewer, they may be subject to deletion. In all instances the Racing Department will review the entries for all such races to ascertain whether there is a genuine need for the race (i.e. based on whether there are any other available opportunities for horses). Only those races put “at risk” can be considered for deletion. More details about the trial can be found here: https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/short-notice-race-removal-trial-commence-1-january-2015/