Member Insights: ‘Racing Should Emerge In A Sustainable State, Albeit Battered And Bruised’, Says Simon Bazalgette, Former Jockey Club CEO
May 6, 2020
As racing edges closer to a return during the coronavirus pandemic, former Jockey Club CEO Simon Bazalgette provides an overview as to how the horse racing industry will exit the crisis.
On Derby day in early in June, the Epsom Downs will, for the first time since the Second World War, be deserted apart from members of the public taking their once a day permitted exercise.
The most valuable race in the UK, and arguably the world in terms of breeding value, the Investec Derby, will not be running, the racecourse stands will be empty, and the travelling fairs, music, street-food sellers and general mayhem on the Hill, some years over 100,000 people, will be absent.
“The financial model for horse-racing is probably amongst the most complex and sophisticated of any sport.”
Horse racing, like all other sports, is in lockdown, and struggling with the financial impact of not staging its daily roster of meetings. Festivals lost between April and August will probably include 4 of the 10 largest annual sports crowds in the UK, with the significant ticket, hospitality and other revenues that are generated from those events.
The financial model for horse racing is probably amongst the most complex and sophisticated of any sport, but the largest drivers behind them are the betting industry, the leisure market and the expenditure by racehorse owners on caring for and training their horses.
With no racing taking place, there are no betting or leisure revenues. If racing can restart behind closed doors, then the betting-related revenues will to some extent return. The saving grace for racing, as is often the case, is the ongoing support of the owners. They are passionate about their horses and generally, subject to their own personal situation, willing to continue to support the trainers and stable staff who look after the horses, even if they are unable to compete for prize money which is the fuel that drives the sport.
“Racing should emerge in a sustainable state, albeit battered and bruised, if lockdown ends before the end of 2020.”
With insurance covering the major events, the support of the government and horse racing’s major funding bodies, the Levy Board and the Racing Foundation, and world-leading management talent in the governing body, at racecourses and their media companies, racing should emerge in a sustainable state, albeit battered and bruised, if lockdown ends before the end of 2020.
The main challenge, in an eco-system of varied and often challenging stakeholder bodies, is to maintain the necessary alignment and coherence to pull the sport together to bring it through the crisis. This comes down to leadership, and despite the attempts by some high-profile trainers to undermine this process, I expect the sport to return to some semblance of normality in 2021.
Hopefully this return follows having accelerated moves to more efficient and technology-led infrastructure, allowing it to sustain not only itself going forward, but the rural communities, the animal and people welfare, the scientific research and the employment of over 80,000 people which depend on it.
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