The British horse racing calendar has long been packed with many races in spite of riders voicing their frustration in regard to the current race programming and the side effects of its structure.
Thankfully the British racing’s Industry Strategy Group came together in September to hash out an immediate short-term solution to be implemented for 2023 and a core long-term solution, which will be implemented in 2024.
The British Horseracing Authority has laid out plans to cut around 170 races from the 2023 season. What this means is for flat races that offer winnings of £200,000 and less between July and August, the maximum amount of races has been reduced to 6 per event from 6.5, which cuts 120 races from the overly packed calendar.
National Hunt cards have also been reduced to 6 from the previous 7 per event, furthermore, from September, the cards have been reduced to 6 from 6.5, making up the remaining 50 cut races bringing the total to 170.
Race planning has also been changed to better align with the horse population. The worst-conditioned courses will also be removed alongside the reassessing of the nursery handicaps programme, reducing them by 10-12% in July and August.
When it comes to overjump races, the BHA has replaced the weight-to-age novice chase programme with class three novice handicap chases, along with reducing the number of handicap chases by 10-15% to also better align with the horse population. This should only affect approximately 10% of class three and class four handicap chases.
These changes will not only affect the competitiveness between horses but should also increase competitiveness between jockeys making the illustrious top Jockey award at the Cheltenham Festivaleven more exciting.
Another change to the season is that overseas-trained runners will be permitted to partake in low-grade handicaps as of the beginning of 2023. However, there is an exception during times of the year where British-trained runners lack the opportunity to participate, especially in the Flat events during September and December.
Easing The Financial Impact
One of the counterpoints to reducing the number of races is the financial impact it will have on owners and trainers alike. To help mitigate the financial loss due to the above-mentioned reductions, all-weather races during October and November will be increased from 7 to 8 races per event, with the option to divide into 9. In contrast, National Hunt cards will be extended to 7 during this same time period when there are generally larger amount of competitors, which makes races more competitive.
How does The Industry Feel About the Changes?
The changes have been met with near-universal praise. Garnering praiseful comments from CEO of the Racehorse Owners Association, Charlie Liverton, “British racing continues to recognise the challenges it faces. The package announced today is a short-term tactical plan which we hope will increase the competitiveness of British racing. Conversations continue on the longer-term strategy for the sport. Racing participants have been voicing their frustration regarding race programming and the side effects of the current structure for some time. I am pleased that this has been recognised, and moreover, working with the BHA and racecourses has helped shape a workable solution. This is an important marker that the industry is moving in the right direction, and we can now turn our attention to long-term strategic planning.”
These comments were followed by more positive feedback from David Armstrong, the CEO of the Racecourse Association, stating, “Following on from the two-day strategy meeting in London, it is very encouraging to see the sport come together and make some meaningful changes for the 2023 calendar. Whilst the core of the strategy output will be delivered in 2024, the RCA and its Members are fully supportive of these short-term interventions, which will definitely improve competitiveness in the short term.”
Only time will tell if these new measures will truly garner the hyper-competitiveness the committee believes it will. The positive buzz from all sides, including riders, owners, trainers and course owners, makes it seem that, at the very least, everyone is positive and excited about what the future holds.