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John Baker, Commercial Manager, Bath Race Course, on 29 November 2001.
John Baker's hobby has been racing ever since he won a bet on Red Rum at the age of five. After University, he worked for Wetherby's and Raceform before working on various race courses and coming to Bath when it was taken over last October by Northern Racing Ltd.
Bath is one of the smaller flat racing courses which Northern Racing intend to develop considerably. Its profit was £10,000 in 2000; they have a target of £1 million in eight year's time. The development will emphasise the use of the site on non-racing days; racing is its most important activity but takes place on only 16 days a year. There has been a course in Bath since 1723 and it is the highest course in England.
A part of the income of the course comes from the Racing Levy Board, who collect money from bookmakers and pay courses to run race meetings on `unpopular' days, such as Mondays and Tuesdays. This is done to provide business for bookmakers on those days. The attendance at Bath is around 2000 on these days compared to 5-6000 at weekends, but the Levy provides £38,000 for a Monday meeting and £21,000 for a Saturday. The amount depends on the amount of prize money and the amount of sponsorship the course produces. The prize money has been increased from £½M to £¾M this year.
Other major sources of income are: Turnstiles - £330,000 p..a .and Corporate hospitality £150,000 p.a. Income would increase if the course was regularly televised on terrrestial TV but, at present, it is only occasionally on Sky. Sponsorship of races is encouraged but, at Bath, is difficult to arrange because of the lack of TV coverage.
The expenses include the need to provide two
doctors and two vets; a paramedic ambulance and a St John's; a horse ambulance and gate staff, as well as the usual advertising, cleaning, security and meals for staff.
The cost of going racing is surprisingly low: £5 - £15 per person, depending on the facilities provided, with free car parking and discounts for parties of 15 and over. A bus is run from Bath Station.
On non-racing days the facilities are available for meetings, parties, dances, exhibitions and weddings.
A Sunday market is held on 14 days a year, but at present these activities only contribute about £25,000 p.a. One of the problems in the way of increasing the usage is that the adjoining golf club has a lease until 2014 on land that extends across the entry road and have to agree to it being opened to traffic. An alternative entry road from Weston Hill has been rejected by the highways authority Another is that catering is contracted out to Compass who bring staff and supplies from Cheltenham for each occasion. The standard is not as high as could be wished but they have a contract for 15 years and sales are comparatively small.
Those coming to the race meetings are not, in general, local people; they come from South Wales and Swindon and, on average, drive for 45 minutes. As there is only one road to the course, it gets jammed for weekend meetings and some cars turn away before they reach the course.
John Baker is the proud owner of ` one half of one leg of a horse'; he is in a syndicate of eight. It cost the syndicate £120 per month in training fees. The entry fee for a race at Bath is £5 - £10, although it can become thousands for major races like the Derby. The standard fee for a jockey is £90 a race and if the horse wins, 10% of the prize money goes to each of the trainer and the jockey. He clearly believes it is worth every penny for the excitement of seeing `his' horse lose.
Discussion took place throughout his talk. The people who come racing do not visit Bath; he is discussing with businesses how to persuade them to combine a day at the races with a stay and visit to the city. It was suggested that the race course would be a good site for a casino.
There is more money in racing in France because there all betting is Tote, which returns profits into the sport. The Tote in this country does so but does not have a large proportion of the betting business.
There have to be four stewards watching each race, directly or on TV screens. These are local amateur enthusiasts recruited by the course.
In reply to a request for comments from race-goers about Bath race course, the complaint was made that the result of races could not be heard in the stands and that a board displaying them should be provided. This is being done for next season. It was also considered that the catering in the Tattersall section was poor.
It was stated that Bath was joining the Arena organisation of 49 other race courses (out of the 59 in England) to publicise and develop the business.
Finally, everyone present was invited to attend a meeting at the invitation of Mr Baker, who would provide a ticket on request..