News   |    July 21st, 2021

COVID-19 AND THE COMPLICATIONS IN HORSE RACING – JAMES PUREWAL

From the bookmakers to horse owners, Covid-19 has hit the sport of horse racing hard during its path across the globe. The new guidelines put in place at meetings seems to be the new way of life in the sport, but can we see a resurgence soon in a fan-favourite phenomenon, which attracts the masses to events such as the Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot?

Granted, the loss of spectators at race meetings has put a huge dent in the revenue of horse racing as a whole, which has resulted in the recent news of the cut in prize money for the season-ending British Champions Day at Ascot. Britain’s richest race day has plummeted to £2.5 million worth of prize money this year, which is almost half of what the card was worth last year, at £4.2 million. This year’s Champion Stakes, the biggest race of the day, will be run for £750,000 pounds, which is down from more than £1.3 million last year. If the prize money is kept at this level for some time, then unfortunately, I think we will see a decrease in owner interest and confidence in continuing their business in horseracing. The incentive for syndicates and global funding groups to participate in UK meetings, will decrease if the prize money is to stagnate at this level for some time.

Whilst there is talk of a potential existence of a “cashless society,” some bookmakers have returned to certain meetings and are allowing cash bets to be placed. This is evident to me that betting companies were clearly dealt a big blow, as the spread of Covid-19 resulted in the cancellation of many sporting events. UK bookmakers are fearing that revenue will shrink more than 50% in 2020, but the biggest hit in horseracing was taken by the Levy Board, also known as the Horserace Betting Levy Board. Levy Board reserves have drastically fallen since March and are expected to be around the £30 million mark at the end of December. The board distributes the statutory tax collected from tote successors and bookmakers, to improve the advancement of veterinary science and education via horseracing and the breeding of winners. The situation of the board and it reserve funds can become very difficult, if there are no developments on the reintroduction of crowds, in early 2021.

Not only has the pandemic impacted the sport financially, but also in the preparations leading up to races, where the BHA have produced a set of guidelines, on who can be present at the race meetings. Ultimately, the only way you get into meetings at the moment is by being a connection of the horse in some form, a Veterinary Surgeon or part of the media. Restricted as it should be, you can’t help but notice the lack of hype within the sport at the moment, which is similar to football where the crowds in attendance are a significant catalyst in making those racing days unforgettable.

Who knows what lies ahead for horseracing, but if a short-term plan can be implemented when it comes to the economic aspect of horseracing, then I believe fans and investors of the sport would gain more confidence that horseracing still has a future as maintaining its stature of being one of the most predominant sports not only in the UK, but globally too. Let’s hope that one day, the sport will commence with thousands of viewers back in the grandstands, a sight which we are all longing for.

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