Manager of Lancashire Racing Stables Paul Clarkson believes Covid-19 has had little impact on his yard – and figures published by the British Horse Racing Authority support his statement.
The BHA report that the number of horses in training throughout the year reduced by only 0.6% from that in 2019. The report also stated horse racing was winning the fight against the current pandemic with the amount of owners and trainers remaining at a similar level throughout.
Clarkson said: “There is a group of people, quite a lot of people, mostly older, who have had a real shock through Covid, thinking to themselves, ‘look you know, I want to enjoy myself whilst I can before this Covid gets me’.
“They have got maybe a little bit of spare money and decided, ‘look now’s the time to spend it on a racehorse. I can’t take it with me’.”
Prize money within the sport reduced by an average of 20% last year. Many race days were staged behind closed doors, after returning from national lockdown. These included the Royal Ascot meeting, while the Grand National at Aintree was cancelled.
There was talk about many owners leaving the sport due to the reduction in prize money. However, Class five and six racing had an increase which has benefitted certain owners.
Clarkson added: “Maybe the owners at the lower end haven’t been as badly affected. I mean races at Cheltenham that might normally be worth £200K, this year might be only £50K.
“We have moderate horses. Most of our owners don’t have a lot of money to spend on their horses. We’d love to be running at York, Haydock, Chester, Ascot and Newmarket but our horses run in the lower grade races.”
There are only five trainers based in Lancashire, whereas Yorkshire contains 62 racing stables. The gulf in numbers is not down to Covid but down to a ruling years ago stating that horses could only be trained on grass. A constantly wet Lancashire meant trainers based themselves on the other side of the Pennines.
A majority of owners in Lancashire have their horses trained further afield with well recognised training yards. The Red Rose county is perceived to house the so-called smaller trainers.
Clarkson added: “The bad news is that there are a lot of owners in this area who unfortunately they have them (horses) trained a long way away. They don’t have them with local trainers because we are only small trainers.
“It’s very hard to persuade people who have their horse with David O’Meara, Richard Fahey. It’s very hard to say they are no good, they don’t know what they are doing.”
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the sport, but seemingly mostly in the elite levels. Group one races on the flat and Grade one national hunt races have seen prize funds almost halved.
Despite owners not being allowed on tracks, the level of them staying within in the sport highlights the passion out there, for the second most attended sport in the UK.
Lancashire Racing Stables would love a horse to be running at Cheltenham. But having lower graded horses is benefitting them in the fight against the pandemic. What is for sure, is that the sport for kings is here to stay in the county.