Musselburgh ‘very concerned’ about BHA decluttering Saturday afternoon racing in 2024


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.



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British racing’s industry strategy is entering a critical stage, as proposals are being developed to revamp the 2024 fixture list to showcase the sport’s premier events. The strategy was agreed upon by British racing’s leadership last autumn and covers issues such as internationally uncompetitive prize-money, concerns about the drain of equine talent abroad, and downward pressure on field sizes and attendances. The industry programme board has been formed to oversee delivery, but decisions on the most urgent aspect of the strategy, the 2024 fixture list, are aimed for before the end of May.

BHA chief executive Julie Harrington said that efforts to progress the industry strategy were entering “an important and exciting phase.” Harrington stated that decisions were being made about the structure, presentation, and promotion of British racing’s product, including the fixture list, funding, and the race programme. She added that there was “scope for so much innovation and improvement in these areas.” The focus is on how to use the shop window of premier events to grow the appeal of the sport to existing and new fans, presenting a more readily identifiable top end to the sport that engages customers in a way that delivers long-term benefits across the entire industry. The industry is also looking at how to use its core fixtures to increase the engagement of racing’s existing customers.

According to Harrington, access to data from betting operators has proven to be a game changer, giving insight into how bettors behave. This data allows the industry to factor fan and bettor behaviour into their approach to programming fixtures and races, resulting in a more competitive sport that is more appealing to fans, owners, trainers, the betting public, and investors, ultimately generating greater revenues that can filter down to participants through prize-money.

Harrington said progress on the strategy had only been made possible by changes to the governance structure of British racing. These changes gave the BHA power to make “difficult but strong decisions.” A new commercial committee, made up of representatives of the racecourses and Thoroughbred Group, was formed last year to advise the BHA, but when that body cannot agree, the BHA board will be the final arbiter. There have been fears that this could be where the new structure might fail. Harrington admitted that some decisions would benefit some groups more than others and some decisions might impact on some parties in the short term, but the objective is that everyone will benefit from an increasingly popular sport with a growing number of customers and investors. The BHA board will have to make difficult decisions to progress the sport, but Harrington said the commercial committee was operating well and she was confident the structure would allow progress to be made.



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Gordon Elliott receives fine, and Zanahiyr disqualified from the last year’s Champion Hurdle.

After testing positive for a prohibited substance on raceday, Zanahiyr was disqualified from third place in the Unibet Champion Hurdle the previous year and Gordon Elliott was given a fine of £1,000.

Although neither Elliott nor the BHA were able to pinpoint the source of the substance, it was discovered that Zanahiyr had traces of a metabolite of lidocaine, a local anesthetic, in his system. BHA legal counsel Charlotte Davison described the situation as “a mystery case.”

In April of last year, officials from the IHRB under the direction of the BHA carried out an unannounced inspection of Elliott’s yard. However, the yard did not contain any evidence of lidocaine. In addition, neither Elliott’s regular veterinarian nor a specialist who had treated Zanahiyr’s back prior to Cheltenham asserted that the medication had been administered to the horse.

The BHA received a list of employees who traveled with Elliott’s horses to the Cheltenham Festival last year and the medications they were taking. Lidocaine can be found in both prescription and over-the-counter medications for horses.

Older forms of Bonjela were one such item, and it was discovered that the person who applied Zanahiyr’s tongue tie was using them. However, additional investigations revealed that the Bonjela that the individual was using did not contain the substance.

Elliott’s attorney, Rory Mac Neice, stated that the Cheltenham racecourse stables were “overwhelmingly the most likely place” where Zanahiyr came into contact with lidocaine and that the trainer had taken reasonable precautions to prevent cross contamination.

The BHA had sought to highlight Elliott’s staff’s “significant failings” in working practices, such as “an absence of training or guidance to members of staff about how to reduce the risk of cross contamination” and “no procedures being in place to allow members of staff taking medication to notify the yard of that fact”.

Elliott had been asked by a BHA investigator if appropriate processes were in place with staff to reduce the possibility of cross contamination, and said: “Absolutely, we would always talk to everyone on a regular basis about urinating in stables and that sort of stuff… I suppose it’s something we need to keep an eye out for. We’ll have to be tightening up on it.”

Mac Neice, on the other hand, argued that the BHA does not require such procedures and that individuals signing into the racecourse stables, which are controlled by the BHA, are not required to list their medications.

Noel and Valerie Moran’s Zanahiyr finished behind Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle last year, but Saint Roi, trained by Willie Mullins for JP McManus, took first place and received £47,745 in prize money instead.

Speaking after the hearing, Elliott said: “I’m grateful to the panel for making a finding of low culpability. That was important to me. It shows that I had taken reasonable precautions. That said, the buck stops with me and I fully support the rules on anti-doping.”


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A common-sense conclusion to the self-revived whip debate  

The BHA hasn’t ever felt that the sweeping changes of the 2011 whip rules twere strong enough and they clearly want to further tighten the rules in an effort to keep ahead of the issue.  Having said that, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of public anti-whip clamour.

Nevertheless, when the Whip Consultation Steering Group was launched last year, it was clear that big changes would be afoot. The main points were:

• Use of the whip for encouragement will be restricted to the backhand position only.

• The permitted number of strikes will remain at seven on the Flat and eight over jumps.

• Increased penalties for rule breaches, including a doubling of penalties in “major races.”

• Disqualification for usage of four strikes or more above the permitted limits in all races.

• Development of a review panel to assess all rides and implement the rules.

There have been a number of issues raised with the proposed changes. Moreover, the decision to bring in the rule changes on 6th of February, just a few weeks before the Cheltenham Festival, risks a very high-profile mess.

Although initially reticent to speak out, they have increasingly found their voices in recent weeks. The BHA then announced that they will consider making changes before the soft launch on the 9th of January, in advance of their full implementation.

The BHA continue to be committed to making changes that deliver “more considered and judicious use of the whip for encouragement, and improved perception of whip use.” However, by softening to making amendments to the proposed changes, they have allowed for a potential smoother transition to the new rules.

The forehand use of the whip seems one likely to cause controversy. Jockeys with physiques unsuited to the technique come up short with their strikes and may hit their mounts on their flanks. This could have an impact on results with jockeys struggling with the technique adjustment and aren’t able to pull their whip through as quickly as they in the backhand position.

Additionally, the proposed whip-related disqualifications seem strange. They proposed doing so in the days after the race via a newly-created whip review committee. A centralised panel makes plenty of sense, but doing so in the days after the race is bizarre. It would be very unsatisfactory if a tainted result was allowed to stand and settled in the betting markets despite it being clear that a disqualification would be  given a few days later.

While it is something positive that they are trying to achieve, the BHA should be open to consultations with the stakeholders and should delay the proposal’s launch. It is more important that it is done well, then done soon. We will wait and see what the BHA does next.


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