The Racehorse Owners Association has pledged to communicate better and more widely in the future, following criticism of the process leading to its strategy document, to be published on Tuesday morning. The 27-page document, focused on keeping owners in the sport, is the fruit of work that began more than two years ago and has been funded by the Levy Board to the tune of £1.2m.
The ex-trainer Charlie Brooks, writing in the Daily Telegraph, and the owner Jon Hughes have both expressed doubts recently as to whether that was money well spent and have questioned why it has taken so long to get to a final document. Defending the ROA’s position, its chief executive, Charlie Liverton, said on Monday: “We recognise this document hasn’t been shared externally but it’s been shared very widely internally. It’s been signed off by the Levy Board, by the BHA board and the Members’ Committee.
“All of the initiatives have been cross-industry stakeholder-led. All of the costs have been challenged throughout [by the Levy Board].
“We’ve learned that updating the industry internally clearly isn’t good enough and that we need to be much more explicit in updating owners and the media more proactively. We haven’t hidden anything at all, we’ve been quite open within the industry as to what we’re doing. We’ve got industry-set key performance indicators that everybody’s approved and agreed. What we haven’t done is tell that story externally, and we hear that.
“We’ve been open and transparent in our annual reports but I hear that we could have done better and we need to do better and we will do better.”
Liverton hopes the strategy document will help the sport weather the crisis posed by Covid-19 but Hughes, who has seen it, retains his doubts. “Nicely produced, attractive branding, but, I’m afraid, pretty vacuous,” was his instant verdict.
“Where are the numbers in terms of targets and return on investment? There should be a five-year plan with clear indications of acquisition and retention. At the moment, owners are racing for the exit.”
Regarding the £1.2m funding for development of the strategy, Hughes said: “Let’s say the consultants were charging £1,000 a day, that’s 1,200 days or about five man years. If you put in five years’ worth of work, you better have a cracking strategy coming out the other side.”
Liverton was asked whether ROA members would see the sum spent as good value and replied: “From the members we’ve spoken to over the last two years, their feedback has been positive about what we’re doing and how we’re going about it and they’ve noticed an improvement in the way they are looked after in the industry overall.
“That’s on a cumulative basis. I think if you put a number out there and shone a light on it and said, is this value, you’re going to open up a different mindset, potentially. But I think we have worked on a lot of initiatives with success.”
Tuesday’s best bets
Since this Talking Horses is going live just a few hours before the race that stops a nation, we had better have a look at the Melbourne Cup. Some very familiar names are at the top of the betting, including the Irish Derby runner-up, Tiger Moth, and Anthony Van Dyck, the first Derby winner to have a go at the Flemington contest.
The Irish Derby form is not working out all that brilliantly and, although Tiger Moth finished well that day, his pedigree would not suggest a step up to two miles. He is not a tempting favourite in such a hot race and perhaps Aidan O’Brien has a better chance with Anthony Van Dyck, who went so close in the Caulfield Cup.
At 33-1, there is more to be said for Steel Prince (4.00), who left Ireland back in 2017 after a low-level win at Limerick. He has since done plenty of winning for the Freedman family and it is a slight surprise to see him so disrespected by backers, considering he was only beaten two lengths in a packed finish last year.
His finishing effort was weak that day after he fought his jockey for about a mile and a half. Hopefully William Pike will have the sense not to light him up in search of a good early position from their wide draw.
If he settles better this time, possibly behind a stronger pace, a better outcome is possible. He was game to win the Geelong Cup last time, a career best effort, and is not out of this.
In Britain, it’s Haldon Gold Cup day and Greaneteen (2.25) is a plausible favourite at 15-8. Paul Nicholls must have had a few candidates for a race he has won six times but he has gone with this youngster, a progressive novice last season and fourth in the Grand Annual when last seen.
In the opening novice hurdle, Nickelsonthedime (12.55) can build on a useful debut at Warwick last month, with this more galloping circuit to help. He is 9-2 against the penalised Ask A Honey Bee, from a yard that appears to be going off the boil.
It’s interesting to see Torquay (3.55) revert to hurdles after her fencing got a bit scruffy at Rasen. She had looked nicely handicapped on her previous start and is capable of better here at 33-1, with cheekpieces to help.