Mark Todd: do stunning settings attract spectators or just bump up costs? [H&H VIP]

  • It’s been interesting going to 3 3-star/advanced events 3 weekends in a row — Belton, Weston Park and Burnham Market. All were good events and my horses ran well.

    But the economics don’t add up. The start fees for the advanced classes were all towards the top of the range available — £30 at Belton, £28 at Weston and £25 at Burnham Market.

    Nobody minds paying top-end start fees if you feel that the work done to the course reflects that. And, to be fair, the organisers at Belton have worked hard to make that very old turf smoother and more level.

    The ground at Weston is lovely old parkland and was near perfect and the courses quite challenging. At Burnham Market it was fairly firm, but they had had no rain for 3 weeks, it’s flinty, dry coastal soil and they had made a decent effort to improve it.

    And it’s good that events focus on the going. These days, riders just won’t run their good horses unless they have good ground. However, that start fee added to an entry fee of £276.86, plus stabling and travel costs, means that if you take a first prize of £1,500 — which I did at Belton — once you’ve split it 50:50 with the owner, neither side is left with much to show for winning one of the most prestigious classes in the calendar.

    I know no one is making a fortune out of running events — I gather that if you are breaking even, you’re doing well. We are very lucky to compete at events in beautiful places, but does the fact that an event is in a stunning setting bring in more spectators, or does it just push up the costs? How sustainable is it all?

    Stepping up the pace

    As I write this, I’m about to jump on a plane to Kentucky. The horses are already there and I gather it’s snowing!

    I’m looking forward to the events that lie ahead. I have 4 horses — Oloa, who is running in Kentucky, the Badminton pair of Leonidas II and NZB Campino, and Amacuzzi — who I think could be very competitive at the highest level. Now it’s a matter of keeping them in 1 piece!

    A new-look Badminton

    I’ve had a quick look at the new Badminton course online and there appear to be some interesting new additions. It’s great to see the Quarry back as a proper quarry with stone walls. I’m not quite so pleased to see the old Vicarage Vee back — but it will all add to the excitement.

    Badminton now has the facility, like Burghley, to water the entire track. Will they need to? Who knows? The weather is so unpredictable — during the long, wet winter we suffered, we wouldn’t have thought we’d be complaining about hard ground now.

    For me, one of the good things about Badminton in recent years has been the Outside Chance bar next to the Lake. It’s become a focal point for spectators, owners and riders, and it’s great to have somewhere really nice to park people in a prime location.

    This is the level of hospitality people expect from modern sport — not a flapping tent where you sit on a straw bale and eat a sandwich. Corporate hospitality could be attractive at horse trials if it is done properly and as befits a high-level event.

    A memorable 21st

    The weekend before last it was my son James’s 21st birthday party on the Friday night. No one had to be competing on the Saturday and there were some sore heads the next day.

    James, who lives with and works for me at the moment, insisted on an 80s theme. There is a picture of me in a shocking wig, but I’d need a pay rise from H&H to let you see it!

    See next week’s issue for Lucinda Green’s full analysis of Badminton’s new-look course, out Thursday, 1 May.