Is Horseracing A Business Or A Sport?

Those steeped in English horse racing like me and my former colleagues of the Press Room will have known of the exploits of erstwhile National Hunt trainer Albert Davison only after they had happened.  Davison died recently and had long since retired and passed the mantle of the occupation to his daughter Zoe, still active today in the profession of horse handler.  Davison treated ‘The Sport Of Kings’ as a business as he was as far away from the Peerage and their betters as North Korea is a friend of world peace.  Or some such synonym.  If recent reports are to believed Albert pulled off a coup in the seventies with a moderate horse ridden by the then Conditional Jockey of little repute, Richard Rowe, against even more moderate horses which garnered him 1million quid at today’s rates.

Is Horseracing A Business Or A Sport? Richard Rowe went on to win some 750 races under rules over fences and hurdles and I had the pleasure of booking quite a few of these winners when I was Richard’s agent from 1985-87.  I shared a glass of malt with Richard on several occasions but he never told me about that one.  Come to think of it he very rarely told me about many of his winners, especially in advance.  Most ‘clever’ racing people don’t.  And the game is full of them.  What I did learn from Richard were two things; earn as much from the game as you can whilst riding as your next ride could be your last and Richard retired with body intact I am happy to say.  He is currently the owner and master of a beautifully built mock Georgian house and enough land to gallop his horses to fitness on the South Downs.  Not bad for a lad who left school without too many certificates and his home in Andover at the age of 15.  Richard also taught me how tough mentally and physically jockeys had to be.  Once you have dislocated a shoulder it has a tendency to happen again at anytime.  Richard was riding hard on a chaser from the second last at Worcester when his shoulder dislocated once again.  The pain was excruciating but he rode the horse into the last, whip working to good effect and won the race.  That may appear to have been a bit of a digression from the tenet of this blog but it isn’t really.  Had he downed tools so to speak he would have appeared to have quit in an odd sort of way, so harsh was the racing world.  Not doing his reputation any good.

Richard rode primarily for Josh Gifford and the duo enjoyed a good deal of success in the eighties and early nineties, for many an owner which included Michael Tabor, now one of the three men behind Coolmore bloodstock.  Funny how the game evolves and the people in it.  When I worked for Richard he introduced me to Mr Tabor, who at the time was an independent bookmaker of some renown but not a NAME in the game.  Talking of Bookmakers, as I must inevitably do, as they are the principle beneficiaries of the game of horseracing leads me to the contentious side of the business.  I do not wish this blog to get mired in the issues of how should horseracing be financed but MONEY and who should provide it and who should RECEIVE it is a millstone currently holding the Sport back in its present form in the UK and Ireland.  Prize money levels are nothing short of scandalous for the lesser horses and the desperate ‘remedies’ for want of a better word being put into practice by racing’s rulers, the BHB, is driving a certain level of horse out of this country because it is reducing opportunities for horses rated 90 to 105 and into the hands of the bloodstock dealers and trainers in places like Hong Kong, Japan and the USA.  I will return at a future date to this issue.

On a lighter note I must tell you the very short anecdote which was told about that great footballer of the seventies and eighties, Stan Bowles.  They used to say, “ if Stan could pass a betting shop as well as he could pass a ball he’d be a wealthy man today.”  And talking of footballers and betting.  Traditionally footballers only train in the mornings and afternoons were and still are spent either in the bookmakers or watching horseracing at home.  And gambling.  And losing.  Two stories to regale you with, my Flat jockey Billy Newnes, for whom I booked rides for 7 years, was an avid Liverpool fan having come from the city.  Whenever he attended a game he’d be invited to meet the players after the game and they’d plug him for tips.  Now here I must not mention names, suffice to say that they traditionally left school early and weren’t always the sharpest knife in the box.  Billy told me of one famous player who only ever bet a horse if it had won its 3 or 4 previous races.  Now I and many so called pros at the game avoid horses like that because they will have gone so far up the handicap that winning before the next millennium would be a herculean achievement.  The second lesson I learned and so did many who watched snooker player Willie Thorne on Daytime Television the other day.  Willie was an inveterate gambler who lost a fortune on the gee gees and he said that many of his footballer mates of today, who are earning 50,000 pounds plus a week, are losing fortunes at the game.  Business or sport I ask the question.

I know one jockey who would put his whip under his left arm when leaving the paddock if he was trying on his mount that day and vice versa with the right arm.  He would have five or six of his ‘punters’ at the course either betting or laying the horse for him.  Business or sport I ask the question.  I had the good fortune to rent a room from that great cricketing writer/journalist Frank Keating, he of the Guardian in the early eighties in London.  Frank also wrote eruditely about boxing, athletics and other sports.  One day his editor sent him to interview the great Lester Piggott.  All was going swimmingly, Frank considered the interview finished but was stopped in his tracks as he rose from the restaurant table.  Piggott said to him, “ hold on “, Frank sat back down and inquired of the genius, “YES?”  Lester said, “ You haven’t asked me for a tip.  Every journalist or whoever I meet asks me for a tip.  Why haven’t you? “  Frank replied, “ My dear boy (he often spoke that phrase after drink had been taken), but I don’t bet. “

I shall end on that note and this.  I do bet, and I do tip, for this site and to my Bluesky clients and I love the sport and that side of the business.  If Dare To Dance should win this weekend’s coming Cambridgeshire I shall be cock a hoop as I tipped him ante post to my clients at 20/1 for the race and at the time of writing this he is priced 5/1.

Is Horseracing A Business Or A Sport?

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