SBC News BHA notes concerns on Irish dominance of Grade-1 racing

BHA notes concerns on Irish dominance of Grade-1 racing

Julie Harrington, CEO of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), has issued a statement regarding British Jump racing following the 2024 Cheltenham Festival.

The BHA has voiced concerns over British Jump racing after Ireland dominated the Grade 1 racing at the 2024 Cheltenham Festival, where Irish trainer Wille Mullins surpassed 100 total Festival wins, emphasising the lack of competition that British trainers pose.

Harrington said: “I would like to offer my congratulations to every winner this week, and everyone connected with those horses. We again tip our hat to the Irish, and in particular Willie Mullins whose achievement in reaching 100+ Festival winners is truly remarkable.

“Congratulations also go to the British trainers who secured winners this week, in particular Dan Skelton for his impressive haul.

“I have no doubt that the men and women who train horses here in Britain are more than a match for their Irish counterparts. However, they need the ammunition and at present the balance of power and the best horses are going to our colleagues in Ireland, and in particular one yard.”

The rivalry between Britain and Ireland is summed up by the annual Prestbury Cup at Cheltenham, a competition between Irish and British trainers and jockeys to see which nation has bested the other over the four day Festival.

The Prestbury Cup was first awarded in 2014, since then Ireland has been named the winner on seven occasions, whereas Britain has only lifted the trophy twice, with the two nations drawing in 2019.

Furthermore, Britain’s two wins came in 2014 and 2015, marking a nine-year gap since the last win.

“This is not a new issue. The direction of travel has been set for a number of years now. The sport has been alive to this and taken measures to seek to address it, through attempting to tackle funding issues associated with the sport, seeking increased investment, looking at the race programme, and more recently the delivery of the recommendations of the Quality Jump Racing Review,” Harrington added.

“However, the Irish domination of the Grade 1 races this week has illustrated that the issue is becoming more pronounced and more damaging for the sport on both sides of the Irish sea.

“Put simply, the rate of decline of Jump racing in Britain at the top end has outstripped the measures that have been put in place to tackle it. We must do more, more quickly, and in a more coordinated and decisive manner if we are going to restore British Jump racing to the standing at which it belongs.”

Hoping to improve the standards of British Jump racing, Harrington alluded to an industry strategy, which aims to increase investment through betting turnover, attendance and general engagement with the sport.

This builds upon changes made to the aforementioned 2023/24 Pattern and Listed Jump programme by the Jump Pattern Committee of the BHA in 2023, which looked to strengthen the upper tier of British Jump racing by providing an in-depth review in accordance with the recommendations listed by the Quality Jump Racing Review Group.

She said: “Central to this is the delivery of the industry strategy. The strategy is all about growth. At the core of this is investment in the top echelons of our sport, with a view to incentivising the best horses to be bred, owned, trained and raced on these shores.

“An additional £3.8m in prize money has already been earmarked for investment in 2024 across the top end of the sport in both codes.

“The strategy is also about much more than just investing in prize money. We need to grow our fanbase by encouraging new fans and retaining existing fans and owners, improve the experience of ownership and attending and viewing racing, and much more besides.

“To achieve this the sport must work together with urgency and clarity of purpose. The times of being reluctant to embrace change or new ideas, lack of transparency, and focusing on narrow self-interest must be put firmly behind us.”

In the announcement, Harrington also mentioned gambling affordability checks, one of the flagship recommendations of the Gambling Act review White Paper, published in April, which were welcomed by the BHA in January.

“The very visible deterioration in British racing’s competitiveness with our international colleagues has also been at the heart of our discussions with the betting industry and DCMS around the levy, and our representations to Government around the risk of the damaging impact of affordability checks,” Harrington concluded.

“We have seen great progress in the last 18 months and a spirit of collaboration is clearly developing. I am confident that if the sport and its allies work together around this shared goal then it can flourish once again. Not just across four days in March, but across the whole year. Jump racing’s popularity in Britain is immense and its potential limitless.”

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