A turning point in the history of racing
"Everything must change for nothing to change". Immortalised in the film by Luchino Visconti, himself a racehorse owner, this tirade emanates from a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Entitled ‘Il Gattopardo’ (the Leopard), it depicts the transition from an old order to a new one, and one in which the aristocracy is superseded by the bourgeoisie in 19th century Sicily. The comparison with our own racing universe is obvious: as, like all the component parts of our society, racing evolves ("everything changes") so as to continue to exist ("nothing changes"). When racing became more formalised in 18th century Britain, it was the preserve of an aristocratic elite. This entailed the organising of racing among interested parties, for pure sporting reasons, so gentlemen could bet among themselves. Much further down the line, horse racing became a popular spectacle, and one reported in the press, and one characterised by the presence of bookmakers and Tote operators. This turn of events ushered in the emergence of prize money, which was funded by a levy imposed on betting and the advent of sponsorship.
The third phase was that of internationalisation. This year the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Gr1), the first major international race, celebrates its centenary. As this anniversary approaches, it’s clear that the horses at the top of the pyramid are increasingly travelling more. It’s also where increasingly more money is being injected. However, the very base on which the sport of horse racing is founded – and for this read the owners and (in some countries) the punters – is thinning out. The disappearance of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum and Prince Khalid Abdullah has given rise to legitimate concerns. As has the disappearance of thousands of small owners throughout Europe.
One wonders whether we are not entering a fourth phase in the history of racing. This applies equally to English thoroughbreds and PA horses.
The consumer habits of those sectors of the population in the higher income brackets in western societies have been changing for a decade, and the covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend. This has given rise to people travelling less and buying more locally made items. We are seeking to live to an experience, and one, if possible, which doesn’t pander to standardisation and production on an industrial scale, but which remains in touch with nature. Horse racing, in its most local forms, really has a card to play. However, this is subject to us embracing change... so that nothing changes.
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