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Astrofire and Bracken Brae make the journey to Chelmsford ....

A really good morning

Friday, 21 July 2017

"About the only thing that comes to us without effort is old age."

Gloria Pitzer.

02_Dixon
Dixon

It's a bright morning with a good breeze and it's a little bit cooler than of late. We've had a really good morning with a lot of horses being put through the starting stalls. This went off without a hitch and there are several unraced two year olds that will be on the track shortly. All the other lots have been cantering on Southfields Turf or the Rubbing House Polytrack.

06_Tlova
Topalova

Astrosecret didn't seem to like the rain softened ground yesterday at Leicester. She had every chance and just kept on at one pace. She is quite frustrating as she has the ability to win a race if everything goes right. We've no runners over the weekend but there will certainly be quite a few next week.

12_Shadow
Astroshadow

I don't always agree with what Tom Kerr writes in the Racing Post but his suggestion today I think will be taken up by one racecourse or another in the not too distant future. His idea is putting floodlights on a turf track. It's already happening in Hong Kong and Australia which is a great success and for some reason horse racing under lights, even the lower class races, seems more exciting. I know the weather helps greatly in both those two countries but I'm positive it would prove popular here.

47_Cantering
Cantering away

It will be interesting to see what the Irish Turf Club does after their inquiry into the void race yesterday at Killarney. This race was declared void 20 minutes after the finish as the winner was declared to have had an unfair advantage at the start. I think the decision to void the race was correct as in these jump races horses that are led in at the start should come in from the back and not from the front.

39_Ness
Ness Of Brodgar walking home

phil

Phil on Friday

Prize-money has long been an issue in racing. The Guvnor has been banging on about it for years. So have many other professionals, and of course they are quite right.

Consider 1957 – a pivotal year, you’d think, because it saw the first commercial sponsorship of a horse race in the UK, the Whitbread Gold Cup*. Oh! What a lucrative flow of revenue this sponsorship business must have promised …! Then, a few years later, came the Levy, another marvellous money tree …!

Of course there are plenty of diverse demands for a share of all this revenue, but what has happened to prize money in 60 years? I contacted the Bank of England to get an accurate assessment of monetary values between 1957 and now.

Look first at the top end. In 1957, Royal Ascot winners (it was a four-day affair then) received £72,084 and a few pence between them. According to the Bank of England, that equated to £1,594,960 last year. In fact, in 2016 the total race values (over five days) added up to £6,580,000. And that went up again this year.

When Crepello won the Derby in 1957 connections received £18,659 and 10 shillings (£412,364 in 2016 values). Last year the Derby was worth a total of £1.325 million, and this year went up to one-and-a-half million. Similar growth can be seen in other top races, even the Old Newton Cup…

So at the top end all is well, thank you very much. But what about the ‘little’ owners, the syndicates and the one or two-horse enthusiasts whose greatest ambition is to win a handicap at Yarmouth?

Again, look at 1957 when Yarmouth staged a July card not dissimilar to one last week. It was a two-day meeting  and on the biggest day winners took home £1,557 and 10 shillings between them. (Bank of England: £34,461 in 2016). The actual figure this year was £24,064, and pretty much every race was sponsored. Pathetic. This week a meeting at Yarmouth included a near £12,000 handicap. That sounds good, but the winners of seven races shared a total of £33,966 – still below the rate of 60 years ago. (There might be some slight discrepancy between the Bank’s 2016 calculation and this year – obviously the final 2017 figure cannot be known yet).

It is unfair to single out Yarmouth; there are plenty of other examples. But in 1957  Hamilton could run an average seller worth close to £6,000 in today’s terms, and at Redcar they managed at least a couple of sellers at their summer meeting worth more than £8,000 each (ref: Bank of England). The very lowest prize at that meeting equated to £4,580 in 2016 and these figures seemed to set the standard for ‘lesser’ races across the board (with no sponsorship or Levy!). Compare today’s prizes for yourself.

Out of interest, there were 416 flat racing fixtures in 1957. In 2016 there were 888 (573 turf, 315 all-weather) and 594 NH meetings as well. Perhaps more is not always better.

This is not a forensic survey by any means. Food for thought, though, and of course racing believed it had another great  injection of funds in 2006 when reluctant trainers and owners were persuaded to agree to 48-hour declarations because, in BHB’s terms, the “system has the potential to generate significant financial benefits for British racing from overseas betting”.  Has it happened? I’ve tried to find out and will report on my disappointments next week.

*The winner was Much Obliged, ridden by Johnny East who was later to become the much-valued head lad at the Guvnor’s Flint Cottage Stables.