Racing Report: June 2024

04 Jul 24

In this blog, Richard Wayman, Director of Racing and Betting at the BHA, analyses some of the key areas within our monthly data pack for June.

Having reached the halfway point of the year, a clearer view is beginning to emerge of the effects of the various changes introduced as part of the 2024 fixture list. The impact on racecourse attendances, betting and viewing figures will take a bit longer to collate and we’ll produce a half-year report on our published targets in the coming weeks. The latest sporting data, however, is already available and makes for interesting reading.

Beginning with prize money, it has increased so far this year by, in total, £2.5m from £89.3m in 2023 to £91.8m in 2024. That includes a more significant increase at Premier racedays, where the total prize money has increased by £6.7m. That growth comprises an additional £2.5m from the Levy Board, £3.6m from racecourses and £0.6m in owners’ entry fees.

The increased investment in prize money at Premier racedays was intended to make the racing at those headline meetings as appealing as possible to racegoers, punters and those watching from home.

Field sizes at Premier racedays on the Flat have experienced encouraging growth with an average field size of 11.11 in 2024, compared with 10.91 in 2023 and 10.01 in 2022. We are optimistic that this positive trend will continue through the rest of the year and, in doing so, help to grow interest in Premier racedays and, ultimately, the rest of the fixture list.

Jump Premier racedays haven’t yet achieved the uplift we were hoping for with average field sizes at 9.87 compared with 10.34 in 2023 and 9.39 in 2022. However, with only one Jump Premier raceday staged in May and June, this year’s numbers have undoubtedly been impacted by ground conditions; between January and April, 71% of all Jump races were run on soft or heavy ground, which compares with 39% in 2023 and 36% in 2022.

Total prize money at other meetings, referred to as Core, has declined by £4.2m (£2.6m Jump, £1.6m Flat) as the Levy Board and racecourses have channelled greater investment towards the sport’s higher profile events as part of the industry-agreed strategy to grow the number of customers and fans.

On the Flat, it was agreed that the total race volume for this year would remain unchanged although some races were moved from summer to autumn, when there is greater demand for opportunities. As a result, the actual number of Flat races staged so far this year is only 36 below 2023 levels. Various race planning changes on the Flat have supported an increase in competitiveness at Core meetings, with the average field size rising to 8.85 in 2024 from 8.57 in 2023 and 8.55 in 2022. Of course, if it were to occur, a long spell of hot and dry weather would impact these numbers over the summer but there are encouraging signs that British racing has become more competitive in 2024 than in recent years.

Changes were also introduced to boost competitiveness at Core Jump meetings including that, across the year, 300 fewer Jump races would be programmed as well as various race planning changes. So far in 2024, 157 fewer Jump races have been staged, which will also have played a part in the reduction in prize money. As mentioned above, Jump field sizes struggled for the first four months of the year with so many fixtures being run on soft or heavy ground. The situation has been much improved during May and June, with field sizes in these two months at their highest for nine years. The overall results for the first six months of the year are that Jump field sizes at Core meetings averaged 8.38, compared with 8.00 in 2023 and 7.42 in 2022; so, better but further improvement required.

Turning to the latest horse population data, this shows that, in total, there are currently 162, or 1.2%, more horses in training than at the same time last year. Looking more closely at those numbers, that growth is in Jump and dual purpose horses which could mean the increase is weather related, with some of those horses having being held up by the wet weather in the early part of the year and therefore remaining in training later into the summer than would normally be the case.

The investment in prize money at Premier racedays was also intended to encourage the retention of quality horses in Britain, albeit that this obviously isn’t something that happens overnight. The number of higher rated horses that have run in Britain so far this year is a good measure of that and, on the Flat, there has been a slight increase of 24 in the number of 85+ horses that have run at least once in 2024 compared with last year.

I would have little hesitation in saying that the area of greatest concern amongst all of our numbers is the decline in 130+ rated horses running over Jumps, which have fallen from 706 in 2022, to 609 in 2023, to 533 in 2024; that represents an almost 25% drop over the three years.

A few exceptional factors have contributed to that including work that has been undertaken since late 2021 to drop the Chase and Hurdle handicapping files and return them to their optimal shape, the increased concentration of higher rated horses in a small number of yards, and, once again, ground conditions keeping some horses off the track in the first part of this year.

There is no getting away, however, from the significance of this decline and with the number of high-quality novices also under significant pressure, it isn’t something that is going to improve overnight. It is for that reason that I can’t overstate the importance of efforts that are underway to create measures that will reverse the decline in the quality and quantity of horses running in some of our major races. Amongst other things, this will involve considering how the race programme can better support the development of young, talented horses, and also assessing how financial incentives can be used to support these aims.

That work focuses on both Flat and Jump racing, and clearly sits very near the top of the challenges that we will have to address successfully to ensure a robust and vibrant sport in Britain in the years ahead.