One negative hanging around horse racing as time has gone on, especially National Hunt racing, is smaller field sizes.
Horses being sold off to Hong Kong and Australia, allied with a cost-of-living crisis and a pandemic in the early 2020s, meant that it became more expensive and more difficult to transport horses for certain races.
Given that owners and trainers had already been complaining for years about a comparative drop in prize money in Britain, rising costs could not be offset and so some left the sport or moved to pastures new.
Field size averages have been going steadily down, and if it continues it will reach the point when some races may pass declaration time without a single runner being engaged. We have a real-life example of this below from 2022.
Should there be only three or four runners declared for a race, an increasingly common occurrence, then when travel or weather problems coincide, races could be facing the major danger of no contests, doing damage to the industry.
We look at what happens when no runners are declared for a race.
No Runners Declared for a Race: What Happens?
As well as unforeseen circumstances such as those mentioned above, protests can be a reason for no runners being declare.
This may happen when prize money is a concern, for example, but it is not always deliberate, i.e., when the trainers want to run elsewhere but don’t deliberately conspire to avoid a specific race.
The incident at Newbury in 2022 (see below) is not completely unique and, unfortunately for the sport and the spectacle it offers its patrons, is bound to happen again.
The bottom line, is no bets on the race stand.
For example, you may have been able to bet ante-post on the race in question and your horse isn’t declared, or more likely you back a horse in a 2 or 3-runner race with all runners declared as non-runners before the off. If there are no runners, the race is void.
Any bets placed after declarations but before a race is called off are refunded. If no horses at all were even declared, then naturally no betting could have been offered anyway.
Any prize money allocated to the race can be redistributed by the track in question across other races on its schedule.
No Finishers in a Race
On some occasions, runners are declared for a race as normal, but none complete it. This is much more likely to happen over the jumps than on the Flat.
If a race begins but no horses can complete, then the contest is void. All bets placed on the race are then returned, meaning a slight bonus if you feel your horse was in trouble and wouldn’t have won.
More common in racing, especially in recent years, are walkovers.
A walkover is when only one horse is left in the race. At this point, it can cover a small distance and cross the line, officially taking part in the race as the only runner, then collecting all the prize money on offer.
A Horse Race with No Runners
In the summer of 2022, no horses were entered for a race at Newbury.
Ordinarily, final declarations are confirmed 48 hours before race day. But, in July of 2022, whispers were circulating around from Thursday morning before one of Newbury’s busy weekends that no horses at all were confirmed for a novice race on the card.
What made it embarrassing for Newbury was the fact that on the day in question a huge crowd had been drawn as Craig David was to play a gig after the racing.
Though some casual punters joked that they wish they could enter an animal of their own choice to the race to grab the £6500 purse, it was in fact the prize money level which may have been to blame for the farcical circumstances.
There was no official protest planned regarding prize money, in fact 13 horses were entered at the five-day stage.
But, with the likes of Sir Michael Stoute, Roger Varian, Ralph Beckett and the Gosdens all having initial entries, they would have been well aware that their potential stars should not be aiming for a first prize of £3500 and that better races would appear elsewhere.
Newbury hosts a Group 1 race and is one of the top tracks in the country. Though times are tough for racecourses, the fact that they were gaining extra income from a gig that day meant that choosing that card to offer such paltry prize money was a huge misjudgement.
Beckett did confirm that he indeed declared his intended runner elsewhere because of prize money levels. He believed that other trainers did the same thing, though there was no collusion.
The race in question was in fact only worth £5300 originally. One trainer had apparently called the racecourse a month earlier to complain about this. The purse was then increased to £6500.
Despite the increase, ultimately, with novice races like this there are two or more options for every horse at other tracks, trainers on this occasion all taking up those other options and leaving Newbury red faced.
It just wasn’t worth the effort, expense, or risk.