BHA Scraps Sunday Night Racing

BHA chairman Joe Saumarez Smith

Sunday evening racing in Britain will not continue in the short term after a six-week pilot during the winter months failed to yield any significant benefit to the sport via an increase in betting turnover.

The controversial trial was introduced by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) as part of a wider range of changes to the fixture list for 2024, which included the launch of 'Premier' and 'Core' meetings. 

During a meeting of the BHA Board last week it was agreed that the Sunday evening meetings, which took place between January 7 and March 10, would be discontinued but that “the concept should be revisited when circumstances allow”. The meetings, which attracted an average field size of 10.6 runners, featured enhanced prize-money for the level of racing and additional payments for jockeys, grooms and other participants. It had been anticipated that the betting turnover on Sunday evenings would outperform midweek evening meetings but overall the average turnover was down 3%, though it was 3.6% higher digital platforms.

Feedback on the test scheme was sought by the BHA from the National Association of Racing Staff (NARS), Professional Jockeys Association (PJA), National Trainers Federation (NTF) and Racehorse Owners Association (ROA).

BHA chairman Joe Saumarez Smith said that “some valuable lessons” had been learned from the trial. He continued, “However, while the pilot did not deliver what we had hoped, there was a recognition of the challenges presented by making a decision based on such a small sample, especially when the data varied so significantly across the fixtures. It's also the case that new concepts, which include behaviour change from the betting public, are likely to take time to settle in.

“The Board concluded that the concept of Sunday evening racing is not something that should be dismissed and that it would like a further and longer trial to take place, where circumstances permit, to gather additional data.”

The BHA's director of racing and betting, Richard Wayman, added, “The trial of the six Sunday evening meetings was an informative and worthwhile exercise as we seek to grow engagement with our sport at a time when we face some difficult financial headwinds. We wanted to test the viability of racing in a window that was thought to have the potential to boost racing's income, especially among digital customers.

“But it was clear from the outset that this would be challenging, especially for those who would be servicing the fixtures. We are very grateful to everyone who worked to deliver the pilot and who took the time to provide us with constructive feedback.

“Innovation in the racing product is, and will continue to be, a key part of the industry's wider strategy work. It's important that we aren't afraid to try different things and that the sport is open to new ideas – recognising that some proposals will inevitably enjoy greater success than others.”

A joint-statement released by NARS, the PJA and the NTF supported the BHA's decision to discontinue Sunday evening racing.

It read, “In addition to the poor performance of the trial fixtures from a betting perspective, feedback from our members was overwhelmingly against the staging of further fixtures at least until various issues, particularly those around staffing of the fixture list, were addressed.

“Whilst we agree that there may be a point in the future when this concept should be revisited, the challenges faced by our members in servicing the fixture list are significant and we are pleased to see the BHA Board recognise that resolving them is a pre-requisite to the staging of any further Sunday evening fixtures.”

 

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