01 June 2020

Reshaped fixture list that sees less meetings featuring more races could be the future

01 June 2020

Martin Cruddace, chief executive of Arena Racing Company, believes the legacy of the coronavirus impact could result in fewer fixtures with extended cards.

Racing returned at the ARC-owned Newcastle on Monday for the first time since March 17, with 10 races to compensate for restricted field sizes of 12 runners as the British Horseracing Authority takes a cautious approach in the initial stages.

However, Cruddace, who is anticipating a “reshaping” of the industry, thinks more races but fewer fixtures may make more financial sense as racing begins to deal with its reduced income streams.

I think we'll have a full fixture list next year, but I think there could well be a reduction, but I think we will see more races

He said: “I think that (the fixture list) is completely dependent on coming out of this year with sufficient confidence of the owners who maintain the horse population to support those fixtures.

“I think what we might actually see, to give an example, is less fixtures but cards with more races. The reason that’s important, it’s basically simple economics – you have the fixed and variable costs of a race meeting and the additional three or four races today, the incremental cost of that is a fraction of what it would be if you had, for instance, two meetings of six races.

“I think we’ll have a full fixture list next year, but I think there could well be a reduction, but I think we will see more races.

“I think it’s a bit early to tell because we need to ensure that the owners, who I think have been incredibly patient and loyal throughout all of this, maintain confidence in keeping the horse population healthy.

“Of course it may not be next year we see the affects of a loss of confidence in the horse population, it could be in two or three years’ time and that’s something, as an industry, we all need to be wary of.”

Racing was held behind closed doors at Wetherby in March (PA Media)

Racing will be held behind closed doors for the immediate future under Government guidance and Cruddace does not believe spectators will be permitted before September, if at all this year.

He said: “We’ve assumed no attendance income until the end of the year, we think that is prudent.

“If I’m really optimistic, I would say the beginning of September in some shape or form, reduced crowds and I think you’d have to look carefully at inside bars. What we do know is the risk of infection spreading when you are outdoors is a lot smaller than if you are indoors or travelling.

“That’s if I’m really optimistic, and if I’m pessimistic then the end of the year.”

Logician won last year's St Leger in front of packed grandstands (PA Archive)

ARC managing director Mark Spincer hopes some people may be allowed in for the group’s flagship St Leger meeting at Doncaster in September.

“It all depends on the Government, but I’d love to think that the last Classic of the year we may be able to have a number of people on site,” he said. “I don’t know what that number will be. Could it be 500 owners and trainers? Could it be some annual members? Could it be some paid admission? I have no idea.”

But Spincer, who was formerly executive director at Doncaster, said: “I can’t see it much before September, it’s a behind-closed-doors fixture list in June, July and August and I’d be quite surprised if that gets changed. But if the Government start to open up in July, who knows? Whoever thought bookmakers would be open in the middle of June? We definitely didn’t, that wasn’t in our thinking.

“But I don’t think admissions will get anywhere like back to normal for a number of months.”

Like Cruddace, Spincer pointed to the financial impact of spectators being barred during racing’s busiest period.

He said: “You talk about media and bookmakers, but in the height of the summer hospitality, paid admissions, food and beverage revenue and the rest is a large driver of the lifeline of all racecourses, he said.

“Be it Beverley’s ladies’ day, the Ebor Festival or Ponteftract’s Red Shirt night, it hits so many people.

“Then think of the charity partners we work with, the local hotels, pubs and restaurants, everybody is feeling it.”

There will be no racing at Brighton until at least September (PA Archive)

ARC has opted not to plan fixtures at Brighton or Worcester until at least September as both tracks require repairs following storm and flood damage respectively, while it was deemed “uneconomical” to reopen Ffos Las for four Flat meetings.

Cruddace has also not ruled out further ARC tracks being sidelined this year.

He added: “I think it will take racecourses some time to recover, at least until the back end of next year.

“I think there will be a reshaping of the industry. I’m not quite sure how that is going to play out, but let’s take us (ARC) for example – at least until September we’re not racing at Brighton and we’re not racing at Worcester, and it could be we narrow even further the tracks we are racing on this year and when you get to that position you do have to wonder whether an individual racecourse, where you have got declining retail and media rights (with betting shop closures), is able to have a future.

“I sincerely hope there won’t be any casualties, but I do fear for some racecourses.”

Ahead of Newcastle’s meeting, Cruddace admitted to some nerves but had every faith the racecourse team at Gosforth Park was more than capable of executing a fixture to comply with all social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

He said: “I only got two hours sleep last night, I read the Sunday Times cover to cover.

“There is a pressure, but also I think it is a real privilege to be in a position to be the first sport back and we are acutely aware the eyes of the sporting public and other sports and the industry will be on us. Against that, we have planned meticulously and also the team at Newcastle I think are one of the best operational teams in the business.

“This is a pressure, but I don’t want to be anywhere else – everyone working here said they don’t want to be anywhere else.”

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