09 January 2024

BHA calls for Premier and Sunday evening fixtures to be given time

09 January 2024

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, says a judgement on the success of Premier Racedays and Sunday evening racing should not be made overnight.

The first of 170 Premier Racedays planned for 2024 was staged at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, while Wolverhampton created a slice of history when becoming the first track to race in the UK on Sunday night.

While both schemes have come in for criticism in some quarters, Harrington is keen to assess all of the relevant data relating to the six trial Sunday evening fixtures and the two-year pilot of Premier Racedays before making any snap decisions.

“Premier Racedays were introduced this year to showcase the best our sport can offer to new and existing fans as part of a broader strategy to grow British racing,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

“And while this concept will see a gradual roll-out, with innovations and enhancements to the customer experience delivered throughout the year, it has been heartening to see the positive initial response to Premier racing from the public, racecourses and participants.

“There were high-quality runners at Plumpton on Sunday, with races taking place in front of healthy and engaged crowds. And of course, the year began with a big crowd at Cheltenham enjoying quality racing at our first Premier fixture.

“The 170 Premier Racedays planned for 2024 reflect a significant investment by the sport. These are fixtures proposed by the racecourses which meet strict criteria, including around prize-money and race quality. We should be encouraged that so many racecourses want to invest in and stage these Premier events.

“We will also see more promotional work and, we hope, an HBLB-funded national campaign to support the work already being done by GBR and the racecourses.

“Ultimately, the objective is to encourage more, better-quality horses to be bred, trained, owned and raced in Britain. The sport has agreed that putting on high-quality, valuable racing is the way to achieve this.

“We must accept that this will not happen overnight. But we have made a start on creating and developing an attractive product to secure a long-term future for the sport by encouraging greater engagement with it. Time and experience will help us determine the optimum number of Premier Racedays with regards to racecourses and the horse population.”

She added: “This is the start of a two-year pilot and so we should resist the temptation to make snap judgements on its success based on limited experience. Throughout the pilot we will learn what does and does not work, how we can best package and promote Premier Racedays and ultimately achieve growth that will benefit all levels of the sport.

“Alongside Premier Racedays we also started the trial of Sunday evening racing at Wolverhampton. This saw good prize-money on offer to healthy field sizes meaning competitive racing was taking place in a window we believe affords us an opportunity to grow engagement with the sport.

“Clearly there are a range of views regarding this pilot and we respect those opinions. For this reason, the financial performance of these fixtures will be far from the only measure of their viability; we will continue to seek the views of all those involved in servicing such meetings and this feedback will form a core part of the ultimate assessment of the pilot.”

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