Bloom's Premier Thinking Could Put Racing in a Different League 

Tony Bloom and Ian MacAleavy at the Gimcrack dinner | York Races


The cleverest Premier League football club tycoon is also a devoted racehorse owner committed to “expanding” his racing empire. QED: put Tony Bloom in charge of UK racing and tell him to replicate the miraculous transformation of his Brighton & Hove Albion FC.

One day last week Bloom addressed the Gimcrack dinner as an owner of Lake Forest, the Gimcrack Stakes winner. A couple of nights later, Brighton finished top of their Europa League group to cruise through to the last 16 in their first ever European campaign.

To Bloom, owning and breeding horses is no mere hobby. At York he signalled his intent to play for big stakes on the Flat (over jumps he owns the two-time 2m champion chaser Energumene). This may turn out to be just another mathematical challenge for Bloom's restless mind. If he can beat the plutocrats of English football, why not try the same formula against Coolmore and Godolphin? You can bet your stud farm those giants will be watching him.

But how might the sport itself benefit from a large injection of street smarts? Racing folk tend to disdain external Messiahs. Bloom though isn't an outsider. He has strong form in racing and especially betting, where he made his fortune. It's tempting to wonder how a football club owner who has outflanked nation states, oligarchs and private equity hotshots would fare in a poker game with racing's warring stakeholders.

The crucial point about him is that he took Brighton from the verge of extinction 26 years ago to the top six in the Premier League by drawing on his world-class poker decision-making skills – and the best data processing model in British football. Bloom buys low and sells high, always replenishing the squad with young talent picked out around the world by algorithms built by Starlizard, an analytics firm whose work wipes the floor with the research carried out by other clubs.

Bloom loves racing almost as much as he loves the Seagulls, as Brighton are known. His Gimcrack speech will have excited breeders and trainers. Bloom owns Lake Forest with Starlizard's head of football, Ian McAleavy. Radars buzzed at Tattersalls a fortnight ago when Get Ahead, a half-sister to the 2,000 Guineas winner Chaldean, was sold to First Bloodstock for 2,500,000 gns. First Bloodstock is registered in Brighton in McAleavy's name.

The questions multiply. What if Bloom and McAleavy develop a data model for racing as good as their football prototype? Are there gaps in the knowledge of trainers and breeders begging to be filled by revolutionary algorithms? I can hear breeders crying out indignantly. Do these football folk think there is a clue unreached by centuries of evidence sifting and trial and error?

Fair question. But then it's also worth reminding sceptics that Bloom is so far ahead of the game in football that he sold one player (Moises Caicedo) to Chelsea for more than the original cost of Brighton's handsome 30,000-seat Amex Stadium. Caicedo cost £4.5m and went two and half years later for £115m.

[Bloom's] opinion carries the weight of one whose
work in football is envied across the world

To Bloom business is never just a game. He told his audience in York that he and McAleavy were determined to pursue “more successes on the flat in the near future. That will mean investing in more horses, expanding our stable and, through that, in our own way, making a bigger contribution to UK racing.”

Lots of clever people have theories about how racing can attract new disciples. At York, Bloom backed Premiersation, under which, he argued, “a shorter, more impactful fixture list, will be much easier for new, lesser-committed racing followers to keep pace with.”

His call for a two-week closed season in a 12-month cycle of relentless betting shop fodder with the aim of “focusing attention and building anticipation” for a new campaign will struggle to get past bookmakers and the collectors of racing's meagre levy. But his opinion carries the weight of one whose work in football is envied across the world. “As the saying goes, sometimes less is more,” he said. “And I believe that a few tweaks to schedules here and there, and a small reduction in the sheer volume of racing, will bring more and greater benefits to the sport as a whole in the UK.”

So: less racing, more emphasis on the big events, a break between seasons and good relations with the bookmaking industry. These were the tips from a racehorse owner whose club was playing in the lower leagues at a converted municipal running track when he took over. 

If racing isn't in the market for creative thinking from 'outside' the sport then it really ought to be. Bloom has made himself pivotal to the growth of the English Premier League as the world's favourite football division while rewriting the rules about how players are scouted, bought and sold. We wait to see whether he can repeat that trick with bloodstock (he has made a decent start).

Mick Channon spoke recently about how many rich owners enter racing expecting success on the scale they achieved in business, only to leave with reduced wealth and a thousand-yard stare. A talent for one trade isn't necessarily transferable to every other. Bloom won't be making many mistakes. At a recent club function, I practically begged him to buy Brighton racecourse to save it from stagnation. He didn't sound keen. 

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