THE FUTURE OF AMATEUR RACING
THE FUTURE SUSTAINABILITY OF AMATEUR RACING
Within the last few months, proposals by the BHB have been well documented within the press for the necessity of a betting led racing calendar with the addition of restricted field sizes. Whilst the AJA continues to strive to protect and promote amateur racing in Great Britain, against this background, we would like to express our concerns in an attempt to safeguard our sport.
The amateur jockey plays an important role within the framework of the racing industry, representing a diversity of backgrounds, ages and skill levels. Under both codes of racing, the amateur status can be a useful introduction to the young novice rider and allow him/her time to see if s/he has the necessary talent and abilities required to progress towards a professional career. The amateur route can be the first step before the NH jockey turns conditional and then professional. There are many examples of this career path, most notably Peter and Thomas Scudamore, Richard Dunwoody and Richard Johnson. Similarly, on the flat (both turf and all-weather) Ryan Moore and Ian Mongan have successfully progressed to successful professional careers having begun as amateur riders.
With the change in our social history from, say, twenty years ago, the “true” amateur from either a privileged or agricultural background is a rare breed. This is partly because in today’s fast moving and commercial world, most amateurs cannot afford to participate in the sport without a career to finance it, and partly because the demise of farming over the past twenty years has reduced the number of owner/breeder farmers’ sons participating.
Benefits of amateur racing to the sport as a whole
The spectacle of amateur riders holds great appeal to the racing public and adds a dimension that is a proven crowd puller. Cheltenham and Aintree are of course the most spectacular, when the likes of lifelong amateurs (Dick Saunders (aged 48) with Grittar in 1982 and Marcus Armytage with Mr Frisk in 1990) have left an unforgettable impression within the minds of the racegoer. In fact it opens up the sport to everyone, and appeals as a pastime that anyone can participate in regardless of his or her age and ability. The amateur riders’ Grand National, the Foxhunters, caused particular media interest last year with Carrie Ford taking the honours only a few weeks after giving birth. This kind of sentimental story gives the world of racing a much needed boost and raises public awareness of the sport as a whole. We all benefit – not only the immediate connections (owners, trainers, jockeys and breeders) but also the racecourses, the stable lads, the bookmakers, the charities, the sponsors and everyone employed within the racing industry.
Limited opportunities for the amateur rider
Of course the spectacle of amateur racing is not confined to National Hunt racing alone. The ladies race at York and their Diamond race at Ascot are always well supported, and the size of these fields is essential to the nature of each race. With flat amateur jockeys barred from riding against professionals in this country, unlike Europe, their racing opportunities are far fewer than for their NH counterparts. There are already very limited opportunities for the novice rider just starting out on his/her riding career under either code, but perhaps more so on the flat, particularly when race conditions for our most prestigious flat races demand (and rightly so) that jockeys must have ridden 10 winners to qualify. At least NH amateurs can start their riding careers point-to-pointing but flat jockeys have little alternatives unless they diversify to Arab racing, where top rides are inevitably taken by the more successful amateur riders (as well as professional jockeys). To see these chances restricted still further by the removal of some of our existing programmed races would be catastrophic to our members, further restricting their opportunities and creating a stranglehold on their chances of riding at all.
Another spectacle enjoyed by the racing public is the role of FEGENTRI, the international organisation which co-ordinates a series of amateur races throughout the world. British amateur riders have ridden in over 20 different countries in the last few years and in 2004 Great Britain hosted races at Newbury, Goodwood, Epsom (the gentleman amateur riders’ Derby) and Uttoxeter. The benefit of these races, creating excellent International relations, is incalculable, “flying the flag” for British racing abroad, and our industry gains from it worldwide. Connections are made across the globe not only rider to rider but also country to country. These relationships and friendships are often lifelong.
Pony racing is enjoying great success in its infancy and it is excellent to see young talent being encouraged and supported. The AJA are keen to support these young riders but it is a major concern to us that whilst we are anxious to guide such raw young talent in the right direction, it is possible that there will be no direction to guide them towards unless opportunities are out there for them.
The amateur jockey within the framework of the racing industry
It is not just the riding careers that benefit from all of these race riding experiences; an amateur racing background also provides a vital service to the racing industry in every area imaginable. As in any industry, experience at the grass roots is invaluable. By drawing on their respective amateur riding careers, the benefits of these unique legacies are immeasurable for many. Large numbers of racing’s owners and trainers are ex-amateur jockeys who work within the racing industry, and their riding experiences have given them a unique depth of understanding for the roles that they play. This is also true of many employed within the numerous administrative and official racing offices throughout the country. The modern face of racing now draws upon personnel from commercial non-racing backgrounds and their detachment from the sport is obviously a disadvantage.
Many amateurs begin their race riding careers on the point-to-point course and progress from this to Hunter Chasing and then on to amateur racing under Rules. With an impending nationwide hunting ban, the scale of point-to-pointing, a nursery for much equine and human talent, is seriously under threat and the far reaching impacts will inevitably have a knock-on effect on British Racing as a whole with numbers of runners reduced, revenues cut and jobs threatened. We understand that some Hunterchases are likely to be eliminated by some racecourses for 2006 as a direct result of the newly introduced proposals of the BHB with regard to betting turnover. The point-to-point world therefore faces a two-pronged attack. Flat races are also going to be affected by this betting turnover ruling which has already resulted in the amateurs losing their valuable flat race at Ayr in September 2004. Whilst we recognise that the bookmaker plays an important part in the sport, we believe that this is not the only aspect that should be taken into consideration and that the bookmaker should not dictate the complete picture. The national betting operators have never been more commercially aware of the need to make a greater profit year-on-year. Whilst appreciating that bookmakers must turn a profit, they are naturally only interested in the business aspect, whereas the amateur jockey is passionate about the sport itself.
Our sport has of course close ties with point-to-pointing. Although costs to the owners are no less than racing under Rules, the theatre of point-to-pointing is gaining in popularity for participants and spectators alike. Point-to-point experience is one of the criteria for an amateur jockey’s licence whereby point-to-point riders progress to ride under Rules. The gradual loss over the last few years of amateur hurdle races and steeplechases has created a problem for Category A licence holders wanting to progress to Category B through lack of racing opportunities. Current rules dictate that riders are required to have had 15 completed rides under Rules, with the majority over fences. This includes Hunterchases, but point-to-points are only counted if finishing in the first three. The Licensing Department agree that applicants are complaining about the amount of time taken to qualify because of lack of opportunities. Riders must spend over £600 each in attending the Category B course and are then forced to wait up to eighteen months before qualifying.
Opportunities are also non-existent for Category A amateurs in NH bumpers. Current rules restrict participation to professional jockeys and Category B amateurs, and it would therefore seem unfair that inexperienced conditionals can participate in these races fresh from completing their training course whilst it takes amateurs so much longer. With the slow but steady reduction of opportunities and decreasing numbers of amateur riders’ races and Hunter Chases, many of our members will be forced out of the sport through lack of opportunity, with only the top few established amateur riders given the chances to ride.
Possible consequential affects of proposed changes on amateur racing
By shrinking the amateur rider’s arena, their reduced opportunities will in turn lead to a reduction in the total number of horses in training and their associates (owners, trainers, breeders, stable staff, farriers, transporters, vets, racecourse staff, etc) within the sport. The potential damage on our sport could prove to be irreparable and irreversible. The large decline in numbers of the NH jockey has been well documented and remains a major concern, which could in time become a crisis. It isn’t far from that now. By restricting the opportunities of the amateur jockey, the flow from amateur ranks will dwindle and a further decline in professional numbers is inevitable. There are currently 86% more amateur jockeys than professional in the UK, of which around 40% hold a Category B licence. This wealth of talent should be protected and encouraged.
With the proposed ban on hunting in the UK, it is inevitable that a small proportion of our amateurs will move to Ireland to enjoy the benefits of amateur racing there. It is interesting to note that it is usual for the fiercest betting market on the Irish racecard to be the last race of the day, the Bumper. The Irish Bumper is either an exclusively amateur riders’ race or a pro-am race, the Irish pro being a 7 lb only conditional jockey as opposed to a fully fledged professional.
In order to encourage our members to remain in the sport and in order to continue to attract new recruits, particularly in the light of the decline of the number of professional jockeys within the racing industry, the AJA would suggest that temperance is given to both the betting turnover rule and the restriction of field sizes for amateur races. The AJA therefore ask the BHB to consider the following proposals:
1. The AJA strongly oppose any introduction of field size restrictions to amateur races as this not only damages the nature and spectacle of some races but also severely reduces opportunities for our members.
2. If it is inevitable that field size restrictions (minimum 8 runners & maximum 14 runners) will be introduced in the future, the AJA propose that the following flat races are offered protection from this rule:· Ascot: Bollinger Series Final· York: Queen Mother’s Cup· Bath: Bathwick Tyres Ladies Derby· Ascot: Ladies Diamond Race
3. The AJA propose that more amateur riders’ NH races are made available which allow for the participation of Category A licence holders in order that these riders are given the opportunity to qualify for their Category B licence.
4. The AJA propose that consideration is given to the introduction of a limited number of pro-am races for 7 lb conditional and amateur jockeys only NH flat races. Amateur jockeys to include not only Category B licence holders but also Category A licence holders, providing that Category A jockeys have had a minimum of 10 rides under Rules (any code).
5. The AJA propose that consideration is given to the introduction of a limited number of pro-am handicap hurdle races and steeplechases for 7 lb conditional and amateur jockeys only. Amateur jockeys to include not only Category B licence holders but also Category A licence holders providing that Category A jockeys hold the jump or combined licence.
6. The AJA propose that consideration is given to alteration of the conditions of existing ladies hurdle races which would then allow Category A lady jockeys to participate, providing that those jockeys hold the jump or combined licence. Additional races of this nature would be greatly appreciated.
7. Finally, the AJA request that each racecourse is encouraged to continue to programme amateur races within their respective racing programmes.
EXAMPLES OF FORMER AMATEUR RIDERS WITHIN THE RACING INDUSTRY
Robert Alner – Cheltenham Gold Cup winning trainer
Marcus Armytage – Grand National winning jockey and journalist
Andrew Balding – Classic winning trainer
Peter Beaumont – Cheltenham Gold Cup winning trainer
Col Sir Piers Bengough – Jockey Club Steward
Philip Blacker – Jockey Club steward
Steve Brookshaw – Grand National winning trainer
Roger Charlton – Derby winning trainer and Cheltenham Festival winning jockey
Simon Claisse – Cheltenham clerk of the course; PPORA Chairman
Chris Collins – Champion amateur rider and Jockey Club Steward
Sir Michael Connell – Amateur rider and Jockey Club Steward
Jim Culloty – Treble Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey
Luca Cumani – Derby winning trainer
Lord Daresbury – Aintree Chairman and point-to-point champion
Sandy Dudgeon – Steward
Richard Dunwoody – Champion NH Jockey
Tim Easterby – Trainer
James Fanshawe – Dual Champion Hurdle winning trainer
Mike Felton – Wincanton Steward; ex-champion point-to-point rider
Nick Gaselee – Grand National winning trainer
Guy Harwood – Ex leading Flat Trainer
Nicky Henderson – Leading NH Trainer
Bruce Hobbs – Grand National winning jockey and Classic winning trainer
Tim Holland-Martin – Cheltenham steward and Derby winning breeder
Richard Johnson – Current top NH jockey
Gay Kindersley – Champion amateur rider and Jockey Club member
Alan Lillingston – Champion Hurdle winning rider; major force in flat breeding
Richard Linley – Jockey Club
John Maxse – Jockey Club
Bob McCreery – Major force in flat breeding
Ian Mongan – Flat jockey
Ryan Moore – Top Flat jockey
Bill O’Gorman – Trainer
Lord Oaksey – Champion amateur and journalist
Jamie Osborne – Top NH jockey and flat trainer
Richard Russell – Jockey Club Member; former PPORA Chairman
Peter Scudamore – Champion NH Jockey and broadcaster
Bill Shand Kydd – Winning Hennessy owner and Jockey Club member
Robert Waley-Cohen – Owner