Racing Report: March 2024

03 Apr 24

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

With the first quarter of the year behind us, we will shortly be publishing our first more detailed review of the sport’s performance in 2024. This will include, where possible, any early indications in relation to the fixture list targets that we published last November.    

In the meantime, our analysis of the latest racing data is now available and, at least when it comes to race competitiveness, this continues to show contrasting fortunes. On the Flat, 73% of races at Core fixtures have attracted at least eight runners, up from 68% in 2023. The last time we were at these levels was in 2007 and it is clear that the all-weather has consistently provided competitive racing through the winter.

It has already been well documented that the situation over Jumps has been more challenging. At Core fixtures, only 47% of races attracted at least eight runners, down from 52% last year and 49% in 2022. It has been marginally better at Premier fixtures, where 56% of races attracted eight or more runners, compared with 61% last year and 52% in the year before that.

Despite an 8% reduction in race volume and changes to the race programme, competitiveness levels remain below where they will need to be to support the customer appeal of Jump racing both now and in the future.

Further measures – some short term, others that will take longer – will be required to tackle this issue. With the latest total horses-in-training numbers from mid-March showing a 2.8% reduction compared with the same time last year, a co-ordinated effort from across the sport to encourage racehorse ownership is clearly going to be critical. 

We should also acknowledge, however, that there were factors outside of our control that will have influenced field sizes. The very wet start to 2024 clearly hasn’t helped competitiveness, for example, with 78% of Jump fixtures having been run on ground that was soft or heavy. That compares with 43% in 2023 and 44% in 2022. Indeed, we would have to go back to 2018 since such a large proportion of races were run on deep, winter ground. 

In addition to improving race competitiveness, another key aim for 2024 was to use our best fixtures to grow interest levels in the whole sport. To that end, Premier fixtures were created to help make it easier for the less experienced fans to identify the sport’s major meetings. Also, by increasing the investment in prize money at these fixtures, we are seeking to make them more consistently appealing to racegoers and other customers, whilst also helping to attract and retain more quality horses in Britain.

Just three months into the year, it is too early to say anything about Premier fixtures on the Flat, with only 3 staged so far including the valuable Good Friday meeting at Newcastle, which usually falls in April. 

Over Jumps, the total prize money at Premier fixtures has increased by £1.3m compared with last year. As already noted, this hasn’t yet led to the desired boost in field sizes at our elite event with, in addition to factors already mentioned, the reduced number of higher rated Jumping horses around at the moment clearly impacting many of our major races.  

We remain confident that over the coming months the extra prize money at Premier fixtures will strengthen these meetings and enhance their appeal to racegoers and other customers. Indeed, with the betting companies reporting changes to the make-up of those betting on racing, with those customers betting lower stakes on longer priced horses at our main meetings becoming increasingly significant, it is essential that we do what we can to ensure that Premier fixtures are set up to promote engagement with the sport.

Core fixtures over Jumps have experienced a reduction in prize money from £11.1m to £8.8m. There are a number of factors behind this, not least that there were 97 (or 8%) fewer races staged compared with the same period last year. In addition, we have consistently acknowledged that the investment in Premier fixtures would require some reallocation of funds by both racecourses and the Levy Board. You may recall that the Levy Board agreed to our proposal to increase the funding of Premier fixtures by £3.8m across the entire year, with half of that being reallocated from Core fixtures and the other being additional ‘new’ funding. 

A separate factor that will also have contributed to the drop in prize money at Core Jump fixtures was the removal of a policy that was in place during the first quarter of last year that allowed racecourses to programme an additional race if they offered total prize money of at least £75,000. That policy was removed due to the competitiveness issues discussed above and, as a result, a number of Core Jump meetings that offered at least £75,000 have dropped their prize money this year.

With that policy only in place until last March, we expect that the year-on-year reduction in prize money at Core fixtures will not be as stark from April onwards. Nevertheless, we will continue to monitor this very closely over the coming months as we clearly need to support the base of the sport’s pyramid.

It is also worth noting that there has been a £2.1m increase in the prize money at Flat Core fixtures. That is partly due to the fact that there were an extra 84 (or 9%) Flat races staged this year. The six high value Sunday evening fixtures, which, in total, offered prize money of just under £1m have also played their part in this increase. Having concluded in early March, that trial is now under review and we plan to announce our findings in May.