Friday, 27 March 2009

German Racing, Part II: The Bad

Overseeing a breeding environment uniquely geared towards the production of sound turf stayers, the Direktorium (Germany’s national racing association) largely fails to use this vast potential. On the contrary, the only races that have seen their purses and status increase over the last two decades were those for juveniles and 3-year-olds, segments already entirely oversupplied in all other European racing nations. That’s even more incredible if you think about what other racing nations would give for the name recognition and marketing potential of equine stars that run at least to the age of 5.

A disturbing trend swapping over from British racing in recent years is the emergence of sales restricted races for 2 or 3-year-olds, finally promoting the destructive breeding bias towards premature performers and speed horses to the country, not to mention the damage done to the season schedule. Where horsemen once tried to win prestigious stakes races, they’re now prepping to win the next BBAG Auction Race, races that regularly offer much higher purses than a Listed or even Group III race, but mostly attract horses that would have otherwise started in the next 5k race. About 10 of those races, restricted to horses sold at the Baden-Baden auction, exist. Consider this: In Dresden, my hometown, there now is a BBAG Auktionsrennen worth 50k (just to demonstrate their disdain for racing’s traditions, they didn't even bother to individually name most of these races), while the prestigious Sachsenpreis, a 10-furlong event for older horses, has seen it’s purse decrease from 50 to 20k during the last decade and the even more historic Preis der Dreijährigen (run for sponsorship reasons as Freiberger-Premium-Preis, a Derby prep used by both Laroche and All My Dreams prior to capturing the Big race) went down from 50 to 30k. Needless to say that the two traditional highlights still offered much more quality.

Unlike in the US or UK, most of the problems of the German game aren’t motivated by greed or lack of oversight, but by the inability of the Direktorium to recognize the needs of today’s sport. An Old Boys club if there ever was one, the Direktorium’s ranks consist almost entirely of wealthy seniors who still run the sport the way they did 30 years ago, in the age before the internet, before the advent of International simulcasting and generally before they had to worry about competition.
When questioned about their achievements and strategies, the Direktorium usually presents the International success of German-bred horses as their own achievements. Since it’s full name translates to German Board of Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding, they’re technically correct, although one might feel that this breeding success can be credited more to the individual contributions of the handful of breeders who breed and mostly own Germany’s top performers. That the other part of its mission, the racing, is losing ever more ground to International competition; that they should wonder why the best older German horses hardly ever start in Germany, or why they were unable to translate generations of equine superstars into any public interest for the sport, are aspects largely lost on the Direktorium.

One could go on and on about their blurred perception, but one example might be enough: When a single German horse won two undercard races at Auteuil, France’s jumps racing mecca, the Direktorium rated the development of German jumps racing as very positive in their annual review. A little perspective: When I first attended the races in 1992, both racecourses in my state of Saxony would feature two hurdle races per raceday, by 2000 both had abandoned their hurdle course. Since 1992 the number of annual jumps races in Germany has decreased from decisively over one hundred to barely several dozen, most of them close to the French border. One might not like jumps racing, but in any case the above is hardly a success story.

The overall health of the sport is somewhat difficult to assess. While racing plays almost no role at all in the media, most tracks have solid attendance figures. Dresden, for example, averages between five and six thousand patrons without running any major events (although that is above average), major races are usually run in front of a five-figure audience. Why this doesn’t translate into any meaningful media exposure (especially given that horse racing is a staple both on television and in the newspapers in France, Britain and Ireland) is a phenomenon partially covered in Part III.

No comments:

Post a Comment