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What is the future of Welsh racing?

Credit: Ffos Las Racecourse

It’s been a year like no other and the ongoing pandemic has caused sport many problems. That’s definitely the case with Welsh horse racing. With race meetings being held behind closed doors, finances have been hit hard. Just what is the future of Welsh racing?

Sport has been affected by the health crisis over the past nine months. Between March 16 and May 31, there was no horse racing in the UK. When it did resume, Chepstow, Bangor on Dee and Ffos Las could hold races but with no fans attending.

That means no gate revenue and reduced prize money.  All a bit frustrating when online gambling sites are doing rather well, especially when the High Street bookmakers have been closed during lockdowns. Without some help, Welsh racecourses could be in trouble.

The presence of media rights and sponsorship has been even more important for horse racing. Even so, it’s estimated that around £300 million in revenue has been lost by British tracks.

Since November, some fans have been allowed back to racetracks. How long will that last though?  The thrill of a vaccine has been rather muted by the arrival of a mutant virus. More bad news piled on an already difficult situation.

The recent announcement of financial help for the industry was good news unless you’re Welsh. The devolved Welsh government hasn’t given financial assistance. Their Christmas present to the horse racing industry is to announce that fans couldn’t attend horse racing meetings until February 2021, if the crisis eases. No holding your breath on that one. The new rules will affect another seven Welsh race meetings if February is the return date for fans.

Chepstow in particular are feeling the pressure with many bills to pay. A Welsh Grand National meeting on December 27 without any fans is a total disaster for them.

The situation at Ffos Las is so bad they didn’t even hold meetings at one stage. That policy has changed because of the fact they belong to the Arena Racing Company (as does Chepstow). This gives them a better chance of surviving than if they were fighting the financial battle all by themselves. English racing has received that financial assistance but if the situation continues, will the Arena Racing Company still want to keep the Welsh racecourses running?

Bangor on Dee isn’t on its own either. They are part of the Chester Race Company. They won’t have been too pleased with the comments of their  chief executive Richard Thomas. He said: “if crowds don’t come back there are going to be a huge number of sporting organisations that won’t be here next year.” He added that the list will include horse racing “because none of us can survive without crowds.”

If Welsh horse racing is to survive, fans need to be allowed back, even if a limited number. However, will that happen even with a vaccine? Financial help is needed if the three Welsh racecourses are to survive. Just a plan for the future would be useful before it’s too late.