A conversation with Martina Krejčí, General Secretary of the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic, about the 2018 season, plans for the future, and changes in the JCCR
This interview, in which Miloslav Vlček discusses a range of topics with Martina Krejčí, general secretary of the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic, first appeared in Czech language on the Fitmin-Turf Magazin website at the end of December 2018. The interview touches on a lot of sensitive and important issues in Czech racing. Frank answers are given to challenging questions. It is a long interview, and I had intended to shorten it. However, I think that all parts of it will be of interest to at least some of the target readers of the Dostihový svět English language web pages, so the best option was to translate it in full. Translated by Robin.
The photo was taken by Otakar Nový at the Gilltown Stud, and shows Martina Krejčí with Sea the Stars.
2018 was coming to an end when I interviewed Dr Martina Krejčí, general secretary of the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic. We spoke about the season that had ended 8 weeks earlier, and then we went on to introduce the reader to the plans and changes that the JCCR is preparing for 2019 and that will affect participants in Czech horseracing.
How do you rate the 2018 horseracing season, from the perspective of the general secretary?
From the operational point of view, I’m pleased that there is more and better cooperation with most of the stakeholders in Czech horseracing. There’s now very good cooperation with the racecourses. More specifically, we’ve been concentrating on this since 2015, when the racing season started late due to an unresolved situation. We negotiate with them frequently, about putting together the racing calendar and also, for example, about matters of supervision, horseracing reports, betting, etc. It’s been working out. On the other hand, I have the feeling that there’s more that needs to be done for our communication with trainers and riders. I’d like to sort that out in 2019. I want to have more discussions with them, hear what they need, and try to help them.
What might this help consist of?
For the spring months, we’re preparing a block of lectures, in collaboration with the Association of Czech Trainers and Riders, to provide information about all the changes for the 2019 season. We’re getting ready to improve our internet pages, to make them easier for trainers and riders to interpret. I’d like to create a single place where they can find everything, from the race conditions to medical diaries, deadlines for payments, and other important operational matters. We’re preparing changes concerning doping, and there are a number of new things that need to be added to the Horseracing Rules & Regulations in accordance with the rules established in the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Betting. I very much liked trainer Mark Johnston’s seminar in Bratislava, which was organised by Dr Marián Šurda in 2016. I’d like to organise a similar seminar for trainers here in the Czech Republic.
Are you still preparing more changes to the Horseracing Rules & Regulations?
Yes. In 2019, we’d like to set up the legislative conditions for the functioning of syndicates, and to adjust the Horseracing Rules & Regulations, where the conditions for syndicates haven’t been specified. I think that syndicates could extend the number and the range of owners in Czech horseracing. The Jockey Club should be working on making racehorse ownership accessible to less wealthy people. There is a difference between having to contribute CZK 1 000 (EUR 38) per month towards the training fees for a syndicated racehorse and paying CZK 12 000 (EUR 450) per month for your own horse.
But we already have syndicates functioning here.
There are only a few of them. They work properly everywhere abroad, but not here. I have in mind, for example, syndicates that bring together 10 or more people. They practically don’t exist here. We don’t have rules set up for them.
There aren’t many of them, you’re right. But they do function, and the Horseracing Rules & Regulations do include associations of owners.
But terribly vaguely – there are no details about who acts on behalf of the syndicate, how the winnings are to be divided up, and who gets in to the parade ring. The racecourses ask us who they have to admit to the parade ring, because there isn’t room for everyone. I like the way it’s handled by the Germans and the French. On their web pages, you can find full details and information concerning syndicates and, of course, not only syndicates. We’d like to prepare something similar for our web pages, including detailed guidelines on setting up a syndicate, together with model documentation.
Can we go back to the 2018 season? What was the least successful thing from your viewpoint, and what bugged you personally?
To tell you the truth, I can’t think of anything specific. What bugs me is that there isn’t enough time, and for that reason there are a number of things that have to be put off. In addition, though it isn’t a matter only of 2018, I miss having an information system for participants in horseracing. From my viewpoint, we as the Jockey Club don’t provide enough information or enough explanations. I visualize us writing more articles and giving more information for the public – I know that this is our weak point. It’s not enough to publish decisions. It’s necessary to provide explanations, too.
We are criticized, quite rightly, for having shortcomings in the area of marketing. We need to improve in the area of writing articles, press releases, and, as I said before, reacting to various decisions taken by the Jockey Club. We need to create a kind of cookbook on what, when and where to publish, and to choose someone as the person responsible for it.
But in the middle of 2018 the JCCR took on Petr Malík, on a half time basis, for just such a position.
Petr Malík was taken on mainly to deal with issues around betting, though he does also handle journalists who are not primarily racing correspondents. He works with them, and I think it is functioning, and he also prepares and leads press conferences. He also helps us in the area of marketing and publicity. But, as I said, he deals mainly with betting. He wrote the Jockey Club strategy on betting, and he negotiates with the Tipsport and Sazka betting offices about setting up a joint totalisator pool, in collaboration with French PMU [pari mutuel].
In real terms, what can we envision with this pool and with this shift of emphasis?
Through its daughter companies or partners, the PMU betting office now accepts bets on French races almost throughout Europe. In the long term, PMU is also interested in the possibility of having betting on French racing in the Czech Republic, too. After negotiations in 2018, Sazka could be a partner in the Czech Republic, but the whole affair involves a number of legal problems that we are trying to resolve. If it were to become possible to bet on French racing in the Czech Republic, it might improve our negotiating position as regards the number of PMU race days held in the Czech Republic, as in other countries. It might also raise the popularity of betting on horse racing.
I’m interested in PMU betting on racing in the Czech Republic. According to something you wrote on the Jockey Club website, Czech horseracing has now lost this opportunity. Is that a definitive decision by the French side?
As regards PMU accepting bets on Czech racing, I can at present only state what we’ve already published. Perhaps I can just add that, at the seminar on marketing in Morocco, where our representatives were present and also people from PMU, it was confirmed to us that PMU has set itself a deadline of about 6 months for evaluating a new strategy, and then they will say what will happen next and how it will happen. We also heard that they may then contact us, and maybe they’ll want to take one or two meetings in the second half of our season. We’re in a good position. PMU was surprised by the turnover that there was at Most and at Karlovy Vary in 2018.
While we’re on the subject of funding for horseracing, I’d like to ask what phase has been reached in the search for a general sponsor. After the departure of Mercedes Benz, a decision was published in the minutes of the Council of the JCCR stating that the Jockey Club would carry out a selection procedure for an agency that will seek out a sponsors on its behalf.
We haven’t yet carried out a selection procedure. We contacted Mr Antonín Pospíchal from BP Action, the agency which mediated with Mercedes, to ask if they wouldn’t enter into the game again, but there hasn’t been any outcome yet. In 2018, we tried to negotiate with some other agencies, but it’s getting harder and harder to find money. It’s not that the agencies couldn’t do the job, but it’s hard for them to explain convincingly to sponsors why they should support horseracing.
When we were discussing a suitable time for our meeting, you said that you were going to have some discussions with Tipsport [a betting company]. Does that mean that Tipsport could participate in financing horseracing?
We had an active agreement with Tipsport in 2018, on the basis of which we provided lists of runners for a payment, and on the last three direct transmissions on Czech Television, funded by the Jockey Club, their odds appeared on the screen, together with the information that their source was Tipsport. We will continue in the same spirit in 2019. Before the beginning of the 2019 season, it will become clear what the agreement will be like.
So Czech racing gets funding from Tipsport for the sale of information, while there seems to be no way to get funding for horseracing from an independent betting office after the change in the law, for example, through a proportion of the turnover?
The present legislation is unfortunately not set up in such a way that any betting office would give horseracing a clearly stated proportion of the betting turnover. We’re unhappy about that, and we want to try to change the situation. However, the solution will take years, rather than months. In 2018, we discussed other ways to collaborate, and we were able to reach the agreement that I mentioned above. The agreement for 2019 is currently being negotiated.
Can I ask how much Czech racing gets from this?
I’m sorry, but I can’t disclose any specific amounts due to the terms of our agreement with Tipsport.
Can we go back to the adjustments to the Jockey Club web pages, which you mentioned at the beginning of this interview? What will they involve?
We have two different web pages. The dostihyjc.cz site will be unchanged for now. There will be some minor adjustments, so that individual participants can orient themselves better. There will be a section for owners, for riders and for trainers, etc. We are considering charging for them. Many people have told me that we should’ve done that long ago, because we’re the only management organization in Europe that offers such a broad range of information free of charge. The dostihy.cz pages are to be modified so that they’ll be more accessible for non-specialist readers. They will contain all the basic information for anyone who is getting into horseracing for the first time, or who wants to get into the sport. But that is not all – in addition, when and where races that they might want to visit will take place, information about the surrounding area, accommodation, events in the vicinity, etc. Readers will also be able to find basic information about racehorses, how they live, how they are looked after, what they are fed, etc.
I read on the Jockey Club pages that you are preparing some changes in the conditions for categorizing the racecourses. What, specifically, will the racecourses have to prepare for?
I don’t want to emphasize anything specific. The criteria for recognizing and categorizing the racecourses are in a file stating the conditions for providing facilities for horses, riders, and some other things, and we are not preparing any radical changes that the racecourse managers need to be afraid of. The categorization criteria were approved in 2011, more than 7 years ago, and certain things have now passed their sell-by date. So it’s a matter of making some revisions, rather than changes.
What have been the results of the project called Recruiting Children for the Profession of a Horseracing Rider, for which the Jockey Club obtained a grant?
It involved an awful lot of work. It’s a CZK 195 000 project [EUR 75 000], out of which 70% was contributed by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic, and the rest came from the Jockey Club. More than 200 schools were contacted in writing, and 50 of them showed interest. Then seven one-day events were organised, in which children came to us, had some theoretical lectures in the school here, and then went to the stables, where the basic work with horses was demonstrated for them. They were able to get on to horses, they tried out the training machines, which was probably what they liked best, and finally they went over to the racecourse, where they took part in a day’s racing. We won’t be able to evaluate the results until later, when new applicants for places at the Horseracing Middle School [the School for Apprentices at Velka Chuchle racecourse] take up their places. However, Soňa Froňková [director of the School for Apprentices and at the same time also our leading Starter], has informed the Council of the JCCR about a number of girls who have changed their choice of a middle school in favour of the school at Velká Chuchle.
We didn’t put in an application for a grant for 2019 in support of seeking new trainees. In 2019, we’d like to get a contribution from the Ministry of Agriculture for Breeders’ Day. Nevertheless, the search for new riders goes on. I contacted Mrs Kamila Bartošová about the Pony League, and we have agreed on some proposals for collaboration, according to which the Jockey Club will support the Pony League as another way to recruit new children for our sport. In the future, the Jockey Club would like to set up a system of pony races similar to the system that the British Horseracing Authority has.
The Council of the JCCR has approved breeders’ prizes, and it was written in the minutes that the amount of prizemoney will be CZK 1.2 million [EUR 46 000], but in another part of the minutes it is stated that, in the last four years, the Jockey Club has reported that its income is CZK 0.5 million annually. So how will these prizes be funded?
They’ll be paid out by the Jockey Club. It’s been calculated that, if breeders’ prizes were to be paid out in the full amount, as planned, there will be a deficit of about CZK 400 000.
Breeders’ prizes have been approved. How will it be with owners’ prizes?
Owners’ prizes will be approved later. However, the assumption is that they’ll remain in flat races, with the same regime as this year. When they’re approved, they too will be funded by the Jockey Club.
At the most recent meeting of the Council of the JCCR, a change was approved in the Price List for Services in Horseracing, and specifically the fee for first registering a horse for racing, widely referred to as the “import tax”, though the payment isn’t only for imported horses. The reduction of the payment from CZK 25 000 to CZK 17 000, and at the same time the cancelation of the possibility to register a horse for CZK 5 000 to race only abroad, has been described by you in the web pages as an attempt to redirect some of the horses that have until now raced only abroad, and get them to race here, too. Is this to be seen as an attempt by the JC to reverse the trend towards lower numbers of runners in the Czech Republic and growing numbers of horses that race only abroad?
Yes. We have to try to create conditions mainly for Czech horseracing, for the home environment, and for the way that racing functions here in general. That involves creating the conditions for organizing racing and racehorse training. It’s not for us to provide support for the trend to set up inexpensive training centres here for the horses of foreign owners that race only abroad.
Finally, let me wish all your readers good health, happiness and continued pleasure from horseracing.
Interview by Miloslav Vlček