BHA gives green light to 2024 fixture list shake-up
The 2024 fixture list is set for a shake-up after the British Horseracing Authority board approved a number of changes, with a 'premier' racing tier to be introduced, along with restricted action at a peak period on most Saturday afternoons and a trial of Sunday evening meetings.
Several "core principles" established as part of British racing's cross-industry strategy are at the heart of the planned reforms, with the aim to grow "the sport's reach, appeal to new fanbases and better engage existing customers", with the changes representing the "vital first step in longer-term improvements to the structure, funding and promotion of the racing product".
Adjustments will be implemented and assessed over an initial two-year period.
A new 'premier' tier will be introduced, boasting higher prize-money and top-quality racing, with a two-hour "shop window" period - usually 2-4pm - established on most Saturday afternoons. That period will be restricted to three meetings, including up to two 'premier' cards, with other Saturday fixtures scheduled to start after the window ends or, on occasions, before it opens.
Sunday racing has also come under the microscope, with plans to create new 'premier' fixtures on Sunday afternoons as well as trialling six evening floodlit fixtures between January and March next year, during a time of the week where "betting activity tends to be strong".
Those six fixtures will be spread between Kempton, Southwell, Chelmsford, Newcastle and Wolverhampton - the five floodlit UK tracks - with meetings moved from midweek slots.
The BHA is also keen to boost the "core racing" product, which involves moving fixtures to later in the day and "making the most of our core fixtures during major festivals and supporting summer jumping".
A total of 300 jumps races - equating to around 20 meetings - will be removed across the year, with the summer jumping break increased from 12 to 19 days. There will be no reduction in Flat races, but around 200 races will be moved into the autumn and early winter period from other points of the year.
Joe Saumarez Smith, chair of the BHA, said: "The BHA board endorsed and approved these recommendations because it was clear to us that they were necessary and in the best interests of the sport.
"The information that was presented by the sport's commercial committee included detailed consideration of both the upside and downside of all proposals. This allowed the board to make its decisions based on the complete picture.
"It is inevitable that not all parties agree with all proposals. But it was for this reason that the new governance structure was agreed by the industry, so that difficult decisions can be made and there can be progress in the best interests of the whole sport.
"The changes will be tested over an initial two-year period and will be closely evaluated to see how well they work, with the aim of permanently adopting the things that have been a success.
"I would like to thank the commercial committee, and everyone who has been involved in this process, for their work to date. It has been a truly collaborative, cross-industry effort."
Julie Harrington, chief executive of the BHA, added: "When the industry's leaders came together in autumn last year, we agreed unanimously that innovation in the way the sport is presented is an absolute necessity.
"The core principles approved by the BHA Board were identified as the most time sensitive area and the foundation of our wider approach.
"There is still a huge amount to do as we seek to grow and future-proof British racing, but the development of a fixture list that seeks to attract new fans and grow the appeal of our sport to existing customers represents an important first step."
The Professional Jockeys Association released a statement broadly backing the changes.
It read: "The PJA understands and remains fully engaged with the need for the fixture list to continue to evolve. There remain challenges ahead for all stakeholders, however it is vital that all parties involved continue to work together to ensure that British racing remains competitive and relevant whilst maintaining opportunities for horses and their connections under both codes.
"With another extensive fixture list for next year, we welcome the confirmation of clear code breaks for participants, which we have steadfastly supported, alongside further potential initiatives to be announced in the coming months.
"The PJA supports a pilot for the six Sunday evening floodlit fixtures on the understanding that our members are rewarded appropriately for these fixtures.
"The PJA thanks all concerned for their work to date on these initiatives."
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