The British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) plan to declutter Saturday afternoons to promote its premier fixtures is coming under fire for prioritizing betting at the expense of racegoers, according to Bill Farnsworth, the manager of Musselburgh racecourse. The Queen’s Cup meeting, scheduled for Saturday, is at risk of being cancelled next year under the plan to move races away from Saturday afternoons and potentially reposition them at lunchtimes or on weekend evenings.
BHA chief executive Julie Harrington has said that the strategy is intended to “ensure that our best fixtures are positioned in a manner which creates a more readily identifiable top end to the sport, presented in a shop window that engages customers.” However, Farnsworth argues that the strategy is driven by what suits betting, and that racegoers will be adversely affected by the proposed fixture shifts.
Access to data from betting companies is being viewed as a game-changer by the BHA for planning next year’s fixture list to align it with consumer behaviour. However, Farnsworth believes that the BHA is underestimating the cost of losing Saturday fixtures and racegoers, and overestimating the upside in betting.
Farnsworth explained that Musselburgh may not be able to hold on to a Saturday afternoon position for the Queen’s Cup meeting under the new plan. If the race were moved to lunchtime or later in the afternoon, Musselburgh would lose ITV coverage, which is essential to putting on the quality of racing that the course is known for. Farnsworth warned that the race may become unviable and could disappear entirely.
Farnsworth believes that the BHA’s plans are all about driving betting turnover, and that the betting companies will benefit at the expense of racegoers. He argues that the cost of the plan will be that racegoers have fewer opportunities to go racing, which is important for the sport.
Farnsworth noted that he supports change that improves British racing, but believes that the BHA is underestimating the cost of losing Saturday fixtures and racegoers, and overestimating the upside in betting. Farnsworth expressed concern that his concerns are not being taken seriously, and that there seems to be a real desire to change things without considering the impact on racegoers.