Bookmaker News – Horse Racing Fast Approaching Point of No Return?


Around 30,000 may have turned up at Doncaster to watch Arctic Cosmos gallop to victory in Saturday’s Ladbrokes St. Leger but the numbers disguise a deep-rooted problem threatening the very future of horse racing in Britain. Indeed, some would say that the sport is already facing a severe crisis. For reasons ranging from a decline in betting revenue via the bookmakers’ levy to a British economy still teetering on the edge of recession, the sport has seen prize money, television viewing figures and sales prices plunge in recent years, leaving British horse racing as a very poor relation in the sporting world when compared to football’s multi-million pound Premier League and other Sky-endorsed products such as rugby union.

The first true indicator of horse racing’s precarious position will come on September 23rd when, almost two months later than usual, the British Horseracing Authority will publish the 2011 fixture list. It is widely expected to announce that about 150 fixtures will be axed, a reduction of approximately 10% on recent years, in response to what racing’s regulators say is a dramatic collapse in funding for the sport. The number of horses in training also looks set to plummet, while the betting levy is at its lowest level in decades. Betfair, as a betting exchange, only makes a voluntary contribution to the fund while bookmakers argue that their profits no longer rely on horse racing as its chief contributor of revenue with in-running betting on such as football, cricket, tennis and golf now much more popular. Prize money is now so low at some minor tracks that owners don’t even cover their expenses if their horses are placed. Gone are the days, it seems, when punters would still have a bet on even the most mundane of meetings.

Racing For Change‘s brief is to make racing easier to follow but their early efforts have hardly been a guiding beacon of light to the industry and Ralph Topping, chief executive of William Hill, for one remains sceptical. "We cannot applaud a series of small changes when we need big changes. We have nothing against Racing for Change, but it has been too slow." Betfair‘s head of media, Tony Calvin, also believes that measures such as a proposed end-of-season European Championship for jockeys and horses and celebrity endorsements of the sport aren’t sufficient: “The proposals are well intentioned and all the points make sense. However, I believe that the plan aims only on ‘quick wins’ while the proposals fail the distinctive appeal.” As I commented to a colleague the other week – what’s the point of changing a ship’s course if nobody’s on board? Maybe racing has realised too late that not only is it no longer laying the golden eggs, it isn’t even the goose!

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