Talking Horses: Baaeed trainer’s inventory disposal plan would be ruthless |  Sport

Talking Horses: Baaeed trainer’s inventory disposal plan would be ruthless | Sport

Tthe exceptional and unbeaten Baaeed will face six rivals – including two stable companions at the William Haggas yard – in his much-anticipated step up to a mile and a quarter in the Group One International Stakes at York on Wednesday, when a 10th career success for the four-year-old would see his Yorkshire-born coach moving alongside Charlie Appleby, the defending champion, in the title race.

Baaeed is the best horse to set foot on a track in Britain since Frankel a decade ago and, like Sir Henry Cecil’s unblemished champion, he will set off at strong odds for the tournament on the first day of York’s Ebor Festival. Mishriff, last year’s winner for the John and Thady Gosden stable, and the Appleby-trained Native Mission, 2021’s champion juvenile and Irish 2000 Guineas winner earlier this year, are his most serious opponents on paper, but both should still have plenty to do the favorite if his stamina lasts over the extended 10-furlong trip.

It promises to be an afternoon to remember for Yorkshire-born Haggas, who will be hoping to win a fifth Group One in a single season for the first time in his 35-year career, and the long-standing National Trainers’ Federation stalwart has also found time to to emerge as a major champion of a major reduction in British racing’s fixture list, in a bid to address falling field sizes and improve competitiveness.

A modest plan to cut 300 races from next year’s schedule fell through earlier this year after opposition from the Arena Racing Company (ARC), which operates 16 tracks and would have been expected to take most of the cut. In Hagga’s view, however, this had not been nearly enough.

“We as a body, the National Trainers’ Federation, were very much in favor of canceling 300 races,” he told Sky Sports Racing last week, “and I would cancel 300 games and reduce the range of races.

“If the same amount of money is available, then [prize-money] would go up. We have a problem at the moment with too much racing, there’s no doubt about it, and only the trainers are saying this, and the trainers are the ones who benefit from too much racing.”

The steady decline in field sizes is undoubtedly a problem that needs to be solved. In the peak season months of May to August, the average number of grass handicap runners on the surface has dropped from 9.35 in 2019 – the last pre-pandemic season – to 8.37 so far in 2022. One horse per race, in other words, and the latest figure is disturbingly close to the eight runners required for three spots each way.

But 300 games is just over 20% of the 1,482 fixtures on the 2022 schedule, which would be a huge and unprecedented cut to the calendar. It would almost certainly lead to the closure of several courses and, as the high-volume all-weather courses will not be among them, the much-valued spread and variety of British turf courses could be permanently reduced. When a track goes, it goes, and it won’t be possible to revive it 10 years later if everyone suddenly agrees that it was all a terrible mistake.

The “if” in Haggas’ interview also deserves close inspection, because as big ifs go, it’s a doozy. “If the same amount of money is available…” seems to assume that around 1200 meetings with (slightly) more competitive field sizes would generate the same turnover and profits for the betting industry as around 1500 today. Since cutting 300 games would be an unprecedented move, there is no worthy evidence that this would actually be the case.

And which 300 fixtures and – by extension – which lanes should we cut? How can we be sure that we are taking the right ones?

This question brings us back to a fundamental issue that Haggas also highlighted in the interview: the fact that much of the details of sports funding remain shrouded in secrecy.

Lingfield Park 

1.00 Pablo Prince

1.30 Lark Lane 

2.00 Rainbow Sign 

2.30 Jilly Cooper (nb)

3.00 Jade Country 

3.30 Micks Spirit (nap)

Catterick Bridge

1.50 Irv

2.20 Kodade

2.50 Rain Cap 

3.20 Magical Effect

3.55 Safran 

4.25 Remembering

4.55 King Crimson 

Windsor 

4.50 Tribal Wisdom

5.20 Foreseeable Future 

5.50 Ancestral Land

6.20 Brazen Idol 

6.50 La Roca del Fuego

7.20 Elena’s Gift

7.50 Pride Of Nepal

Bangor-On-Dee

5.10 Presentandcounting

5.40 Bempton Cliffs

6.10 Shareef Star

6.40 Francky Du Berlais

7.10 Aviewtosea

7.40 Elham Valley

8.15 Malina Ocarina

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Quick introduction

Greg Wood’s Monday Tip

Performance

Lingfield Park

1.00 Pablo Prince

1.30 Lark Lane

2.00 Rainbow Sign

2.30 Jilly Cooper (nb)

3.00 Jade Country

3.30 Mick’s Spirit (nap)

Catterick Bridge

1.50 Irv

2.20 Coded

2.50 Rain cap

3.20 Magic effect

3.55 Saffron

4.25 To remember

4.55 King Crimson

Windsor

4.50 Tribal Wisdom

5.20 Foreseeable future

5.50 Fatherland

6.20 Brazen Idol

6.50 La Roca del Fuego

7.20 Elena’s Gift

7.50 Pride Of Nepal

Bangor-On-Dee

5.10 Presentation and counting

5.40 Bempton Cliffs

6.10 Shareef Star

6.40 Francky Du Berlais

7.10 Aviewtosea

7.40 Elham Valley

8.15 Raspberry Ocarina

Thank’s for your feedback.

“I feel very sorry for the BHA,” Haggas said. “They get under the cosh and get blamed for everything. The long and short of it is that they don’t have the funding that the racetracks have. They get the media rights money directly to them, to do with them what they want. It’s up to the rest of the industry to put as much pressure on them as possible.”

Racecourses sell their media rights directly to gaming companies, both in the retail and increasingly dominant online sectors. How much they get for those rights and, crucially, what proportion is diverted to prize money is, from the tracks’ point of view, nobody’s business but their own.

Baaeed, ridden by jockey Jim Crowley, wins the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.
Baaeed, ridden by jockey Jim Crowley, wins the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

This inevitably leads to suspicion and speculation among owners, trainers and other professionals that they are not getting their fair share of prize money. But it could potentially hide serious problems for the sport on the racetrack side as well.

What, for example, of the persistent industry rumors – highlighted in this column last month – that ARC has secured a significantly larger share of online revenue for its tracks than those – including the high-profile Jockey Club-owned tracks such as Cheltenham and Aintree – which sells its rights through Racecourse Media Group (RMG)? If online betting rights to many of the sport’s most high-profile events have been effectively undersold, why would ARC courses face cuts or even potential closure?

Fundamental and irreversible change on the scale Haggas suggests will be a big gamble with the future of the sport anyway. Without far more transparency about who gets what right now, it would also be a ruthless one.

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