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Racing & Breeding in Germany: Winter is almost over

The turf-season begins: Düsseldorf has two races for three-year-old. www.galoppfoto.de - Frank Sorge


David Conolly-Smith


Ausgabe 510 vom Freitag, 23.03.2018

This has been a very long and cold winter in Germany, just as in the rest of Western Europe, and even this week we have had snow and frost in many parts of the country. However spring is coming and the winter is almost over – as we can see from the racing fixtures, with the first two turf meetings of 2018 this Sunday (weather permitting!) at Düsseldorf and Mannheim. For the past three months we have had to make do with mainly extremely low level racing on the sand tracks at Neuss and Dortmund, which have frankly been of minimal interest except to immediate connections; the last one is at Dortmund today (Friday).Of course they also fulfil a useful function and give opportunities to earn some prize-money to horses that would certainly be incapable of this on any of the leading turf tracks.

All 20 meetings on the sand tracks were broadcast to French betting shops by Equidia and the PMU put up most of the prize money. The PMU has become an essential part of the German racing scene and well over 50 German meetings this year will be in their programme, which produces a betting turnover far in excess of the local German betting figures. This does have a downside, especially for the winter meetings, in that the races are often run at antisocial times, midweek evenings or early morning. Last Saturday´s Dortmund meeting started at 11.35 a.m., and with freezing temperatures as well, there were practically no racegoers present other than those immediately involved. However the y kept the show on the road and without the PMU none of these winter meetings would have been staged.

French betting giant PMU took over 51% of German Tote (also known known as Wettstar) in 2015 and recently published very satisfactory figures for 2017. The remaining 49% belongs to the BGG, an association of German racecourses. Last year the PMU had a turnover of over 182 million euros on the 723 German races (40% of them trotting) they carried. This compares to 25 million euros bet in Germany on thoroughbred racing for the entire year. The German racing industry has profited, both directly and indirectly, to the tune of several million. The development of German Tote, which had a turnover last year of 277 million euros, an increase of almost 10% on 2016 and almost all bet on French racing, is one of the few success stories in German racing in recent years.

Press conference in Cologne last Monday: The new president of the Direktorium Michael Vesper in the middle - flanked by secretary general Jan Antony Vogel and PR lady Petra Bracht. www.klatuso.com - Klaus-Jörg TuchelPress conference in Cologne last Monday: The new president of the Direktorium Michael Vesper in the middle - flanked by secretary general Jan Antony Vogel and PR lady Petra Bracht. www.klatuso.com - Klaus-Jörg TuchelThe most significant event of recent weeks is the appointment of 65-year-old Michael Vesper as the new president of the Direktorium and thus the titular boss of the whole German racing and breeding industries. He succeeds 82-year-old Albrecht Woeste, president since 2009. Vesper has practically no  connection with or experience of racing, and was found by a headhunting agency for high-level executives. He had a successful political career as one of the founder of the German Green party, held many ministerial positions, and was later for eleven years head of the DOSB, the German Olympic and sports council. It is possible that as a complete outsider he will be able to make better and more objective decisions than some of his predecessors. Certainly his political and sporting contacts should prove invaluable.

He took part in a press conference in Cologne last Monday, in which he was flanked by Direktorium secretary general Jan Antony Vogel and PR lady Petra Bracht. Obviously he was unable to say much after less than a week in his new job, and he admitted that his first task will be “to learn, to learn and to learn.” He said that “sport was a part of his DNA and racing was now his priority.” He intends to visit all leading racecourses and studs to get a better picture and said he expected the main problems to be solved to be in the categories of structural reform, the betting situation and the media. Vogel also suggested that German Racing (i.e. the industry controlled by the Direktorium) would be interested in taking over the BGG`s (the racecourses´) share of German Tote. One piece of good news was that the 6 racecourses in North-Rhine-Westphalia are once again to get lottery money.

Looking now at the actual racing scene, the sport this weekend is relatively low key. There will be some small fields, but Düsseldorf has two races for three-year-olds in which top trainers Markus KlugPeter Schiergen and Andreas Wöhler have made entries, while Mannheim, one of the few German racecourses which still stages jump racing, has an interesting steeplechase on its mixed card. There will be much better racing next week at the Easter weekend with the first two black type races of the season, on Easter Monday at Cologne and Hannover, which has taken over Hoppegarten´s listed race as the Berlin track has already abandoned its Easter Sunday card because of the frozen ground.

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