The chairman and CEO of PMU, Philippe Germond, told an audience in Hong Kong that horse racing faces a major risk of obsolescence. He called for more investment in racetracks, more horse ownership and a programme that would attract new customers. Perhaps more importantly, he drew attention to the 20% of races in France having fewer than eight runners thus creating very poor betting markets.
This is not new. British bookmakers who advise the BHA through the Betting Patterns Working Committee, a subcommittee of the Levy Board, have been bringing this to their attention for at least ten years. Much has been done to increase fields and sponsor more handicap races where the favourites start at more than 3/1 against.
At the same conference Paul Bittar from the BHA said UK horse racing needs a more stable form of funding. The UK system is presently based on a levy of bookmakers gross win and the revenue can fluctuate along with results.
Mr. Bittar said in his speech that there was now a realistic opportunity for a genuine commercial replacement to the current Levy system of funding and went on to say “we are looking to get into a position in which government has no direct involvement in the funding of racing.”
This will be no easy achievement. I have always argued that the purest way to achieve such a result would be for the government to name a day for the Levy to end and walk away leaving bookmakers to stump up the money to ensure the continuance of the product and racing to come up with an affordable price.
The chance of this happening is 100/1. In any other commercial activity this is what would happen. But for reasons I have never understood horse racing is different.
I once asked a Conservative Minister what would Adam Smith (author of Wealth of Nations, the first book of economics) have done? The Minister in question very often boasted his free market non-intervention credentials to the Tory faithful. He said “Oh! He would have just ended the Levy.”
Clearly the Conservative party is not the party it used to be.
What I like about horse racing is that the product is complex.
Do you want a number, column or and even money bet? Regrettably this is what most people now prefer.
We live in a world where speed and instant gratification is everything. Why?
Technology has changed how we think. We are processing information so fast now that we simply do not have the time to sit down and analyse a horse race let alone an entire race card. We are being constantly interrupted by a stream of emails, messages, news flashes and people posting photos on Facebook they believe you want to see.
However, they do like a day at the races but mostly to eat and drink not bet.
So how can this possibly be resolved? The problem is those that have the power to institute change do not want change to take place. They are ultra conservative, like racing exactly the way it is run now. It is like a gentlemen’s club where they go racing meet their friends, watch their horses run, they understand the rules of the game and would rather they were not changed. Why would they?
Which is fine providing you are willing to accept that your sport is in decline and you will need to stump up more money to maintain the standards you expect.
Clarkson Googled the phrase “make cricket more interesting” and got 300,000 hits. With suggestions how it could be done. It is clearly on people’s minds.
So it should be – attendances are falling for Test cricket around the world. This is what former England Captain Andrew Strauss told the BBC: “If we are arrogant enough to assume that Test cricket will always be there, we are sowing the seeds of our own downfall.”
I Googled “make horse racing more interesting” and got 145,000 hits with no suggestions at all. A lot of ratings, tips, and adverts for betting.
Does it mean everyone is happy? For those that go racing, I would think they are content with the way things are run. It is the people who do not bet on horses or go racing that the industry needs to worry about.
On a brighter note my grandchildren, aged 12 and 10, who live in Madrid are coming to see me in July. When I asked what they would like to do they were emphatic – they want to go horse racing. They want to do that more than anything else. There is hope.
A dying breed – horse racing faces extinction
By Warwick Bartlett