Last year 38.3 per cent of races had seven runners or fewerPICTURE: Channel 4 Racing
Ashforth's Angles: Sorry about Monday
ONE of the first things many punters look for when preparing to study a race is whether or not there are eight runners. Eight marks an important boundary. It means that the place part of an each-way bet pays out if your selection finishes in the first three whereas, with seven runners, your selection must finish in the first two.
Punters groan when faced with fields of less than eight and so do bookmakers, the Levy Board, racecourses and the BHA because field sizes affect bookmakers' turnover and profitability with knock-on effects on racing's income through the levy and media rights payments.
There have been some innovations in place betting but the traditional terms still dominate and many punters will have plenty to groan about on Monday. They will groan and they will have fewer bets.
Without the going presenting an obvious explanation, only one of Ffos Las's seven races boasts eight runners; five of Wolverhampton's seven races and four of Windsor's six races have fewer than eight runners. Only Ayr can hold its head up high with seven of its eight races having eight or more runners, helped by 11 Irish trained horses.
Field sizes down
Two years ago Paul Bittar, then the BHA's chief executive, said "small field races have become arguably the biggest challenge facing British racing." A major consultation exercise took place in advance of the 2015 fixture list. It stated, "British racing has to address the issue of small fields" and the consultation would focus "on the impact of the recent and significant decline in field sizes," down from 11.0 in 2005 to 9.0 in 2013. The number of races had increased while the horse population had decreased.
A lot of data was analysed and various initiatives launched, some of which were credited with a modest increase in both the average number of horses in training (from 13,528 in 2014 to 13,886 in 2015) and field sizes (from 8.66 in 2014 to 8.77 in 2015). It was acknowledged that these figures still compared unfavourably with those from five and more years ago and that more work needed to be done.
It certainly did because last year 38.3 per cent of all races had seven or fewer runners, a marginal improvement on the 2014 figure of 40.8 per cent but still unsatisfactory.
The 2017 fixture list, developed through a collaborative exercise between the BHA, horsemen and racecourses, is intended "to grow racing and betting, in particular remote betting." Given the amount of work that has gone into it, it would be inappropriate to be critical without a detailed analysis.
Yet the fact is that there will be more fixtures next year than in any year since 2010, a step reliant on continued growth in the horse population and on the impact of a sophisticated manipulation of fixtures and race programmes.
The 2014/2015 focus on field sizes is much less evident. It remains to be seen whether recasting the fixture list will enable the BHA to increase field sizes without cutting the number of fixtures, which it is clearly reluctant to do.
Sorry about Monday.