Racing's rulers are finally admitting that the relentless expansion of British race meetings over the past three decades – a record 1,504 fixtures are taking place this year – has created a bloated beast that must be subdued.
Cutting the number of race meetings is among the key recommendations of a strategic review disclosed yesterday by the British Horseracing Authority. Sunday racing is also to be reduced. This year racing takes place on every single Sunday. But soon, there could be one blank Sunday every month. Many evening fixtures – particularly in winter – will be axed too.
Other key recommendations include finding a way to prevent horses rated 40 or below from being eligible to run in Flat races from the beginning of the 2009 season. Races consisting of horses rated that lowly are an unedifying spectacle. The new insistence on higher standards is part of the recognition that the march to put quantity before quality has to be halted.
Back in 1991 there were 1,059 meetings with a total of 6,748 races. By 2003 that had grown to 1220 (8,028 races). This year's list of more than 1,500 cards will take the number of races above the 9,000 mark.
Morag Gray, an independent director of the BHA and former chief executive at Hamilton racecourse, said the review marked a major shift in policy. "There was an overwhelming message that we have reached a turning point in terms of quality versus quantity and the many downsides that this is having on our sport," Gray said.
Paul Roy, the chairman of the BHA, added: "All sports and leisure activities are facing many challenges and opportunities as markets change and evolve. By preparing for action now, in full possession of the relevant facts, we will be able to preserve and enhance the leading position that British racing enjoys, and strengthen our foundations for future growth."
First commissioned in May 2007, the review sought to establish an optimal plan as concern had been expressed by many of the sport's participants that the fixture list had become over-extended. The results, released by the BHA, suggest expansion should be reversed through BHA-owned fixtures, with winter evening meetings to be cut and fixture-free Sundays introduced. In addition, the BHA wants to co-ordinate attempts to resolve geographical imbalances on a given raceday.
One problem is that the majority of fixtures are owned by racecourses. Cutting back these cards could only be implemented in discussions with tracks, as well as with the Levy Board, and with bookmakers.
All-weather racing has been a major contributor to the barrage of racing that confronts today's race-goers and punters. Yesterday's review puts forward two specific recommendations – to work with Flat racecourses to provide a balanced distribution of AW cards across the summer, and to introduce a rule that "the movement of an AW fixture into the summer at the expense of a Turf fixture will in future require the Authority's approval".
There will be no shortage of quality at next week's Newmarket Craven meeting. Henry Cecil's Twice Over is far shorter in the betting for the Derby than the 2,000 Guineas, but could yet take in the one-mile Classic and will be on trial next week.
"He's done very well and worked nicely on Saturday, Henry was very pleased with him," Lord Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Prince Khalid Abdullah, said yesterday. "We'll see how he runs there and obviously if he goes very well we'd have to look at the 2,000 Guineas."
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