The financial damage wreaked on racing by Covid 19 is starting to be felt keenly within the sport, but there is at least one ray of light for next summer, with the delayed Racing League set to launch to the tune of close to £2 million.
Creators Championship Horse Racing initially unveiled the concept two years ago, with plans to start this year shelved due to the pandemic.
However, at Newcastle on Thursday, July 29, the first of six fixtures will take place, with each of the programmed 36 races offering £50,000 in prize-money.
The total prize-money for the six-week competition, which takes place on Arena Racing Company-owned tracks, comes to £1.8m, and has been guaranteed by CHR with chief executive Jeremy Wray keen to provide a boost to the sport.
Wray said: "Yes it's a risk, but we've guaranteed the prize-money and hopefully it looks attractive to all horsemen with a couple of million of new prize-money coming into the sport."
Racing League fixtures
July 29 Newcastle
August 5 Doncaster
August 12 Lingfield
August 19 Windsor
August 26 Lingfield
September 2 Newcastle
The initiative involves 12 teams, with each squad made of up between two to four trainers and three jockeys. The races, over varying distances, will be 0-90 handicaps, and Wray added: "We've specifically targeted these sorts of horses and hopefully from a prize-money point of view it seems exciting to owners."
Wray hinted there may be an international flavour to the squads, and Brian Meehan is one trainer who is keen to participate, as he said: "The prize-money alone is great news for owners, and I’m looking forward to competing in the Racing League and hopefully being part of the winning team.”
Andrew Balding has also endorsed the idea, but not all feedback was positive, with Ralph Beckett saying previously he was not a fan of the concept, specifically its stipulation that races will take place under hands and heels with whips only carried for corrective and safety purposes.
That criterion remains in place, and there will be other notable differences, with jockeys' names emblazoned on the back of their silks, reinforcing the team nature of the competition.
New sponsors, who may not have previously been involved in racing, are being sought. The competition will have a betting partner and all races will be broadcast on Sky Sports Racing.
Wray said: "We've got a rough idea of the teams and will be announcing those in the coming weeks. Hopefully this is something that's going to be very different and has its own place in the calendar. If it's bringing in revenue from new sources then ultimately that's got to be good."
Commenting on the Racing League, a BHA spokesman said: "At this moment in time the injection of £1.8m from the Racing League project is a welcome boost to the sport’s finances and therefore, to aid the project’s launch, we have taken the step to schedule the six fixtures that comprise this series now. It is our plan to provide updates on the dates of major meetings in 2021 by the end of October.”