The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has unveiled dramatic plans to revolutionise the sport in 2024, including a ‘Premier’ tier of races and Sunday evening floodlit action.
The governing body has recognised the need to grow horse racing at a time when concerns over the cost of training are only partially being offset by an increase in prize money.
The BHA believe that their innovations, which will also include a ‘shop window’ of top-tier racing every Saturday and moving fixtures to later starting times, will ‘appeal to new fanbases’ and ‘better engage existing customers’.
The changes, which will see increased prize money introduced for the so-called Premier races, are designed to boost the popularity of both elite and ‘everyday’ racing meetings across the UK.
BHA chair Joe Saumaraz Smith has admitted that the sport needs to move with the times.
“This is a vital time for racing. Collectively we are working together better than we have for many years, thinking about the long-term health of the sport and showing a willingness to embrace change.
“It is not going to be easy, particularly given the precarious financial situations of so many people involved in the sport, but I remain optimistic that racing is making the right decisions to sustain itself for many years to come.”
How Will British Horseracing Change in 2024?
The BHA has been working away on their research project ‘The Racing Product’, which has six different areas that will co-exist to improve racing on British soil – that’s the plan, anyway.
The first of those six elements is the Future Racing Product, a set of proposals designed to future-proof the sport while attracting a new, more casual audience.
The principles informing the Future Racing Product will be implemented into the 2024 fixture list, and will see several changes made to the week’s action:
1 – Premier Racing
What’s better than HD television? Ultra HD television. What’s better than an XL cheeseburger? A Super XL cheeseburger.
The BHA have taken that principle and devised the Premier tier of races, which will be designed to be even more prestigious than Grade 1 action – with increased prize pools into the bargain.
The idea is that the best horses competing against one another more regularly will attract more punters to UK racecourses, while protecting the interests of the top trainers in racing.
Although the 2024 fixture list is yet to be revealed, it’s thought that the majority of Premier races will take places on Saturdays throughout the National Hunt campaign.
2 – Shop Window Racing
The research conducted by the BHA has found that there’s a ‘sweet spot’ for horse racing on Saturdays between 2pm and 4pm where customer engagement is at its peak.
Labelling this as a ‘shop window’ for British racing, the BHA wants to ensure that the most high-profile races (a maximum of three spread out across the two hours) occur at this time – meaning that this is when most of the Premier fixtures will take place.
The press release speculates that unnamed ‘streaming platforms’ will be given access to these races too to attract a wider audience.
3 – Sunday Racing
There are racing meetings held on a Sunday already, but there’s a feeling that these don’t take advantage enough of the potential for drawing in more weekend punters and family groups.
So, the BHA plans to boost Sunday racing by hosting Premier tier meetings on the Sabbath, while also piloting a trial of Sunday evening floodlit fixtures – although the slight misstep of hosting these between January and March may backfire given the weather.
It could mean a reduction in the number of floodlit meetings taking place in midweek, too.
4 – Later Racing
It goes without saying that attendances at racecourses, plus betting revenue, would be greater if meetings were held later in the day to appeal to the post-work crowd.
The BHA has recognised this and, at times of the year when there’s more daylight in the evenings, will request that races are moved to later starting times.
Another plan could lead to changes to festival schedules like that of the Cheltenham Festival – there’s a desire to group better-standard of races around the Premier fixture, which could mean an overhaul of each day’s racecard.
5 – Summer Racing
Would you rather watch horse racing on a cold day at Musselburgh or a warm summer’s evening at Ascot?
That’s the conundrum that the BHA plan to solve by hosting more racing – both over jumps and on the Flat – in the summer months, where the ability to attract a different kind of audience is at its peak.
So more jumps meetings will be scheduled for the summer months, which will put more pressure on course officials to ensure the going is safe but with an upshot of more money being taken on the turnstiles.
Conversely, some of the more eye-catching Flat races could be moved from the summer and into the autumn – extending the season and creating more intrigue ahead of the Group One action.
6 – A Jump Racing Cull
One of the more alarming revelations in the BHA’s racing plan is the decision to cut as many as 300 races – as much as 8% of the annual schedule – from the National Hunt fixture list.
It’s a move that will surely go down like a lead balloon with some of the sport’s smaller training yards and ownership teams, although some would argue that there’s too much racing – hence the small fields at many lower-grade meetings.
It will be interesting to see if anyone connected with racing horses beyond the elite trainers and owners truly benefit from these changes….