The stampede for horse racing
Ever-bigger purses, ever-higher prices for thoroughbreds, a flood of foreign investors… The sport of kings is becoming a multi-billion-euro industry.
It’s difficult to gauge the full socio-economic impact of horse racing. Other high-profile sports like soccer, rugby and even track and field get much more attention in the media. And yet, with 60,000 spectators at the track in Paris, another 1 billion watching on TV in 45 countries, a €5 million purse and more than €28 million in bets, a race like the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is undeniably a major sporting event.
For proof, one need only compare it with other highlights of the sports calendar. The world’s richest thoroughbred race on turf, the Arc de Triomphe awards the winner €2.86 million, outstripping the €2.62 million presented to the men’s singles winner at Wimbledon 2015, the most prize money ever paid out in tennis. A television audience of one billion is on par with the 2014 Soccer World Cup final, the most-followed sports event in history, and 40 times the audience for the Monaco Grand Prix F1 motor race (25 million in 2015).
The arrival of new investors has much to do with the increased interest in horse racing. When the Emir of Qatar formed a partnership with the Equestrian Club to host the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2008, the purses more than doubled. Beyond sponsoring the world’s most famous horse race, the Qataris are now the driving force behind the entire French racing scene. They invest in the breeding of yearlings — pedigreed colts descended from the finest race horses — and are pushing the auction prices for thoroughbreds to new heights, spurred on by their biggest rival, Mohammed Al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai. As of last August the latter is out in front, having paid a record €2.6 million for a future racer at Elie de Brignac in Deauville, a prestigious landmark for thoroughbred breeders that has been auctioning yearlings since the 19th century.
Along with the sport itself, the profile of the typical race horse owner is also evolving. Once the exclusive domain of old aristocratic families and the nouveaux riche, owning a thoroughbred is no longer a financial extravagance. A new law has leveled the playing field: whereas the pool of owners was formerly limited to ten for a single horse, any number of investors can now purchase a share in a potential champion. Emulating the syndicates that have grown popular in the UK and Australia, French companies like Arqana offer the possibility of becoming a co-owner of a top-level stable for just a few hundred or thousand euros.
Crédits photo : Pluris