This week they set out an upgraded version of the scheme under which racecourses are assessed according to three criteria: the proportion of total prize-money put up by the racecourse itself; how much this averages out at each meeting; and the proportion of individual races where prize-money meets the HG minimum.
The HG has assessed all jump courses against these criteria; those meeting all three it classes as partners, those that meet one or two as "associate partners". Tthe organisation will actively encourage owners and trainers to enter their horses at these courses. The seven tracks that meet none of the criteria - Newcastle, Hexham, Leicester, Towcester, Folkestone, Lingfield, and Catterick - are on its blacklist.
Managers at the affected tracks are particularly irked by the failure of the HG to take account of the impact of meetings lost to the weather. Newcastle, for example, lost two of its most valuable cards last winter, including this weekend's equivalent fixture featuring the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. Jim Allen, Head of Racing Development for Northern Racing, which runs Newcastle, said, "If you add the abandonments back into the figures, Newcastle has quite a hefty executive contribution and it would be at least an associate partner if not a natural partner. We're disappointed that that's the way it's going to happen and we think we're being unfairly penalised."
Fiona Needham, general manager at Catterick, said they had lost their two most lucrative meetings and added that their assessment been carried out on just two jump cards. She also felt their position might be seen differently when a similar exercise is carried out for flat racing. She said "Our Flat prize-money may reflect the track better but we do our best in both spheres and jumps prize-money certainly does matter to us, even if we are more a track where novices start out and progress to bigger tracks."
All of the seven bar Towcester and Hexham operate under both codes and could make the same point, although it is not clear yet whether the HG will list tracks separately for their flat and National Hunt meetings.
Nick Lees, chairman at Leicester expressed a similar view to Needham, and also added concern about the way the HG had approached the exercise. "I don't like the way they've gone about this," he said. "I think the Horsemen's Group has introduced these prize-money levels unilaterally and, in this modern day and age, normally you talk and discuss things and do it that way. We will do our best to be reasonable but we are running a business and worked putting more than we can afford."
Running a business involves much more than simply setting prize-money levels, as Charles Enderby, Hexhamâ€™s Chief Executive, pointed out. He said, "As the most exposed course in Britain, improvement of facilities has been and will continue to be a significant cost. A high percentage of our resources go towards improving the experience for race goers; we have put in a new bar, we're re-doing our saddling boxes and are upgrading our stable lads accommodation soon. We don't have a large bank balance, we don't have a surplus. What we have is used for the benefit of racing is a whole."
Alan Morecambe, Chief Executive of the Horsemen's Group said he was open to further discussion with the seven tracks involved. "Any racecourse will have their own justifications for their performance and some of those will be valid. What we're saying is that, over the next five weeks, come and tell us what they are and what your budgets are for the future." He went on to say that if he were confident that the track has reliable plans to meet the criteria he would willingly upgrade its status.
Morecambe has already had discussions with Arena Leisure, which runs both Folkestone and Lingfield following which, Ian Renton, Arenaâ€™s racing director was confident their popsition would be upgraded. He said, "I can provide Alan with notes tomorrow which would move those courses off the list."
In my view this is another example of racingâ€™s administration opening its mouth to make announcements without full and proper discussion with those affected. What was to stop the Horsemen's Group making its classification, and then saying to the seven races courses involved, "Look, here's what we found, but before we go public we want to be sure we've taken all the relevant factors into account, so that if you're doing things that will lead to a different assessment, we can recognise that"? Or is that too much like common sense?