Investigation – What does the demographic of racing look like?

by Niamh Townsend

Many Clouds in 2016 – Photo by Kath Townsend

Stereotypically, horse racing has a demographic of older people and those who are retired as its key audience base. I sat geography at A-Level, and while I was completing my coursework assignment I had pondered how a project like that could be applied to horse racing. Knowing about the ‘ageing demographic’ that racing is renowned for, I thought it would be fascinating to find proof whether this is actually the case or not. At Rein It In Racing, we want to turn the tide and get as many young people involved in this great sport as possible. While recording our very first podcast and discussing how we can interest a younger audience in racing, the idea occurred to us to put together a questionnaire and ask our twitter followers, who watch racing, and some Facebook friends, who don’t follow racing, to participate.


We asked the participants six questions:

  • Have you watched a horse race before?
  • Have you been to a race meeting?
  • How often do you watch racing? (split into the categories of Most Days, Once A Week, Once A Month, Big Occasions and Never)
  • Do you know what your nearest course is?
  • Have you ever been to your nearest course
  • Can you name one racehorse?


We hoped that the data we collected would allow us to see a smaller-scale sample of the current demographic of horse racing fans, and perhaps give us an indication of what we can do to introduce a younger generation of fans to the sport, if that is in fact necessary. Our survey results have all been kept completely anonymous, but I would just like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who answered our questions.


Of the 54 results we received we were given an age range of 44 years from our respondents who were all born between 1960 and 2002. We used a random sampling method, sharing the survey with our followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook – one population likely to be geared heavily towards racing and one less likely to have an interest in the sport.


how many people watch racing
Pie chart to show the percentage of people who said they have watched a horse race


The results from our first graph showing the overall percentage of our respondents that have seen a horse race were very promising. It was important that we initially established just how many of our respondents had actually watched a horse race before; 96% of our answers were yes which strongly indicates that horse racing casts a much wider net than many people believe. It is a well-known fact that horse racing is the second largest spectator sport in the UK behind football, and most of the nation will have watched a race at some stage in their life which our data supports.


Personally I had been concerned that the percentage of people that hadn’t watched a horse race at any stage in their life would be higher, considering the majority of British citizens do not regularly engage with horse racing, but I suppose the larger occasions such as the Grand National and Cheltenham Festival do draw in a much larger audience in comparison to regular weekday racing every year.


people who have been to a race meeting
Pie chart to show the percentage of people that have been to a race meeting


The results to this chart also came as a surprise, as I had expected the percentage of people who had been to a race meeting to be much lower, an assumption that came from personal experience in my own school where it is a significantly lower percentage of the population that would have been to a race meeting themselves.


These results are supported by the table below where it clearly shows that the majority of people that haven’t been to their local racecourse do not actually know what their local racecourse is. Perhaps this could indicate that racecourses should be more widely advertised in order to increase the influx of people visiting, especially those who haven’t been racing before. I have previously heavily praised the Under 18’s race free initiative that has been widely adopted, as in theory this can allow for a family of four to go to a regular raceday for a similar price to take that same family out to the cinema. This initiative cannot be praised or shared enough, this is the way forward to getting more young fans interested in horse racing, it is our duty as racing fans to make sure that people know about it.


knowledge of local racecourse
Table to show the comparison between people’s knowledge of their local racecourse and whether they have visited


How often people watch racing - age 2
Scatter graph to compare age with how often a person watches racing


I think the results from this graph, comparing the age of our responders with how often they watch racing, are somewhat biased towards the sample that we collected – seeing as the survey was posted on our Twitter account where the majority of our followers are racing fans, hence the scale is tipped in the favour of ‘most days’. In reality, the balance would be more even, and I would say the majority of the population would watch racing on the big occasions. However, what this graph does show us is the spread of age ranges that watch racing, those born earlier are more likely to watch racing more regularly, whereas the younger portion of the population has a more even division among how often they watch racing, with more people likely to not watch racing at all or only on the big occasions such as the Grand National.


I have also highlighted the results that selected the three most popular horses from the results of our survey – Altior, Tiger Roll and Red Rum – in three different colours to make them stand out. I found these particular results fascinating and I thought it would give a strong indicator to the horses that really reach out beyond direct fans of racing and become known in the wider world. Since Altior’s results all came from people that watch racing ‘most days’ it shows that he is not as popular among the non-racing public, but Tiger Roll is shown to be popular among the younger generation since he is the current ‘people’s champion’ and the reigning Grand National champion. It is also important to note that Tiger Roll is the most popular horse mentioned among those who never watch racing, proving that he is the current talking horse and perhaps even more popular than people are giving him credit for.


Red Rum’s were more frequent among those who only watch racing on the big occasions such as the Grand National, which Red Rum’s name is synonymous with. His name was mentioned more frequently with the older responses, but he still was mentioned by the younger generations, as mentioned previously particularly by those who only watch racing on the big occasions.


Most popular horses - 2
Bar chart to show the most popular horses on our survey


This bar chart showing the most popular horses from our survey is very telling, I wanted to find out from each of my responses what the name of the first horse that they thought of was without any influence. I wasn’t at all surprised to see Red Rum as the landslide most popular horse, I was also expecting for Tiger Roll to be high up in the results since both of these horses are multiple winners of the world’s most famous horse race and therefore are more likely to have been heard of by the general public since they are more celebrated by the media.


I think it says a lot that the most popular flat horse was Frankel, but he only appeared joint 4th place on this list, in fact only 6 of the 27 horses mentioned (22%) raced primarily on the flat. This is likely to be because National Hunt horses race for a longer period of time and therefore are mentioned more and become more connected to the public whereas flat racers only tend to race for a couple of seasons before they are retired to stud. It is worth noting, although I am not convinced it has impacted the result, that the survey was conducted during the National Hunt season; only 7 of these horses selected (26%) are actually still racing, therefore the decision of which horse the responders have chosen will probably come down to which their favourite horse is.


favourite horses - age
Scatter graph to compare a person’s age with when their chosen racehorse was foaled


The results from this chart comparing the year of birth of a person with the year their chosen horse was born were what I was expecting, specifically that more recent horses are more popular, and have a higher frequency of selections among the younger human population. This is probably a result of the younger population having been able to watch these horses race in their prime themselves, arguably one of Frankel’s demolishing performances is more prevalent to a teenager compared to one of Desert Orchid’s wins that they may never have watched before. This graph should also give an idea of the era of racing that our respondents feel most connected to, seeing as this is when the horse they remember most was around and performing.


There is a significant lack of points of horses born in the 1980s, suggesting that the popularity of horses that ran on the flat in this decade and over jumps in the next is considerably lower than those in other decades. Famous horses born in this decade included Dancing Brave, Oh So Sharp, Pebbles, Nashwan, Mr Frisk, One Man, and many others who were standout performers, but for whatever reason just not remembered as frequently as champions of the modern era or the likes of Desert Orchid, Arkle and Red Rum.


Looking at the results, I thought it was fascinating to highlight the reach that Red Rum’s legacy actually has, he is the only horse that has been chosen by both the oldest and youngest population of our responses. In addition to this, he has been chosen at fairly even intervals by those who answered our survey, proving that he is a horse of the ages and probably the most memorable and well-known racehorse of all time which is supported by the earlier result that he was also the most popular horse in our survey.


The anomalous result on this graph was Seabiscuit who was born in 1933, by far the oldest horse mentioned, but I believe this result was possibly influenced by the 2003 film about this horse. Since this person had also said they never watch racing, it perhaps highlights the influence of film and television on people’s perceptions of racing and which champions of the past that they remember. I could come up with an extensive list of horses that deserve their own film made about them, but perhaps I will save that for another article!


Overall, our survey has shown us that the demographic of racing is not as entirely balanced towards the older generations as many people fear. Yes, it is worth remembering that the more frequent viewers of racing are likely to be older and our sample collected was very small in comparison to the entire audience of racing, but what it is worth taking away from our results is that the younger generation of racing fans is there.


It is very important to interest these younger generations in racing, but our team here at Rein It In is living proof that younger racing fans do exist. Many of us have had that investment in racing from a much younger age, I was 8 myself when I first started developing my own interest, and it is important to remember that not everyone is going to have a visible social media presence revolving around racing. Just because we cannot see evidence of all these younger racing fans does not mean they are not there, it is not unusual to see younger children on a day at the races and it is these young fans who are the future of racing. That’s not to say we can take our foot off the gas when it comes to promoting the sport to a younger generation, and as I previously mentioned this can be done by emphasising to parents that their children can go racing for free. We have previously explored other methods of developing a younger interest in racing in our podcast, so make sure to give that a listen for our insight on this topic that is obviously very close to our hearts.


Thank you so much for reading this article, and I hope it has been of interest to you. I would also like to say a huge thank you to Samantha Martin for all of her help putting this together, this idea has been sitting in my computer for a long time and I’m so grateful she has helped me bring it to life.


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