How bad does it have to get?
Mike Deasy on the inadequacies of racing’s leadership and direction, sponsor worries for the Derby, The Sunday Times hits the depths with Michael Owen piece, and more
Well, that didn’t last long. Just days after these scribblings were welcoming the BHA’s plans to cull 300 races from next year’s calendar and a further announcement said the sport’s stakeholders were getting their heads together for a much-needed strategy for the sport, matters went into reverse.
The reduction in the number of 2023 races went to the vote of stakeholders and, despite garnering a fair degree of support, it was rejected.
And who was it who cast a vote against the plan? Why, the BHA of course.
Instead, they said the plan would form part of the strategy, with the caveat that if the situation re race numbers and the equine pool got worse, it would be reviewed.
Given that Newmarket’s Thursday card had only 38 runners – that’s Newmarket, with some 3,000 horses trained at racing’s HQ – with no race paying out three places.
As things stand, 56 runners head to post for the Friday evening fixture and on Saturday, with three races of the seven-race card on ITV, we’re back to 43 declarations.
Then there was Aintree earlier in the month when barely 30 runners were involved.
What’s the threshold before participants in the strategy decide something has to be done? If we’re not already there, how much worse has it got to get?
There have to be question mark’s over the BHA’s ability to run the sport. Not just it’s own inadequacies, but it’s near impossible task of herding cats, not least the short-term commercial agenda of the racecourses, who seem in denial of what the sport can support, the owners who just want more prizemoney but fail to say how that can be achieved, and trainers and jockeys, who do have a handle of how bad things have got but find themselves outnumbered when seemingly sensible suggestions are vetoed by those holding the purse strings.
We have a sport that’s leaderless and rudderless in one of the most challenging times it’s ever faced.
The Racing Post has been recruiting for a Group Retail Operations Outcome Partner. Nope, me neither.
Might Cazoo put the brakes on Derby sponsorship?
There will have been racecourse executives who read the latest performance report from online car retailer Cazoo with dismay.
The company, which reconditions second-hand cars, sells them online and delivers them to customers, has seen its shares tumble as demand has been hit by the economic slowdown.
Consequently, it is working on saving more than £200m. To help achieve this not only means the loss of 7,000 jobs in Europe and the UK, but a dramatic cutback in the company’s marketing spend.
And, given sponsorship is a fragile element of any marketing mix, the likes of Jockey Club and Arena racecourses will be worried given the major races in their portfolios backed by Cazoo.
Epsom has the support of Cazoo for the Derby and Oaks as well as the two-day meeting as a whole, while Arena have Cazoo’s backing for the St Leger at Doncaster. Many other smaller races carry the Cazoo label as part of these sponsorship packages.
Attracting sponsors in the current economic climate aint easy as witnessed by some recent last-minute deals, such as JenningsBet stepping in to back the Northumberland Plate, replacing William Hill.
But, if Cazoo consider their support of three Classics is for the chop, finding replacements will be far from easy.
Times picture perfect tribute
One of the benefits of subscribing to The Times online edition is their staff sports photographers have a weekly showcase of their latest snaps from sporting events which do not get published in the print edition.
The latest is a portfolio by Marc Apsland from two of last week’s top sporting events: Royal Ascot and his rugby team, Leicester Tigers, winning the Premiership Final at Twickenham. My two favourite sports wonderfully captured.
So, it was a nice gesture that, last week Apsland and colleague Bradley Omershaw, handed over the feature to Ed Whittaker who has just completed 35 years at the Racing Post.
“It is our great pleasure to introduce guest photographer and horse racing specialist, multi-award winning Edward Whitaker to this week’s Unseen gallery. Ed started taking pictures in 1982 when accompanying his dad James, a Royal Correspondent, to polo matches involving Prince Charles and Badminton, where Princess Anne would ride.
“Ed started freelancing for the Racing Post in 1986 and has been on the staff now for 35 years. He has covered every Derby, Cheltenham and Grand National since 1988 and has also had four books published. We hope you enjoy these fantastic images as much as Marc Aspland and I did when putting this gallery together.”
There then followed a portfolio of 19 of Whitaker’s iconic snaps. A lovely gesture in the normal journalistic world of dog eats dog.
♦Edward Whitaker’s A Year in the Frame is available from Amazon
Why the hatchet job?
In contrast to the generosity shown by The Times sports snappers was a nasty piece of journalism penned in The Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago by Martin Hemming who, for whatever reason, appeared to have it in for the former England footballer and racehorse owner and breeder Michael Owen.
No balance is achieved by highlighting what he wrote, but here are some of the 150-plus online comments the piece garnered from Sunday Times subscribers:
- I have a subscription and didn’t sign up for this utter drivel
- What a nasty piece, shameful
- I feel stupider for having read this
- Have I been diverted to the Daily Mail? Poor
- This article is written with such vindictiveness it is hard to fathom its journalistic merit. Whether one likes someone or not is not the main criteria in journalism, except in this article. Inappropriate. Salacious. Not befitting this august newspaper
- Shocking piece. From my reading he’s done nothing wrong and hardly anything you could call controversial. He has a long happy marriage with what looks like a pretty stable family and had a stellar football career. Pretty sound equestrian one too. I’ve made worse ‘gaffes’ over breakfast. Garbage.
I think you get the gist. If there was any own goal it was the decision to sully the pages of The Sunday Times with such dire journalism.
It begs the questions why was this published, for what purpose and who was behind the decision? Certainly not in the public interest.
The very first horses ever to be added to The Racing Hub Notebook was Han Solo Berger.
He caught the eye of the estimable Kyle Merrick who administers The Notebook and contributes the Hub’s Quick Picks.
Here’s what Merrick wrote back in 2020:
3 June Kempton – Han Solo Berger is a five-year-old who has been gradually progressing in class recently and has started this summer is flying form. A hard fought win at Kempton was backed up on the turf at Newmarket. A consistent horse who may have a super summer ahead. And if not all-weather, he would be intriguing during the winter months.
Since then, he’s won three races and been placed six times, most recently finishing a 12/1 third. He goes again at Yarmouth on Friday 24 June with Hollie Doyle aboard. He’s 12/1 with Paddy Power and the Daily Star thinks he’s a winner.
He’s like a part of the furniture at The Racing Hub and the tea-money is on for a place.
I leave you with the thoughts of colleague Whistlejacket after Paul Hanagan, er, steered The Ridler to victory in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot and picked up a 10-day ban for veering across the track:
We can’t allow horses to drift unchecked like that without a real penalty. Jockeys will continue to do that until real action is taken. For a start it is potentially very dangerous.