Kevin Blake

'Now is not the time to be calling for resignations' - Kevin Blake has his say on racing's reaction to the Covid-19 crisis.

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The horse racing industry's biggest challenge

Horse racing as an industry must surely have few equals when it comes to tribalism and actions driven by self-interest amongst its various factions. 

For many, the first question they ask is always “what’s in it for us?” rather than “what’s best for racing?”

One would have hoped that the unprecedented times we find ourselves in due to Covid-19 might have led to people putting aside selfish interests to unite for the greater good of an industry that like so many others is coming under immense pressure. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The current wrangling over the British Horseracing Authority's response to the Covid-19 crisis hasn’t made for pretty viewing at all.

Trainers or indeed anyone else that has grievances with the racing authorities are fully entitled to make them known either privately or publicly, but the timing of the current volley of shots fired towards Nick Rust that were detailed in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph seems very poor indeed.

There is a time and a place for everything and right in the middle of the biggest societal crisis many of us have ever faced just isn’t the right one for something like this. 

To draw a comparison, there have been very serious questions raised about the British Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, but it won’t be until after the storm has passed with that official inquiries are likely to take place and those in power are held accountable.

Nick Rust, British Horseracing Authority
BHA Chief Nick Rust has faced calls for his resignation.

Right now, the BHA’s focus must be on getting racing back on the road, which is in the best interests of everyone involved in the industry. Whether or not one agrees with their approach in achieving this, that is the common goal that we all share. 

I could never be accused of being an apologist for the BHA, but calls for resignations at this vital stage of the current crisis are not helpful in the slightest.

This situation has served to once again highlight the biggest problem that horse racing has always and most likely will continue to have. This is that every major interest group in the industry such as owners, trainers, stable staff, jockeys, breeders, racecourse owners and the racing/betting public all believe they are the most important interest group and racing couldn't exist without them.

  • Breeders claim that without them, there would be no thoroughbreds produced and thus no racing.
  • Owners claim that without their substantial investment in buying and paying for the upkeep of racehorses, there would be no racing.
  • Trainers, jockeys and stable staff claim that without them, there wouldn’t be any competent professionals to train, ride or look after the racehorses, thus there would be no racing.
  • Racecourse owners claim that without their facilities, racing wouldn’t have the stages on which to run their races.
  • The racing and betting public claim that without them, the lucrative media rights deals and the levy/betting tax yields wouldn’t exist, thus there would be next to no outside funding or interest in the sport beyond the direct participants.

However, the reality is that rather than it being a case of one group being more important than the other, the very structure of the horse racing industry depends on ALL of those groups to function. If any one of them was taken away, the sport simply wouldn’t work.

They all need each other to prosper for the industry to thrive. The sooner everyone realises this and starts to respect each other and work together, the better off we'll all be.

Horse racing is not in a strong enough position in the wider world to waste time and money on internal bickering. It’s position in the world has been waning for many decades and if that trend is to be reversed, everyone involved needs to take a step back, look beyond their own noses and take in the bigger picture.

Unfortunately, such are the extent of the divides and power struggles within racing, even something so serious as the Covid-19 crisis hasn’t managed to get everyone in the industry to unite. That must raise doubts as to whether the thought of them all organically coming together and pushing in the one direction for the greater good is even feasible and/or realistic.

Some will no doubt recoil at the suggestion, but one wonders how different things might be if a private equity firm came in and bought up racing's assets to run them with one streamlined company, much like what happened in Formula 1 racing.

The current structure of the horse racing industry is far too fragmented to allow leadership to function effectively. It seems that only a drastic change will make a meaningful difference to the course our industry appears to be on.

Kevin Blake
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