The PA integration process progresses a stage further in the United Kingdom


The PA integration process progresses a stage further in the United Kingdom

PA racing in Britain took a step closer to full integration within the orbit of English thoroughbred sphere in December. This follows the Arabian Racing Organisation (ARO) and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announcement in December, which effectively paved the way for the professional trainers to train both English thoroughbreds and PA horses as of January 1st, 2021. The intention to align the regulatory practices for both breeds was first mooted in December 2019, although the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down this process.

The UK aligns itself with the rest of the world. Genny Haynes, the ARO Commercial and Finance Director, was only too pleased to expand on this news and its ensuing international ramifications. She said: "This is a landmark decision which brings the UK into line with the rest of the world by facilitating the training of PA horses alongside English thoroughbreds. The various participating bodies within racing and sponsors should note that there will be no change to the management structure of PA racing in 2021, which will continue to operate under the ARO umbrella."

Although some domestic PA trainers may regret the loss of the sport’s amateur status, there are many plus points, and not least the fact that they will have the option of being able to train English thoroughbreds from 2022 onwards. On a wider scale, the benefits to the sport and international competition, in particular, are great. One positive point of particular interest to international trainers is that PA horses will no longer be required to be segregated from English thoroughbreds once they are on the racecourse. For a major five-day meeting such as Glorious Goodwood, it’s likely that the option of using the stables at Fontwell Park will remain, but overseas trainers travelling with both breeds will be allowed to stable their horses together.  Trainers will also have full access to the saddling boxes for their horses on the racecourse.

High profile races on high profile cards – a proven mix

Since ARO moved to add single PA races on English thoroughbred cards, racing for the breed has gained greater media exposure, which will further improve after fuller integration materialises in 2022. This serves to increase PA racing’s appeal to existing sponsors and will make it easier to engage with new ones. As staging top level PA racing on premier English thoroughbred cards has always been a powerful incentive. Genny Haynes elaborated further: "We were delighted that the two Gr1 PA races staged in 2020 maintained their substantial prize levels in keeping with their elite status. Our most valuable race of the season, the Qatar International Stakes, stood out as the most valuable race of the day on the English thoroughbred card at Goodwood. It was a similar situation at Doncaster last September where the purse of the UAE President Cup - UK Arabian Derby was second only to the Pertemps St Leger. We are also very grateful to the UAE President Cup series for maintaining the prize money of the UK Arabian Derby at its 2019 level."

Opportunities for all

In a year in which prize money in English thoroughbred racing was greatly reduced globally, it was of great significance that the UK’s minimum domestic PA purse levels remained the same as 2019, as no race was worth less than £2,000 and prize money was payable down to sixth place. In fact, some races, such as those forming part of the Wathba Stallions Cup series, were worth double that amount.

Genny Haynes added: "We aim to increase minimum prize money levels, which have already far exceeded many amateur sports such as point-to-point, but the Covid-19 crisis may curtail our expectations. However, it should be noted that, of the 27 owners whose horses raced in 2020, only six failed to collect any prize money. Of course, because of Covid-19, it was difficult for everyone to find the right races for their horses on account of a reduced race programme. Although we did all we could to ensure that there were opportunities for PA horses of all levels."

Supporting breeders is paramount

Genny Haynes was keen to emphasise that, moving forward, domestic breeders need to be encouraged, and she’s actively seeking sponsorship for a breeders’ scheme. She explained: "The success of small breeders such as that enjoyed by Julie Kelway with Al-Tabari (Tabarak), ARO’s leading horse this year, shows that you don’t need a big number of horses, or huge investment outlays, in order to breed winners. I would dearly like to see her efforts, and those of others, rewarded financially in the future. We lag a long way behind France in that regard, but the integration process within the rest of British racing should help goals of this nature become a reality. However, the fact remains that the PA population in the UK has diminished, and so it’s natural for us to look what’s happening in France so as to boost these numbers."

The importance of France to the British stage

Since PA racing became popular in the UK, its participants have always primarily sought out French bloodlines as a way of improving their breeding or racing stock. Four of the last five ARO leading sires’ titles have been won by ‘FR’ stallions and namely: No Risk Al Maury (Kesberoy), Munjiz (Kesberoy) and Madjani (Tidjani) (twice). Other French PA sires, Al Saoudi (Nuits St Georges), Al Jakbar (Al Sakbe) and Kaolino (Dormane), have also featured prominently in the rankings.

For analysis purposes, the 2020 season, given its reduced numbers, is best overlooked. However, the health crisis permitting, Genny Haynes is hopeful that the 2021 season will bear a greater resemblance to 2019 when 46 races were staged. Of the 128 runners that year, 45 were French-breds. A further breakdown reveals that were a total of 46 of the races and 20 were won by French-breds. French dominance in PA UK black type races has long been accepted, but with 35 per cent of the horses winning 43 per cent of such races, France’s contribution to the winners’ haul at all levels cannot be overlooked. Genny Haynes added: "Domestic success is the aspiration of any racing jurisdiction, but without the addition of imported horses to boost numbers and improve bloodlines, it’s proving impossible to increase the racing and breeding population of PA horses. Some English thoroughbred trainers may already have existing links with breeders and owners in France and the Gulf states, but there are many that don’t. ARO’s aims to develop greater co-operation with AFAC – so as to encourage the supply of PA horses – and fill the current void brought about by the uncertainties of recent years. Now that the integration process is underway, we can be more optimistic in our planning."

"French PA racing is the best in Europe so there are undoubtedly openings in the UK for horses that are well bred, or are finding top flight racing in France too competitive. These horses can flourish in the UK at lower levels. For example, in recent years, the ARO champion trainer James Owen has sourced a number of French imports from breeders and at the Arqana PA sales, which have since enjoyed great domestic success. This is a model that we would encourage other trainers to adopt."

Genny Haynes is very optimistic for the future of PA racing in the UK. Her parting shot was: “It’s always been the wish of our patron, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, that PA racing should be fully integrated alongside the English thoroughbred racing industry. We are delighted that, after all the years of hard work, and the liaising between ARO and the BHA, that this wish has come to fruition. The implications for the sport, both domestically and internationally, can only be positive."