On Sunday the British Horseracing Authority and the Horsemen’s Group announced a deal that could boost prize money for British racing by £5m from next year. Under the deal, racecourses have to give up their control over the amount of money they put into their prize fund and enter into a contractual agreement.
Whilst those involved in trying to broker agreement with the tracks are naturally all in favour of the plan, it’s far from certain whether that full amount can be realised next year. For that to happen, all 58 racecourses in Britain would have to sign up, and at the moment, just 27 have done so. These include the 14 tracks run by Jockey Club Racecourses, along with 13 independent courses, Ascot, Goodwood, Newbury and York amongst them.
The deal sees racecourses putting an agreed proportion (either 40% or 33%) of their income from betting media rights into prize money, and while for many of those already signed up, the deal doesn’t require them to increase their contribution, others will have to raise the amount they put in significantly. That leads you to ask why they would bother.
Rachel hood, president of the Racehorse Owners’ Association gave a clue, saying that owners should think about which courses had signed up to the agreement, an unspoken suggestion that those courses should received primary consideration when planning entries. She said, “We would urge all ROA members to study very closely the list of racecourses prepared to make this cultural leap into a genuine partnership with owners.”
But in a separate development, Arena Racing Company announced an increase of 24% in its prize money funding on behalf of 14 of its racecourses, taking its contribution to £11.3m. Strangely, its other track, Ffos Las, has signed up to the BHA/HG scheme.
Philip Freedman, chairman of the Horsemen’s Group, was less aggressive in his remarks, and appeared not to rule out the possibility of an accommodation with ARC’s approach. He said, “We view (this) as a welcome first step towards delivering improved returns for horsemen. As far as courses who haven’t signed yet, we are still in discussions with quite a considerable number of them. I don’t think 27 is going to be the final number. We welcome ARC’s offer to increase their contribution to prize money, and we look forward to further discussions with a view to them signing a formal prize money agreement with the Horsemen’s Group and the BHA.”
The other complication is that the remaining tracks, all independents, have their media agreements with either At The Races or Racing UK, and it is not at all clear how, or even whether, those organisations will have any role to play in negotiations.
Another factor to have come into play in working out the detail of the deal is the ongoing discussions about racing on Good Friday, on which the BHA has caved in and will now sanction. It has told Musselburgh and Lingfield, the two main advocates of Good Friday racing, that they will have to sign up or they won’t be granted a fixture on that day.
All in all, we should welcome the new partnership approach, although as Paul Bittar, chief executive of the BHA pointed out, is was not the one cure kills all known problems in financing the industry. He said, “We will continue to press government to address the deficiencies in the sport’s funding mechanism and ultimately progress the necessary changes in legislation. In addition, we continue to work constructively with the major betting firms to deliver enhanced yet commensurate financial support for the sport.”
There’s a long battle ahead before that gets delivered.