Cries about the parlous state of racing’s finances are nothing new. It appears that it isn’t just here in Britain where they are heard. A radical plan to deal with financial problems in Germany could see up to half the country’s 48 racetracks close.
That will happen if the blueprint of the president of the course at Baden-Baden, Andreas Jacobs comes to fruition. He has been instrumental in rescuing racing there. Three years ago the track was close to closure as money pressures closed in. His complaint is that much of racing in Germany is run as what he describes as a weekend hobby, a state that applied to Baden-Baden.
Speaking at the recent Grosse Woche festival, German racing’s Royal Ascot, he said he wants “to show the world that you can run a track professionally under commercial condition to reach break even point. Baden Racing isn’t supposed to be a profit machine – it is supposed to be a functioning operation.”
As Jacobs sees it there are too many tracks in Germany, and about half would need to go to make racing properly viable. He said, “We should strengthen the strong, not subsidise those who perform less well. There are too many subsidies for the weaker tracks. I am thinking about the East German tracks, which cannot be justified except for maybe Hoppegarten in Berlin. Our winter racing is also not an attractive product. We are not going to fund socialism outside of this place.”
Little of this Darwinist rant will gain support from the Direktorium (Jockey Club) which clearly could not sanction an approach which put horse racing outside the scope of large numbers of the German population simply on geographical grounds. Jacobs points out some other problems that beset the industry there, and it does seem that some of these could readily be tackled.
First, he highlights problems in the home bloodstock industry, which he says exports too many good horses to Western Europe and too many poor horses to the East. Secondly, he points to problems in off course betting. The German Tote has only around 50 outlets throughout the country, and internet betting is less well advanced as in Britain. He welcomed recent changes in the laws covering betting similar to those under consideration here, which will bring in revenue from off shore bookmakers.
The simplest change though is purely administrative, yet the current state of play shows the paucity of quality in racing. He says, “We need to co-ordinate dates better. Sometimes we have three tracks racing on the same Sunday, which is not very intelligent.” There just aren’t enough horses to put on racing of a decent standard.
Perhaps we’ve more to be thankful for here than we sometimes realise.