Runners at Market Rasen

20th November 2013

Supporting racing at all levels

With our racecourses staging four of the five Classics of Flat racing, as well as more than 84% of Britain’s Grade 1 Jumps races, a vital role for The Jockey Club is to protect and enhance, the best of British racing.

In addition to the status, profile and sense of occasion involved for owners with a runner in a top race at our top fixtures, we are always aiming to provide a substantial financial carrot to help the decision for connections to pitch their potential star into those races.

Whilst prize money incentivises different owners to different extents, the peaks of racing’s popularity exist when the best horses come together to race each other in top races - prize money has one of the important parts to play in delivering those contests we’re all fascinated by.

However, the key is finding the right balance for prize money across all levels of the racing programme. An imbalance towards the top and you risk creating a ‘lottery’, offering disproportionate prizes that can only be won by a few, ignoring the majority. Ignore the top and our best races begin to lose appeal/profile - and the incentives for the best horses to ‘climb the ladder’ and take each other on diminishes.

A key focus of my role is to develop a racing programme to benefit all horsemen, at all levels, including delivering opportunities for horses to win substantial prizes outside of the upper echelons of the race programme.

Market Rasen’s fixture this Thursday signals the return of The Jockey Club Grassroots Jumps Series, staging the first two qualifiers of an initiative specifically designed to enhance prize money rewards further down the scale. Introduced in 2011, the series offers 32 Class 3 & 4 qualifying races on JCR racecourses for horses to book their ticket to the two £50,000 (Chase and Hurdle) Finals at Haydock Park on Easter Saturday 2014 – showcased live on C4.

Focused on horses competing at Class 3/4 level and offering £50k for each final race, I’m pleased (but not surprised!) the initiative has been so well supported since its inception – special congratulations to ‘Grassroots Number 1 fan’, Brian Ellison, who has targeted the races since the start and been rewarded with three wins from four Finals staged so far.

Another initiative on the same theme is the introduction of new £25k races at each of our seven smaller racecourses for 2013. Staged exclusively midweek – they aim to provide local owners/trainers with a valuable target outside of weekend fixtures that continue to grow in importance.

Market Rasen’s Thursday fixture also hosts their new £25k race (Class 3m Handicap Hurdle) alongside the Grassroots qualifiers - but also keep an eye out for Exeter’s version, a £25k 2m3f Class 2 Handicap Chase – on Friday 6th December.

In addition to our ambitions at Class 1, and further to the two examples outlined above, we proactively improve and invest in the races below the top tier.

To add numerical context to that, whilst JCR total prize money has increased by 19% in the last two years (more than £16m from our own resources last year), our average prize money per race in middle/lower tier racing (Class 3-5, and Class 6 Flat) has increased by 27% over the same period.

In tandem with our investment at the top tiers of the sport, hopefully we are finding the right balance between all levels of racing with our race programming, and prize money investment.

One of the key statistical tests suggests we’re going in the right direction - in 2009 JCR field sizes matched the industry average for both codes, whilst the latest annual figures (2012) show our race programme now performing ahead of the industry by 0.3 for the Flat and 0.7 for the Jumps.

This week, whilst Market Rasen’s Thursday fixture will have a different profile to Haydock’s Betfair Chase meeting, I’d like to think they are equally good examples of The Jockey Club investing in the sport for the future.

Are your eyes on Bobs Worth (you’ve probably heard of him) or are you following Andreo Bambaleo (running in the Grassroots Qualifer at Market Rasen and trained by a certain Brian Ellison)? As a racing fan, the choice is yours.

 

Richard Norris is Group Racing Director for Jockey Club Racecourses