Racing: A winning strategy straight from the owner's mouth: Honesty is the best bet for trainers in search of new, and old, blood

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THE motives and needs of one of racing's most important groups became a little clearer yesterday when the British Horseracing Board released details of a survey of current and former racehorse owners. The study, a product of the BHB's marketing department, which less than a week ago launched a scheme to allow advertising on jockeys' silks, is further evidence of the energetic approach to management which racing is receiving from its new governing body.

The pie-charts and graphs unveiled at the Jockey Club yesterday were produced using completed questionnaires returned by 2,861 current owners and 418 lapsed owners (defined for the purposes of the survey as not having had a horse in training for two years). Some of the conclusions are simply what common sense would predict - the discovery that 72 per cent of owners are from socio-economic groups A and B is hardly a revelation - while low prize money is the most common complaint about British racing. Other findings, though, suggest ways that lapsed owners can be tempted back, and how a new generation can be tempted in.

'The results show that people are not getting out of racing and never coming back,' Lee Richardson, the BHB's marketing director, said yesterday. 'Three quarters of lapsed owners expect to own racehorses again, which is a massive majority. These are people that the industry should be keeping in touch with, making them aware, for example, of the latest progress on prize money or the new scheme for sponsorship. Frankly, I don't believe that anyone in racing has ever thought that would be worthwhile. Now we know that it would be worthwhile, and not necessarily very expensive.'

The welcome which racecourses offer to children ranges from very warm - creches, bouncy castles and family enclosures - to cool, and sometimes almost hostile. The survey offers encouragement for the open-arms approach, since almost half of active racehorse owners had visited a course for the first time by the age of 14, while at 24, 84 per cent had attended a meeting.

'This is another reason why we've got to get young people on to the courses,' Richardson said. 'The survey shows that people who become owners have often had a long-standing ambition to do so, and the 10-year-old of today could be an owner within 20 years.'

For trainers too, the survey might make interesting reading. When asked which factors influenced their choice of trainer, both long-standing and recently-recruited owners placed charges and success rate well down the list. Location and acquaintance with the trainer were considerably more imporant.

It is also clear that owners look for one quality above all in a trainer, and it is not ability. What owners want most is honesty. 'When a horse they've got is, frankly, no good, they want the trainer to tell them and not string them along,' Richardson said. It is a thought which may cause much choking on cornflakes in the nation's stables this morning.

Richardson's department must now put the survey's findings to practical use. 'We've taken on a full-time ownership marketing executive,' he said, 'and we're going to focus on areas where we can get the most return. These are only the top-line findings, things will continue to be pulled out as we continue the strategy to go out and find more owners.'