The fluctuating fortunes of horse racing have been called into focus, mainly due to the actions of the punters.
In both the UK and Australia, brawls at race meetings – some thought to be fuelled by class A drugs – have led to owners stating they are thinking about staying away from other events this race season, which could be catastrophic for an industry currently riding a high after record bets at earlier festivals this year.
What’s been happening?
Earlier this month, The Times reported that 50 people took part in a fight at Goodwood. The incident, which left four men in hospital, quickly went viral after footage was posted on social media showing one of the men being kicked in the head. Police are still looking for those involved.
Meanwhile, fighting at Royal Ascot over the weekend resulted in a security guard receiving multiple injuries. Previously, race meets had been marred by cocaine taking – something the Racing Post warns the circuit will need to monitor before things get any better.
Matthew Lincoln, a syndicate owner involved in the Royal Hunt Cup contender Raising Sand, has said on social media that the prospect of further violence means he is “seriously considering staying away” from the meeting. If race owners are staying away, that might also mean top horses could be pulled.
Lincoln made his comments after further footage emerged of a prolonged fight as racegoers were leaving Ascot after the day’s racing. The video shows security staff in hi-vis jackets seemingly overwhelmed as a large group of men and women fight around them. Thames Valley Police has reported no arrests but urged witnesses to call with information.
A strong market
So, will this affect the markets? Possibly, but it doesn’t yet seem like the punters are staying away.
Let’s take Australia as a good barometer for the global climate in terms of betting. In its latest Gambling Currency Report, Roy Morgan Research published figures that show the general popularity of participation in this category of betting. These findings are echoed in similar research carried out in the UK by Playtech BGT Sports (PBS).
Betting on horse races appears to be remaining popular with the over-50s, and even though only 7.2% of Australian adults under the age of 25 had placed a wager in the three months running up to the survey, horse racing remains the country’s most popular form of betting.
The PBS findings from the Cheltenham Festival showed record-breaking participation in betting during the 2017 meeting. Customers took advantage of new betting features such as Best Odds Guaranteed and Lucky Bet concessions – moves that companies had taken to appeal to a younger less experienced audience.
John Pettit, managing director for UK, Ireland, Asia, and Australia at PBS, said: “Our figures throughout the Cheltenham Festival were very positive as we saw record-breaking horse racing turnover coupled with margins that you would usually associate with football”
Adjusting traditions in horse racing
Horse racing is a sport laden with traditions, but the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has announced a range of policies that it will be applying to fixtures as of the 2019 season. The adjustments aim to reclaim the balance for people working in the sport, but also to allow for maximum benefits for companies involved as well. Flood-lit fixtures will finish earlier, allowing for more sociable working hours for all involved. Many people within the industry have to start work very early in the morning, so fixtures ending earlier in the winter will be of great help to them.
Floodlit cards will spread events more evenly throughout the day, with the final race taking place between 8 pm and 8.30 pm. In autumn, an extra 15 floodlit fixtures will run alongside races that are already scheduled; these new races will form part of a year-long trial to test how successful they are for the betting industry. The appearance money scheme is also due to be extended to all floodlit events from January to April, subject to approval, to extend to all floodlit races as opposed to just the first 8 finishers for Fridays and Saturdays.
“As the world changes and betting behaviors alter — in particular the ongoing and ever-increasing switch to digital betting platforms — it is essential that the sport adapts to meet this demand and schedules its fixtures and races accordingly.” Richard Wayan, COO, BHA
Issues remain within the sport, with an apparent cultural shift taking place at meets both in the UK and in Australia. Media reports often get muddied with talk of heavy alcohol intake at events and fights breaking out amongst racegoers. The BHA has said repeatedly that it is seeking to improve security at its events and will factor this in when licensing venues in the future.
In the past year or so, violent incidents have taken place at Royal Ascot, Newmarket, Cheltenham, and Aintree according to The Times. Meanwhile, in Australia, the industry is battling a media storm surrounding a doping scandal that has resulted in 271 charges being brought against eight individuals in connection with more than 100 races from 2010 to 2017. The Victoria Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board said the incident was probably the most widespread in Australian racing history.
Earlier this week, The Times reported that fighting between about 50 people at Goodwood had left four men in hospital. The news quickly went viral after footage showing one of the men being kicked in the head was posted on social media. Police are still looking for those involved.
Horse racing remains Australia’s favorite gambling activity, despite frequent appearances on the media of anti-gambling activists warning against the dangers of increased sports betting. Indeed, Roy Morgan Research recently released its latest Gambling Currency Report, which showed horseracing accounting for 50.9% of Australia’s total betting market (62.3% if you include harness racing). Whereas, sports betting managed only a 25% share, followed by greyhound racing at 12.5%, with the aforementioned harness trotters coming in at 11.4%.
Times are certainly changing for this traditional sport. Hopefully, governing bodies will continue to take appropriate action to preserve what is such an enjoyable pastime for the punters and lucrative source of income for the betting industry.