“I’ve never known so many pissed-off people,” says Tom Morley, one of the most prolific owners in British Flat racing, offering a gloomy assessment of the sport’s immediate future. It is a perilous time, with no end in sight to the Covid-19 crisis while trainers are desperate to persuade their patrons to reinvest at sales like the one that took place in Newmarket this week.
Morley sent eight horses to that sale, following the seven he sold last month, as part of a determined effort to reduce the number he and his mother Julia have in training. He is not getting out of the game but his patience with the poor return from prize money is wearing thin and, troublingly for those who love the sport, he is certain that other owners feel the same.
“I’m selling more than I normally would,” Morley said on Wednesday. “I think we were on about 37 before July so we’re going to be down to just over 20 after this week. It’s going to go down from that.
“It’s always been a tough game, to get winners, to juggle the finances so that it’s not a complete drain, and I quite relish the challenge of outperforming. But right now I think you can be the best out there and you’re still going to get absolutely mullered, cash-wise. I don’t mind not being rewarded for doing things badly but if you do things really well, to get no reward is hard.”
Morley revealed last month that his investment in racing had led to a net loss of £350,000 for the first half of this year, not including sums paid for buying horses. A single-figure number of owners have won more than the 16 races bagged by the Morleys so far this year, so the news that he is disenchanted and scaling back ought to matter a great deal. While the Covid-19 crisis has made matters worse, his complaint is that British prize money has long struggled to compete with what is on offer elsewhere.
“I’ve bitten my tongue and I try to keep myself to myself most of the time,” Morley adds. “I don’t go racing really and I don’t shout very loud. I don’t do it for attention, that’s not my type of thing, so I’ve found it quite tricky to put my head above the parapet and talk about it a bit more.
“It’s totally unsustainable, that’s the bottom line. I haven’t got the answers but I’m not paid to come up with the answers.”
Morley says that, despite being a significant investor in the sport over 20 years and a winner of top-class races at Royal Ascot, he is never consulted by racing’s power-brokers about possible changes and his attendance is not sought by racecourses where he is due to have runners. It seems a shocking insight, at a time when keeping owners happy has never been so important.
Of his trainers, Stuart Williams and Robert Cowell, Morley says: “I have real sympathy for them and I know they will be badly affected if I cut down but I am gonna cut down because I’m so fucked off. It does worry me and I would feel sorry if they have to lay off staff but I’m not a charity and I can’t keep donating money to a dustbin. I’m really frustrated.
“I’m not whingeing at all. The money’s gone, it was my choice to spend it. My point is, this is the real state of play in racing and it is not going to last.
“I would have thought I will still have some horses. But if it proves that it doesn’t work, even at a lower level … I don’t need horse racing in my life. Did I miss it when it wasn’t on? No, not at all. Apart from the bills that kept landing on my desk.
“I think the yearling sales will be interesting, maybe the dream will keep a few people going. But for used horses, I think they will be venturing abroad.”