Racing Report: April 2024

03 May 24

By Richard Wayman, BHA Director of Racing and Betting

We’re now four months into the two-year trial of various fixture list initiatives that were introduced with the aim of increasing the appeal of the sport to both existing and future fans. Simply put, our strategy is to make the most of our very best fixtures to increase the public’s engagement with racing.

Our approach to delivering this has been to create a new tier of Premier Racedays so that those less initiated with the fixture list can easily differentiate our headline events from everything else. With the support of the Levy Board, we have invested in the prize money on offer at Premier Racedays with the aim of ensuring that they consistently deliver competitive and compelling racing for racegoers, bettors and those who simply enjoy watching from home on ITV or other platforms.

Together with this focus on fans, the strategy is also designed to support the retention of quality horses in Britain at a time when both Flat and Jump racing are facing a battle to ensure that as many high rated horses as possible are bred, trained and raced on these shores. Of course, there are major differences in the challenges faced by the two codes but whether somebody owns a high-class miler or a three-mile chaser, racehorse owners will understandably compare the financial returns on offer when deciding the plans for their star horses.

The creation of Premier Racedays has an important role to play in attempting to influence those decisions, with enhanced prize money criteria introduced for the 165 meetings with Premier status including that, other than on Sundays, total prize money of at least £250,000 (Flat) and £200,000 (Jumps) must be offered. As well allowing us to introduce new minimum values for each race class, no race at a Premier meeting can be run for less than £20,000 (Flat) and £15,000 (Jumps).

Looking back at the first third of the year, it is clear that these requirements have had a significant impact on many Premier Racedays. As you might expect, the elite meetings were already offering prize money values well above the Premier Racedays criteria and, therefore, the effect has not been significant. However, the real impact has come at those meetings that have stepped up to meet the Premier Raceday criteria or, in a few cases, been created from scratch. So far this year, 20 of the Premier Racedays staged have offered at least £50,000 more prize money than previously, whilst three new Premier Racedays have been added to the fixture list.

Our analysis of the latest racing data until the end of April is now available and this shows that total prize money at Premier Racedays has already grown by £3.2m across the year. With the wet weather and soft ground that has dominated proceedings for the first three months of the year now starting to relent, we are confident that the various measures of competitiveness at Premier Racedays including average field size and the percentage of races with at least eight runners, will show improvement in the weeks ahead. This is obviously important if we are to achieve our aim of making these quality meetings as attractive as possible for the sport’s customers.

In addition to the additional prize money, it is also worth mentioning the 84 novice and maiden races on the Flat that will be run for £40,000 (open races) or £30,000 (restricted races) thanks to Juddmonte, Darley, Tattersalls and the British EBF. And, of course, the Great British Bonus scheme will pay out over £4.5m in bonuses to eligible British bred fillies through 2024.  Both of these initiatives have important roles to play in supporting the quality of British racing in the years ahead.

It is important to acknowledge that at least part of the boost in Premier Racedays has involved moving funding from elsewhere in the fixture list, with total prize money at Core fixtures having fallen by £2.2m.

And, hence, the importance of retuning to where we started in reiterating that the main objective of the strategy is to grow the number of people following racing. Many of those new fans would, I am sure, want to extend their interests beyond Premier Racedays to some of the other delights that British racing has to offer and as engagement with racing grows, all levels of the sport can benefit including those operating at the base of the pyramid.