Horse racing connections will get to battle it out for increased prize money during the 2023 season, but a refusal to reduce the schedule could see field sizes once again becoming a major problem.
The Racecourse Association (RCA) has confirmed their fixture list for next year, and while an increase in minimum values has been welcomed, the decision to allow 1,478 meetings – just four fewer than in 2022 – has not.
According to the organisational body, the schedule will ‘support the international competitiveness’ of British racing, in a clear move of halt the bleeding of horses being sent overseas to the United States, Australia or Hong Kong.
That ‘retention rate’ will also be supported by an increase in prize money, with the funds at all levels enhanced in a bid to convince trainers and owners to declare their horses and bring an end to the woeful field sizes that have impacted the last couple of seasons.
The ‘lower classes’ of British racing will see their prize pot increase by a minimum of £700 per race, while on the Flat an additional £50,000 will be handed to Group 1 action – taking the total kitty up to a minimum of £200,000 – and either £10,000 or £15,000 extra will be given to Group 2 races.
Over jumps, Grade 1 chases could be boosted by an extra £50,000 and hurdles by as much as £25,000, with smaller – but considerable – increases also set to be dished out to the lower grades as well.
Ralph Beckett, the major-winning trainer, welcomed the increase to prize money, but has slammed the RCA’s decision to not reduce the fixture list as many in the sport believe is necessary. He described the Association as an ‘immovable object’ in the way of progress, and said:
“The obvious and fundamental need is for the race programme to fit the horse population.”
According to the numbers, the field sizes during 2022 have been the lowest since the BHA starting collating data back in 1995. One in five races this year has had five or fewer declared runners.
Whatever the Weather
The hope is that the bumped-up prize money will convince owners and training yards of all sizes to get out on the road more and increase field sizes.
The best horses tend to attract bigger crowds too, and Newmarket will be hoping they can benefit from that now that they might have a shiny new all-weather racetrack to pay for.
The Jockey Club, who operate the venue, have confirmed plans for the all-weather track as part of a consultation they carried out in the town.
The ‘Racecourse Side’ plans all include new training facilities, a country park to be built in the Seven Springs area and development work on the existing Rowley Mile.
The ideas will be submitted in a proposal to East Anglia council members, although it could be a while before there’s any forward movement as Amy Starkey, the managing director of the Jockey Club’s east division, revealed that ‘these are ideas for the long-term future of the town and its world leading thoroughbred industries. None of this is going to happen overnight, if it happens at all.’
Newmarket had previously planned to build a new all-weather track in the town back in 2005, however that proposal was shelved when the BHA awarded them just three of the available 38 fixtures that year.