Major Changes Proposed for British Racing

Profound changes to the way British racing operates were announced Monday by a review committee chaired by British Horseracing Board chairman Peter Savill.

A total of 76 recommendations were put forward which, if implemented, will see the British fixture list boosted by nearly 25%, three-tier racing introduced, most handicaps having a 10 to 15 pound range rather up to 30 pounds, and bigger prize money differentials to reward better horses.

Savill explained that the proposals to help British racing were the result of the largest-ever consultation exercise within the sport.

"I firmly believe that the structure that we have recommended is the blueprint for the future health of British racing in the 21st century," Savill said.

"By putting in place a true meritocracy, the consumer's faith in the integrity of our sport can be re-established. The existing structure has compromised integrity."

He put the blame on the large number of handicaps in British racing, with their wide weight ranges, which meant that lower class horses often earned more than better horses and led to cheating to reduce a horses' ratings. He wants owners and trainers to seek promotion for their horses instead

"The current fixture policy has contributed to British racing losing market share as far as betting is concerned and has cost some £30 million in annual income."

In the future, if the proposals are approved by the BHB board on May 12, there will be at least 300 new fixtures a year staring in 2005 and these fixtures will be organized into premier racing (150), national racing (1,000), and regional racing (350-400).

The last category will consist of flat racing for lower-class horses -- rated 45 or below -- for which there is much demand but no room in the present fixture list. Prize money would be low and profits from this category of racing would boost both premier and national racing, hopefully increasing overall quality.

As well as persuading the racing industry -- which so far appears to generally welcome the proposals -- the BHB has to talk round the Office of Fair Trading which has concluded the BHB has too much power and has not been encouraging competitive practices.

Savill declared: "It is now up to us to persuade the Office of Fair Trading that this structure is in the best interests of the consumer, whom the OFT is tasked with protecting."

Measures will also be taken to boost all-weather and jump racing, while the BHB has looked to America for some of its inspirations as there are plans to develop a British Racing Hall of Fame, introduce weighing of all horses at the racecourse prior to a race, have sectional timing at all tracks, and introduce floodlights on more racecourses.