Point-to-point at risk with­out new sup­port

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Racing - Char­lie Brooks

The de­ci­sion by eclec­tic busi­ness­man Trevor Hem­mings to sell 50 of his ac­tive race­horses at Don­caster next month will have sent a shud­der through the Na­tional Hunt world.

Hem­mings is 85 years old, and has health is­sues that will pre­vent him from en­joy­ing his days at the races in the near fu­ture. So, in that sense, a ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion of his stock count is not such a re­mark­able de­ci­sion.

What is more sig­nif­i­cant, how­ever, is that the per­cep­tion of him rac­ing such a big string of horses, when some of his busi­nesses have been fur­lough­ing staff, was cited as an­other rea­son for his de­ci­sion.

Hem­mings will not be the only owner to take such a view. But rac­ing is etched into our souls, and as long as there are two sound horses within hack­ing dis­tance of each other, there will be horses and hu­mans rac­ing for what­ever beans they have in their pock­ets.

Hence in Ire­land last week, trainer Gor­don El­liot’s su­per­mar­ket sweep of the most ex­pen­sive lots go­ing through the ring this sum­mer con­tin­ued when he bought a €300,000 un­bro­ken three-year-old sis­ter to Al­tior.

She was ac­quired for David Page and David Rab­son. They may never achieve what Hem­mings has dur­ing his own­ing ca­reer, but they clearly in­tend to give it a good go. And buy­ing fil­lies such as this will give them ev­ery chance.

But the chal­lenges that rac­ing, at all lev­els, faces as we go into the au­tumn was brought home to me last week when our lo­cal point-to­point com­mit­tee dis­cussed the prospects of our meet­ing at the end of Jan­uary.

Nor­mally, at this time of year, we would be go­ing af­ter spon­sors for fi­nan­cial sup­port be­cause, how­ever thriftily one cuts one’s cloth, it costs the best part of £20,000 to stage a point-to-point.

With­out any rev­enue from me­dia rights or the Levy Board (rac­ing’s cut of the book­mak­ers’ prof­its), which main­stream Na­tional Hunt and Flat rac­ing gets, point-to-point­ing has to rely on spon­sors and spec­ta­tor en­trance money to break even.

But there is ob­vi­ously a fair chance that the Gov­ern­ment will de­cree that the Covid-19 threat is too great to al­low spec­ta­tors to at­tend point-to-points. And so it feels wrong, know­ing that, to be ask­ing spon­sors to com­mit now, even on an opt-out ba­sis.

The Levy Board, how­ever, is likely to pledge the same amount of money as it usu­ally does to point-to-point­ing. It may also be open to the con­cept of throw­ing more money at fewer fix­tures in the hope that a skele­ton fix­ture list could be sal­vaged.

If mul­ti­ple fix­tures could be staged at tracks such as Larkhill, Al­nwick and Chad­des­ley Cor­bett, keep­ing their over­heads down, while tracks which hold only one meet­ing a year are moth­balled, some fi­nan­cial genius might be able to find a way through this tur­bu­lence. But I re­ally strug­gle to see how that is go­ing to be suf­fi­cient with­out the Gov­ern­ment step­ping in.

And why should it do that? Well the short an­swer is this would be a very dif­fer­ent case from the re­quest ear­lier in the year to ef­fec­tively fur­lough the en­tire race­horse pop­u­la­tion. And its fund­ing would not go into prize money. Point-to-point­ers race for less than their trans­port ex­penses.

What such sup­port would, how­ever, be about is pre­serv­ing the heart of the coun­try­side.

The lads and lasses who only have a job be­cause point-to­point­ing keeps a few wheels turn­ing will ei­ther leave the coun­try­side for­ever or join the dole queue if the sport fails.

Point-to-point­ing is also a skills nurs­ery for main­stream rac­ing, which al­ready has to re­cruit per­son­nel from abroad.

So of­fer­ing sup­port this win­ter would save the Gov­ern­ment money in the medium term.

Such a move would usu­ally have been un­think­able from a Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, which could be ex­pected to abide by mar­ket forces un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, but there is noth­ing nor­mal about the un­charted wa­ters we are all sail­ing through.

The lads and lasses at the ‘nurs­ery’ end of the rac­ing in­dus­try could be lost for­ever

Cut­ting back: Trevor Hem­mings (left), with Don­ald McCain Jnr (cen­tre) and Bal­labriggs, is sell­ing 50 horses next month

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