By Laura Donnellan, Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University of Limerick, Ireland
Championship Horse Racing (CHR), a promoter, has recently announced its intention to change the landscape of flat racing in Britain.
CHR has developed a concept for racing that has been likened to Formula One motor racing (Danielle Rossingh, ‘Get ready for horse racing, Formula One-style’, 12 February 2018, CNN, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/12/sport/the-series-horse-racing-formula-one-2019/index.html). Horseracing is the second most popular spectator sport in Britain and ‘generates over £3.7 billion for the British economy’ (CHR, ‘Our Thinking’, http://www.championshiphorseracing.com/about-us).
Despite the international interest in horseracing, it has been slow to embrace franchising, in contrast to a number of other sports that attract high levels of global interest, including the Vivo Indian Premier League (IPL), a cricket league run by eight franchisees (http://www.iplt20.com/auction/2018).
CHR plans to bring horseracing to a new audience by distancing the sport from gambling through the creation of The Series. The Series will be launched in May 2019 and will see twelve teams compete, each team owned by a global brand. In the words of its Chief Executive Officer, Jeremy Wray:
‘This is a fantastic chance for racing to lead the way in changing how people watch sport, both live and in terms of bite-size, interactive content. The viewers will become fans and engage with brands like never before, on a global scale. Furthermore, everyone in racing benefits, be they stable staff, owners or jockeys’ (quoted by ‘Multi-million pound team horse racing series planned for 2019’, 12 February 2018, Sporting Life, https://www.sportinglife.com/racing/news/team-horse-racing-series-planned/142844).
The format of The Series is as follows: the races will take place at eight Group 1 racecourses for eight consecutive Thursdays from May until July 2019. There will be twelve teams, each owned by an international brand. There will be thirty horses in each squad and four riders. The jockeys will only be permitted to ride for the one team for the duration of The Series. Each event will consist of six handicap flat races with each team limited to one horse per race (‘British horse racing plans ‘Formula One’ team series’, 13 February 2018, Business Times, http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/consumer/british-horse-racing-plans-formula-one-team-series). Thus, each race will field a maximum of twelve horses.
The Series represents a departure from the traditional owner/trainer/jockey format (‘British horse racing plans ‘Formula One’ team series’, ibid). The races will be televised at prime time on UK terrestrial TV and will be streamed live through one of CHR’s online content partners (http://www.championshiphorseracing.com/get-involved).
The scoring system will be similar to that used in Formula One. It is hoped that the more user-friendly scoring system will attract new spectators to the sport, those that have little or no knowledge about horseracing. There will be a winning team and a winning jockey based on a points system.
In total, there will be forty-eight races and the prize money is expected to be in excess of £100,000 per race (‘British horse racing plans ‘Formula One’ team series’). Teams that rank from first to tenth place will receive points and prize money (http://www.championshiphorseracing.com/). In recent years horseracing has been less lucrative for those involved; thus, it is envisaged that The Series will benefit owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff (‘British horse racing plans ‘Formula One’ team series’).
The Jockey Club has welcomed the idea and it sees The Series as a way of invigorating flat racing in Britain. Chief Executive of the Jockey Club, Simon Bazalgette set out the Jockey’s Club position as being ‘all about the long-term health of British racing, so The Series is something that makes complete sense for us to support’ (quoted by ‘Multi-million pound team horse racing series planned for 2019’).
The announcement has also met with support from trainers, including John Gosden, who stated: ‘The Series is the most creative and positive racing sponsorship opportunity I have seen and I hope it will become a tremendous success’ (‘New team competition planned for summer 2019’, 12 February 2018, Sky Sports, http://www.skysports.com/racing/news/12040/11247507/new-team-competition-planned-for-summer-2019).
There is much speculation surrounding the twelve international brands that will sponsor the various teams.
Emirates is one of the global brands being discussed in the media (‘Emirates 2-1 to be involved in proposed Championship Horse Racing initiative’, 12 February 2018, Racing UK, https://www.racinguk.com/news/championship-horse-racing-9-2-to-not-take-place-in-2019).
Emirates has sponsored a number of world famous races and carnivals including the Melbourne Cup Carnival; the Dubai World Cup; the Dubai World Cup Carnival; and the Singapore Derby (‘Emirates and Horse Racing Sponsorships’, https://www.emirates.com/english/about/emirates-sponsorships/horse-racing/horse-racing.aspx). By its own admission it ‘has been synonymous with the sport of kings for many years’ (‘Emirates and Horse Racing Sponsorships’).
Emirates is also a partner of the Godolphin stables which is owned by the Maktoum family (‘Emirates and Godolphin’, https://www.emirates.com/english/about/emirates-sponsorships/horse-racing/stables.aspx). Godolphin was founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai (‘Our founder’, https://www.godolphin.com/about-us/our-founder/).
Each sponsored squad including trainers, jockeys and grooms ‘will be fully branded in team colours’ (http://www.championshiphorseracing.com/get-involved). There will also be a Formula One type ‘pit’ where spectators can meet the squad; there will be an app which spectators can download and follow their team and be in with a chance to win prizes (http://www.championshiphorseracing.com/get-involved).
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has not released any statement in relation to the announcement. It does not seem to have been party to the negotiations. As the regulatory body of flat and hurdle racing, the BHA occupies an important role in safeguarding the safety of both jockeys and horses. In releasing details about a forthcoming survey on the aftercare of racehorses, the BHA notes how it owes a duty of care to its racehorses (Press Release, ‘BHA launch racehorse aftercare survey’, 14 February 2018, https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/bha-launch-racehorse-aftercare-survey/).
As part of this duty, the BHA has stringent rules with regard to equine welfare. Along with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, BHA is a leading signatory of the National Equine Welfare Protocol. As promoters, CHR’s primary focus is to make money and nowhere in its announcement does it mention equine welfare. It remains to be seen if CHR will make further announcements in regarding equine welfare and well-being.
A lack of cognizance of welfare considerations could result in the proposed series facing opposition from animal welfare groups and spectators alike!
Laura Donnellan may be contacted by e-mail at ‘Laura.Donnellan@ul.ie’