Racing Report: January 2024

02 Feb 24

In this blog, Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer at the BHA, introduces our refreshed monthly data pack and analyses some of the key areas within it.

For many years, we have published a monthly racing data pack on the BHA website which includes statistics on a variety of areas including fixtures, races, field sizes and prize money. We have given that report a refresh for 2024 and the first edition, which covers January’s racing, is now available.

Separate to this report, we have also committed to publish on a quarterly basis a wider review of the strategic changes that have been introduced as part of the 2024 fixture list including updates on the fixture list targets that we announced in November. The first of those more extensive reviews will be available in April.

Alongside our monthly racing report, I will also, on most occasions, write a short blog providing comments on some of the key areas included within it. The obvious place to start January’s piece is race competitiveness.

Beginning with Jump racing, we lost four of the 11 scheduled Premier Racedays to the weather and at the seven that did take place, a rather disappointing 49% of races attracted eight or more runners.

That said, a closer look at those meetings shows significant variation with, in total, only 27% of races attracting eight plus runners at three of the meetings – namely, the two meetings at Cheltenham and Kempton’s meeting featuring the Lanzarote Hurdle. Across the other four Premier Racedays – at Plumpton, Warwick, Lingfield and Doncaster – this increased to a healthier 65%.

Of course, some of this variation may be due to ground conditions or, perhaps, other factors specific to the fixture – Cheltenham Festival Trials Day, for example, will be impacted by the nature of its race programme and the reduced number of higher rated horses around at the moment. In all cases, however, we will review the race programmes with the racecourses involved to consider possible changes for next year.

In general, and after just seven fixtures, it is not really possible to attribute any great significance to the data around Premier Racedays. We will attach more value to these figures as the two-year pilot continues, and as the work to invest in the customer experience and further promote Premier Racedays builds momentum.

Turning to Core fixtures, it is worth reiterating that the number of programmed Jump races will be reduced by 300 across the whole of the year. However, we actually programmed three more Jump fixtures this month compared with last year, partly as a result of filling gaps in the fixture list created by moving some afternoon all-weather meetings into the autumn, when there is greater demand from the Flat horse population.

We ended up staging 17 more Jump races compared with the same month last year and field sizes also weren’t helped by the pattern of abandonments. Those with good memories may remember that a year ago, we had an eight-day shutdown just before Christmas that led to strong field sizes through the Festive period and first week of January. We then had another six days of no Jump racing in the middle of January, resulting in strong fields when racing resumed in the final week of the month. Conversely, in January 2022, there was only one Jump fixture abandoned.

Abandoned fixtures in recent weeks have been spread out more intermittently over the period and so it is not surprising that January 2024 has performed somewhere between those two previous years, with 62% of races attracting eight or more runners compared with 67% last year and 60% in 2022.

With fewer Jump races programmed in February and March, we are expecting to see improved field sizes in the coming weeks. In addition, as a result of programming some six race cards, we have been able to remove some likely smaller field events and leave room for more divisions of oversubscribed races. The number of race divisions in January increased year-on-year from four to ten, and this change should continue to support field sizes at upcoming fixtures.

On the Flat, performance has been strong with 76% of races attracting eight or more runners, which is the highest that number has been in January since 2007.

As well as changes to the race programme and the distribution of races across the year, other measures have also been introduced to support field sizes. These include a trial of dividing all-weather races outside the turf season once they reach 16 declarations rather than the standard threshold of 18. This has resulted in 14 extra divisions taking place in January and avoided 57 horses being eliminated across those races. Importantly, of the 28 races involved, 20, or 71%, have ended up with eight or more runners.

As a result of another change introduced at the beginning of the year, we have also abandoned two lower grade handicaps that only attracted three declarations. We are, of course, sorry that this will have disappointed the connections of the six horses involved but believe this measure is important to improve our offering to customers.

Other points of interest from the first month of figures include that total prize money is £600k higher compared with the same month last year. That increase occurred at the Premier meetings, with, in total, Core meetings remained unchanged. Within those Core fixtures, Flat racing, which included two high value Sunday evening meetings, increased by £200k, with an equivalent decline at Jump meetings.

Finally, the report also covers race clashes, with 26 occurring during the month. 16 of those occurred on New Year’s Day, when clashes are unavoidable given the number of fixtures staged that afternoon – five in Britain and two in Ireland. The rest of the month, in particular Saturdays, has seen a year-on-year reduction in the number of clashes.