The Dark Horse Blog – Changes needed in UK Horse Racing

The Dark Horse stays away from tipping in this column and outlines some of the important changes that he would like to see in Horse Racing, including an end to the insider hiring advantage, integrity and farcical going descriptions.

On most days something happens in racing in Great Britain that makes one question a part of the sport and how an issue that has arisen could be resolved. After a recent spate of such events, I’ve compiled a list of 10 (hopefully not too ‘pie in the sky’) changes that I think could improve the sport.

  1. BHA Graduate Development Programme – A route into the horse racing industry that has had plenty of success over the years. However, could the industry now benefit from having a preference towards applicants who are not related to people already working in the industry? The ‘who you are related to’ and ‘who you know’ factors are huge in horse racing and those with connections inside the industry have a big advantage over those who don’t when it comes to trying to enter the industry. Therefore, they don’t need as much help in their attempts to get a first position in the racing industry which is what this programme provides. This would provide more opportunity for those without connections to enter the industry and may increase the number of new ideas being brought into the industry. Some may consider this proposal to be unfair, but it’s an attempt to address a current imbalance and if it doesn’t turn out to be successful, a return to the current situation can be made.
  1. Integrity – This doesn’t need much explaining after the events of the past week. A few years ago there were some promising signs of change but the latest farce is one huge step backwards for the department and the sport as a whole. A major overhaul is needed.
  1. Centralised Stewarding – Linked to point 2, but think it requires an individual point to deal with this. This isn’t a new idea. Some have been calling for it for 10 years. A group of top class racereaders/analysts who oversee all decisions currently made by on-course stewards. This will increase the quality and consistency of decision making, which is crucial in creating confidence in the horse racing product, and fewer guidelines will be needed in some areas (most notably, whip use). A BHA representative will be present at each course to communicate with the group and the required parties at the course. Telephone calls should suffice as a method of communication but there could be the option of video links if required. Some will argue that cost is an issue in implementing this. IF that’s the case, point 4 may help.
  1. Move BHA Headquarters Away From London – Why does the BHA need to have its headquarters in London? If this question has no logical answer (and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious one), there’s no reason why the BHA shouldn’t cut costs by moving away from London to a different location. The significant saving on costs can be put towards various projects that will help the sport to move forward.
  1. BHA Central Video Database – This is one such project. With the Racing Post no longer providing a video service, if someone wishes to watch a replay of a race on At The Races, they must either have a free account with them or have a betting account with a bookmaker that provides replays. If someone wishes to watch a replay of a race on Racing UK, they must either be a Racing UK member or have a betting account with a bookmaker that provides replays. The BHA can provide a complete video database for British racing with some of the saved costs from moving away from London. All replays in one place with no account needed.
  1. Fixture List – A complicated topic and not easy to address with the racecourses largely controlling it and various parties pulling in different directions. In an ideal world there would be no more than 4 fixtures per day and a maximum of 3 in an afternoon in Britain, apart from bank holidays when there are no restrictions. This would only be a minor change and one that mainly impacts racing during the spring and summer but it could have a big positive impact. It may result in an increase in field sizes, the likelihood of clashes would be reduced, punters would have more time to place bets from race to race and the television viewing experience could be improved. More opportunity for paddock shots, being able to watch the horses going down and/or at the start and pre and post-race analysis and interviews.
  1. Presenters/Pundits/Commentators – Any presenter/pundit/commentator whose performance is consistently below the required level or damaging to the image of the sport needs to be relieved of their duty and replaced with someone who can do a very good job instead. This isn’t about not liking someone because of their voice/background/not tipping every winner. It’s about portraying the sport in the correct manner and frequent incompetence isn’t a good look as the funny side of that quickly wears thin.
  1. Going Descriptions/Clerks Of The Course – When is standard not standard? When it’s an artificial surface that’s being incorrectly described by a clerk of the course. Incorrect going descriptions are more frequent on the turf and they are harmful to the sport – horses are being run on unsuitable ground, there are late non-runners after an accurate description is ascertained in early races and punters are making betting decisions based on incorrect information. In some situations, such as downpours within 2 hours of the first race, it’s very difficult for changes in the going to be made and no blame can be placed on the clerk of the course for that. However, there are other scenarios when incorrect descriptions can clearly be avoided, such as when there is rain through the morning and afternoon before an evening meeting. The BHA needs to start getting tough with clerks of the course and have a suitable penalty structure in place for offenders – the same should apply when rail movements are not described and when race distances are incorrect.
  1. BHA Race Manual Schedule 4 Parts 5.6 and 5.7 – These allow a trainer to substitute an item of headgear if it has been made in error (part 5.6) apart from a tongue tie in which case the horse may run without one (part 5.7) if they pay the appropriate financial penalty. People will be betting based on one item of headgear being used and suddenly another item is substituted for it or no headgear is worn at all. What a complete farce. Have one simple rule – if a horse doesn’t wear the declared headgear it must become a non-runner.
  1. Standing Starts – Does anyone like them? They seem to create more harm than good and it would seem more sensible to repeat the initial process again until it works rather than have a standing start.