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Horse racing in Yorkshire - hurdles ahead

View profile for Jenni Bartram
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Horse racing in Yorkshire - hurdles ahead

Behind the public spectacle of race meetings lies a very complex and inter-connected industry. We highlight some of the immediate challenges facing horse racing in our region and explain how timely legal advice may help ease a path back to more normal times.

Yorkshire has horse racing coursing through its veins

Yorkshire annually hosts the oldest race in the world, the Kiplingcotes Derby in East Yorkshire, first run about 1519. It has nine racecourses across the County, major racing training stables from Malton to Middleham with others dotted across God’s Own Acres, a successful point to point racing industry and thoroughbred breeders of repute.

York Racecourse annually hosts the celebrated Ebor Festival and Doncaster Racecourse is the setting for the last Classic Race of each Flat season, the St Ledger.

Beverley, Catterick, Pontefract, Redcar, Ripon, Thirsk and Wetherby each provide entertainment and excellent racing over the Flat and Jumps seasons for the racegoers of the County and beyond.

Horse racing is one of the UK’s largest industries. It brings more than 1.1billion pounds into the economy and provides around 85,000 jobs, often in rural areas and is supported by a network of related business for veterinary care, feeding, bedding, racecourses and, of course, the betting industry.

Cessation of all racing and its impact

In March the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced the cessation of all racing following the Cheltenham Meeting which brought the jump season to an abrupt end and the Flat season penned in the starting gates.

Whatever their age or style of racing, the horses have to be trained, according to season, not to mention fed, watered, exercised and receive whatever veterinary treatment and care they require and none of this comes without a continuing cost.

With no racing, the racecourses face losses going forwards and their alternative leisure enterprises are equally closed by the current Covid-19 restrictions.

The trainers still need to train and keep the horses properly cared for, supported still by, the National Trainers Federation states, 80% of racing employees. You cannot furlough employees easily when you have a hundred or more valuable thoroughbreds in your care and experienced stable staff are also highly valued where staff have been furloughed the remaining employees are going to be hard-pressed to deal with all work and care required.

Many jockeys are self-employed and may not qualify for government assistance in the current crisis.

In the stud farm business about 5000 foals are born annually for sale as yearlings. No sales, no funds. They, too, have specialised and experienced employees and horses that need special care and regular attention so again furloughing staff is not an easy action.

The point to point season also came to an abrupt end with two months left to run and as some of those horses go on into Jump racing  they too are hit by lack of sales and are  horses that cannot attain their full performance and value  in the current year.

Support from within the industry

The racing Foundation and the Horserace Betting Levy Board are stepping in with funds to assist the racing welfare charities and the businesses running the race courses as much as possible. A sum of about £22 million was put in for emergency support in April to assist but for many areas of the industry there is massive concern as to business viability going forward.

The Racing Relief Fund supports the welfare of race horses where owners are in financial hardship but in these times of difficult choices the trainers are at the sharp end. They have the horses with them and need to care for them regardless and in an industry that cannot run. The Breeze Consignors face an even more difficult time as the sales that should have taken place for the youngsters in their hands are currently put back to June or later and that means that many of the youngsters they have brought on may not be purchased or run. It is the knock back right across the industry that will cause serious financial loss.

The re-homing charities need help too if they in turn receive more horses into their care. Sadly some youngsters will not be capable of re-homing.

Possible easing of restrictions

The BHA are in discussions as to how they can start the industry up again with all interested parties including trainers to see which horses will be available and ready to run but handicapping , qualification for races  and the revised racing programme is quite a headache to say the least.

It is possible that mid-May could see some horse racing again, initially behind closed doors and with limited numbers in the races to effect social distancing if possible with gradual resumption of the racing programme over June and July with Royal Ascot staying in its mid-June slot and the Classic races run in July, following governments guidelines on distancing at that time. Support to the Race Courses is likely to be necessary until they are again open to the public and s income streams come back into place again.

The legal dimension

Disruption and dislocation within the industry inevitably puts existing financial commitments and contractual arrangements under the spotlight; examples might include:

  • Banks reviewing existing security where additional borrowing is sought
  • Syndicate disputes arising if some cannot shoulder their share of costs
  • The need to pursue debts for outstanding training or stud fees
  • Commercial contacts, for feed or bedding, unfulfilled
  • Property issues; rent not being paid for facilities

Whilst, in the past, a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ might or might not have helped resolve these issues, it is a more formal, contractual world these days. Much better to seek legal advice at an early stage to understand your position and potential options. In our experience, this is more likely to save money and reduce uncertainty in the long term.

Looking forward to the thunder of hooves

We are in strange times, with difficult decisions to make and cope with and awaiting better news from Government but how I wish I was standing near the York winning post again, breath held, as one of the world’s best horses found an unknown gear to leave the rest of the field behind and disappear into the distance before pulling up for his victory lap in front of an entranced audience now cheering furiously for Frankel and his trainer Henry Cecil.

Jennifer Bartram​


Photograph courtesy of Louise Pollard

Our articles are intended for general information purposes only and are not a substitute for professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. We are always very happy to discuss any plans, issues or concerns you may have and to clarify how we might be able to help. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.