With the official announcement today, I’m finally allowed to post that I’ve been accepted for a place on the brand new BHA Horseracing Betting Forum which has been launched. Chaired by Simon Rowlands, it caught my eye from the first press release and I’m thrilled to have the chance to make an impact on horse racing.

I’ll preface with some assumptions before going on to say about what I will be looking to put forward and to try and encourage the BHA to realise over the next couple of years. First I hope this isn’t some pointless publicity stunt to try and dampen the objections of (in my opinion) the increasingly disappointed fans of horse racing. If the new punter’s forum isn’t listened to then I hope it serves to highlight all that is wrong with British racing and all that we need to improve. Racing is an amazing sport, and it should be seen by bookmakers as an amazing product. As was stated succulently in the recent The Final Furlong podcast, racing needs the bookmakers but bookmakers do not need racing with the increasing popularity of football betting. Racing is at serious risk of disenfranchising racing fans with a lack of transparency, confusing rulings, and a sense that the bookmaker will always win. If things continue like that, horse racing has a limited future – and as a massive horse racing fan, that worries me.

The forum invites board members to put forward proposals, and I will be submitting my allowed 6 by Wednesday. I haven’t had a chance yet to either read up about my fellow members or to decide on my six, but I do know I’ll be approaching this forum with two aims. One, to encourage the BHA to fully appreciate the increasing disinterest in horse racing especially among the younger generation, and to find a way to increase the interest in horse racing. Two, to make horse racing more attractive to bet on day to day. Football has done it’s best to stamp out matching fixing, and at the highest level it’s impossible to say it hasn’t at the very least stamped out the perception among punters that racing is fixed, even if Soldado skies it over an open goal from 3 yards out. The same perception can’t be said of racing, especially when a heavily defeated favourite such as Rhombus is beaten by 64 lengths and the only explanation punters get is he ‘ran flat’. Which isn’t really a reason at all.

I won’t go into detail about my 6 proposals in this post, although if I do get a chance I will write another. I would like to bring up two points here which may prove controversial though. The first: the existence of RacingUK is hugely detrimental to horse racing. At a quick glance, RacingUK is £21 a month with a minimum contract of 12 months – that’s an outlay of £242. For a normal person with a casual interest in horse racing; the sort of punter who may bet occasionally and who we hope, in time, will come to realise the beauty of horse racing, the highs and lows and inevitable frustration – £242 is a ridiculous price. That’s the same cost as a full sports subscription on Virgin Media, which gives you Premier League football, Championship football, Champions League football, Ashes cricket, World Championship Darts, Super League Rugby, tennis…the list goes on. Oh, and At The Races, which covers half the races in the UK. And let’s not forget that there’s a pub within a few minutes taxi of nearly everyone within the country which shows the football – definitely not something you can say about racing. Realistically, who in their right mind would pay for RacingUK aside from a racing nut like myself. It gets worse too – the best racing is all on RacingUK (or on some days, theres no racing at all and just replays of Ayr…joy). So even if our friend the casual bettor wants to see if he’s interested in horse racing and flicks over to At The Races, he ends up watching a Class 6 Claimer at Wolves on a Saturday evening, with the atmosphere of your local after a bar brawl and a complete non contest (no offence to Wolves meant, of course). Football can get away with being on an expensive Pay Per View channel partly because you get a whole lot more than just football, and partly because – let’s face it – football is just a hugely more popular sport than racing. Racing needs to wise up and realise that it’s not got the same interest level as before, and get rebuilding as quickly as possible. The first way to do that is to get racing in front of more people. It’s a joke that every Cheltenham race isn’t live on Channel 4. Don’t get me started on Channel 4 racing though – that’s another article altogether (although you can read my opinion on their coverage here, How To Ruin Channel 4 Racing)

The second: racing should worry less about it’s shop presence and worry far more about its online presence, or lack thereof. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the argument: bookies don’t care about racing because of FOBTs. I think FOBTs are awful but racing isn’t the only sport which bookmakers are turning away from with their new adventure into essentially becoming rebranded casinos – football, greyhounds, everything is less profitable than these ‘crack’ machines. However, I’ve barely ever set foot inside a shop; I can probably count the number of times I’ve been in a betting shop, and the vast majority of those were to a) use free bets or b) to take advantage of a boosted price for Cheltenham (which I wasn’t even paid out on, but that’s beside the point)

Racing needs to be the first to take advantage of online. RacingUK has taken a step in the right direction, but again – £21 to watch the half the racing online, no thanks. At The Races’ video console has been unavailable for months, while you have to place a bet to stream the racing at all bookies, and even when you do the stream is so tiny you better have a magnifying glass to hand. An even bigger backwards step was the loss of replays on RacingPost, not just for casual punters but racing in general. I’m having a hard job justifying the expense of my RacingPost subscription and it’s been my go to site for research up until now.

The opportunity is there to overtake football by providing an interesting product, straight to people’s phones, free of charge. The new At The Races app is good, but there’s no live streaming. So what does that leave us with? An expensive, hard to access sport with an image of a lack of transparency – up against a main product of bookmakers, football, which is accessible, predictable in terms of bookmaker profits, and already has a much larger following. It’s no surprise that racing is becoming increasingly less advertised, less marketed, and it’s a worrying sign.

My goal on the BHA Punters forum is to discuss ways for the BHA to fix this. If they listen to the forum members, this could be the wake up call racing needs. If they don’t, I fear Nick Rust may not just miss his targets, but there may be dark days ahead for racing.

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