British Racing Asks Questions to Plan for Future

Cooperation and congratulation were the main themes of the British Horseracing Board's annual meeting in London June 13. A major new initiative is a "far-reaching and all-encompassing review of the way forward for British racing."

BHB chairman Peter Savill, who has agreed to stay in his position for two more years on top of the four already served, said: "Our financial and management structures have finally moved into the 21st century, but our racing product hasn't changed much since the 18th century. Is that what our customers, and more importantly, our potential customers, want? Do our stakeholders desire change?

"The honest answer is that we don't know because, although we have tinkered with our product on a needs-must basis over the past few years, we've never had a top-to-bottom review of racing and how it is presented.

"To make decisions on the future shape of the industry, we are going to have to ask ourselves searching questions. How many additional owners and horses will be attracted by the greater rewards that will now be on offer? How many fixtures do we want? Who is going to fund them? Should we establish tighter limits on the number of runners in a race? Do we want a more readily identifiable premier racing product?

"We have got to start almost immediately and have it finished by the end of this year in time for planning the fixtures of 2004."

A review group headed by Greg Nichols, the new BHB chief executive, has been formed, but British racing's ruling body recognizes it won't be easy finding solutions acceptable to the industry's various interest groups and the sport's customers.

Even so, Savill believes there have to be changes, particularly to the structure of the racing product, and that the BHB will deliver them. "The role of the BHB is simple," he said. "It is to balance, by majority vote, the interests of the many stakeholders in the industry for the overall good of the sport."

The self-congratulation came about because of the commercial deals that promise to deliver £170 million to the sport in 2003, compared with £85 million in 2000. Cooperation, mainly between the BHB and Britain's racecourses, is back on the menu after shouting matches earlier this year. The tracks withdrew from the BHB's funding plan and went their own way in negotiations over picture rights.

John Brown, chairman of bookmaker William Hills, was the guest speaker. In a witty and thoughtful speech, he called for the retention of the Levy Board, which distributes racing's income and is due to be abolished in 2005; closer ties between bookmakers and racing; and measures to help all racehorse owners.