Sunday Supplement: A Hardy Perennial

Tony Stafford

Tony Stafford

Sunday supplement 

By Tony Stafford 

I was with Kieren Fallon the other morning as he looked over the results from Kempton – where he rode a nice winner – the night before. He said: “Look at that, three races worth £2,200, three at £1,600. It’s ridiculous.” For the record the other two races were worth respectively six and four grand.

For the owners, who get around 75 per cent of the penalty value, there’s the cost of transport (including stable staff to get the horses there) and also the jockey to account for. Not much left if you’ve come a long way. Kieren and his pals end up with around five per cent of the total prize, seven of the penalty value when they win. So he’ll have got a £150 winning bonus to add to his three-figure per race riding fee.

Kieren’s observation could easily have been targeted at some of the other fixtures – especially at Arena/ Northern tracks which habitually “boast” an even starker lower average prize. The conversation caused me this morning to peruse a few of my remaining old volumes that survived the 2002 cull of boxes’ full of racing form and biography from my then capacious attic in Hertfordshire.

In 1992 for example, low-grade races rarely fell below a winning figure of £2,200, although one day on the Lingfield all-weather – still in its infancy – there were races of just over a grand. In the present sphere of activity, you can even get some bumpers winning prizes below a grand.

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It made me think that in real terms, prize money must be miles below that of 1992. We have a system nowadays when the massive prizes open to the top races seem out of proportion to those at the next level down. So Qipco Champions Day in three weeks’ time features races worth far more than two decades ago.

Even then, some of the races formerly attached to Ascot but now at Newmarket, like the Fillies’ Mile and Royal Lodge have been significantly demeaned. In 1992 the Fillies’ Mile – Group 1 for two year olds – carried a £91,000 prize. The 2012 vintage at Newmarket the other day was worth £85,000. The Royal Lodge, £66,000 in 1992, was down to £56,000, yet still retaining Group 2 status.

Those facts caused me to look at the relative value of sterling in those periods. The starting point for calculations on the web site I saw, used 1971 as the base point. You could say it was the last time a pound was worth a pound.

I was 26 then, and already on my way to the Daily Telegraph. In the next 21 years I noticed my money going up each year, but hardly realising that by 1992, the pound then had a buying value of just 0.152 of its earlier value. In other words, it was worth one seventh of what it was in 1971.

The drop in the 20 years since has been less steep, but a pound now reflects 0.09 of the 1971 pound. That’s around three-fifths of the 1992 value and one-eleventh of those heady Harold Wilson days of happy memory – not Harold, just what you could buy for the “pound in your pocket”.

Meanwhile France, fuelled by its Pari-Mutuel; the US, by revenues from on- and off-track casinos; Australia, by burgeoning demand; and, the Far East, again using the racecourse monopoly on betting revenues, thrive. Prize money in those countries goes ever upward, ours stagnates almost to the point of nothingness.

It could have been different. If Wolverhampton, Lingfield and presumably a number other tracks had been allowed to introduce “Racinos”, more income would have flowed. Instead, Government has allowed the betting shops to become ad hoc mini-casinos, diverting much of the money – admittedly as well as that of new, younger, non-racing patrons – that was formerly the exclusive preserve of racing and dogs, into their levy-excluded coffers.

Yet still people have horses. They all almost have to be persuaded that they are merely cannon fodder for the bookmakers. Unless you have a 90-rated horse there’s no point in racing him. Win a £1,600 race and so what? Up 6lb, you won’t win again until he drops back down. The only saving grace is the unique selling attraction of horses raced in a highly-competitive, drug-free environment, as long as they are 90-plus. As to the jockeys, they fly around the country, hundreds of miles at a time, hostage to relentlessly increasing petrol prices with the threat of burn-out ever present.

Kieren, whom I’ve known for years, is a much more obviously reflective character these days, preferring to ride for people he knows and likes, and if the numbers aren’t there to get a sixth title, he can dovetail in a fair bit of golf to keep the batteries charged.

I’m going to Bath tomorrow where 99 horses from all over the country, and 47 jockeys, including apprentices, will be battling for the £18,000 total prize money on offer. Meanwhile Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney can rest content that the £500,000 they jointly earned over the past seven days at least helped them to a brave 2-3 reverse in the home game against Tottenham. Who says it’s a fair world?

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20 replies
  1. tony smith says:

    thats why racing in the uk is bent, owners, trainers, etc have to get their money back somehow.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      I’m not too sure I’d agree with that, Tony, but you’re entitled to your opinion. Put it this way, I wouldn’t bet on anything I thought was bent, and I can’t believe anyone else would either. So presumably you’re a fan of racing who doesn’t bet (there are plenty of them).


      • Brian says:

        Unfortunately, Matt, there are thousands of people who bet on what they perceive to be a bent sport. Go on any message board or into any betting shop and you will hear them griping about bent jockeys and bent trainers every time they lose a fiver on some three-legged nag in a seller. There is an all too human tendency to blame anyone but oneself for one’s failings.

  2. Steve says:

    Brilliant Tony, well said. However, I also feel the situation isn’t helped by the sheer volume of racing nowadays, which divides the pie into even thinner slices.

  3. Gordon Ratcliff says:

    A fair and honest assesment, but, at the end of the day, if it is not for you or profitable then let it go. The economics of life are an important consideration.

  4. John Brown says:

    As with everything the money has to come from somewhere. Big races attract big crowds but the smaller ones don’t. If few people turn up there as lets bets made and less bookmakers at the course. Racecourses are closing because they don’t make money, coverage on TV is becoming less and less unless you subscribe. Would I pay more – I doubt it. As for the footballers, where do you think their money comes from?

  5. Gordon says:

    So so so very true! The amount of poor quality racing must have something to do with the present situation so cut the Quantity improve the Quality = better racing = more prize money per race.

  6. Mark J says:

    Great article from Tony again. Don’t forget, though, that Owners are not just in it for the prize money (although that is nice!) but for the sheer joy of having a horse racing in their colours and the thrill of watching it in action. I agree, though, that prize money is lamentably poor for all concerned.

    Mark J

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      In truth Mark, as a small time owner, I can tell you the prize money barely enters the equation so lamentable (to use your thoroughly appropriate word) is its level.

      Tony owned horses at a higher level than me, and at a time when prize money was (a bit) better, and it was still hard to make it pay. Even in France, which dwarfs UK prize money, an average owner can expect half his cash back. Compare that with UK, where it’s more like a sixth…


  7. Jim says:

    The long term debate in the UK about funding for racing – more recently added to by The Horsemen Group – revolves around the fact that racing has always been a traditional rich man’s sport with the majority of poorer people involved through betting and going racing.

    Nevertheless, there is still an amazing situation where people DO go racing in UK and in big numbers. When Frankel was winning the 2000 Guineas last year, I was a Longchamps watching the Prix Ganay a Group 1 race. I have seen bigger crowds at Wolverhampton.
    The price to get in was 1.5 Euros or £1.20 – the parking was more expensive at 2 Euros.

    The prize money was huge compared to the UK.

    On the Sunday I was at St Cloud where there was a Group 2 and entry was free. The crowd on a sunny afternoon may have been about 5000 (difficult to guess). At Deauville, where you could get a free ticket for the month featuring about 15 days racing there was a larger crowd but Goldikova was the star.

    Bottom line is that prize money is great – courtesy of the PM – but the average attendances don’t match the UK in my experience.

    So we have a big plus in the Uk in that there is a lot of interest (even if a lot of it is now associated with a night out watching a tribute band) but for owners and those who make a living from it, the rewards are generally poor. The only solution was for racing to have taken on the Tote and make something of it but instead it has gone the way of all privatizations and will just end up adding to the Done empire’s profits.

    An opportunity missed in my view.

    Enjoyed the reminiscing though.


  8. Nigel says:

    anyone who thinks that all of racing apart from group and classic racing is not a “bit iffy” is deluding themselves I think .
    Where theres money theres fiddle simple as .In my opinion

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Sorry Nigel, but I fundamentally disagree. I respect your right to an opinion – of course – but you need to be able to substantiate a comment like that with a bit more meat. For instance, can you give me a specific example of a ‘bit iffy’ practice that you perceive is rife, or at least common?


      p.s. I’ve been betting and studying form for over 20 years, and I can almost always explain why a particular horse won.

  9. Mazz says:

    Not saying Tony and Nigel are completely right saying racing is bent but they do have a point. How many times have you followed a horse on the exchanges,then see it go out and Out and OUT, and consequently run like a drain…too often !!! A couple of grand laid on a race is the same as winning it in some circumstances (with some of the money on offer).
    With all due respect Matt its not so much explaining how a horse won but how others lose….it must be more than consequence.

  10. Roger Kay says:

    Matt, lets not look through rose tinted glasses to the extent of looking daft. I know you are not daft and I am sure that you don’t believe that everything is straight John Bull in racing. In the handicapping world you know what goes on in order for horses to get to winning marks. I have loved racing for nearly 50 years, enough to know that there is more to take into consideration than bare form, if form worked out too many times there would be no bookies.
    I have seen the great Lester Piggot blatantly easing up on horses (to be kind to him) perhaps when his chance had gone, with horses coming passed him that he could have beat. How can the handicapper then access these horses pounds for lengths. Sorry Matt I know you make your living from the racing industry, and perhaps that’s why you want people to think that its all squeaky clean, but you can’t seriously suggest every horse/trainer/jockey is trying 100% or even 50%.
    I also agree with the posters that have commented on the amount of racing watering down the prize money. Racing has not escaped greedy rip off Britain, don’t they realise that most people only have a certain amount of money to spend. I long for the days when there was a proper flat and NH season.
    Rant over,

    • Brian says:

      I don’t think Matt is suggesting that racing is “squeaky clean”, Rog, just that you need to take a more measured view. Of course there is some corruption – there is money involved. But to suggest that it is rife and widespread is simply ludicrous and, like Matt, I cannot understand why people would bet on it if they thought that anymore than they would bet on a bent roulette wheel. Nobody cries corruption when Van Persie misses a penalty kick, why is it that jockeys and trainers are labelled corrupt when they make a mistake or their charge doesn’t feel up to the task today? The advent of the exchanges has been a force for the good in racing in terms of the opennness of the markets which are now a fundamentally more accurate pointer to a horse’s chance than ever before. In the past, the markets were manipulated by the big bookmakers whose network of contacts gave them a huge advantage over the punter – the exchanges have whittled away that advantage and the punter now has a much better chance of coming out on top than ever before. Forget corruption and conspiracy theories: stay ahead of the market by beating SP and you will win in the long term. It really is that simple – and that difficult!
      The acid test for any betting activity is do you make money out of it long term? Those that don’t are those that cry foul. Those that do keep their mouths shut and take the money to the bank.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      It’s not squeaky clean – no sport is, and certainly no sport where betting is involved. However, as a student of trainer habits, this game is about clues. All trainers are creatures of habit, and all leave their fingerprints over their horses’ form lines.

      If form study was the only game, then there would still be ten potential winners of a 14 runner race in many cases, depending on whether you favour recent form; speed; back class; trends; or whatever.

      Moaning about something you engage in voluntarily is, to me, the epitome of ridiculous! 😉


      • Roger Kay says:

        Lets get one thing straight Matt I am not a moaner and my observation about handicap racing being less than straight was not meant as a moan. I love racing and have done so for the best part of 50 years. I treat my bets as a bit of recreational fun and if I have 3 or 4 quid on a 10 or 12/1 winner I’m as happy as a pig in muck, so as far as the the epitome of ridiculous is concerned I don’t accept that. I am quite willing to risk my few quid after looking at a bit of form and trainer habits as you put it, and I don’t moan after the race.
        I was not suggesting that all of racing is bent at all, indeed I own a share in a very well bred filly.
        I have always respected you as a learned type of guy as far as racing is concerned, but with comments like “the epitome of ridiculous” I am beginning to think that all the back slapping you get on here is making you a bit too far up your own bum.
        All the best,

        • tony s says:

          Thanks roger i started this thread and my thoughts havnt changed, but when i get a reply from matt saying his words the epitome of ridiculouse i didnt bother to respond and also lost respect for the guy.

  11. David Bowles says:

    I am fortunate enough go over to Hong Kong fairly regularly as my daughter lives and works there and obviously I go horse racing to both the old Happy valley track in the centre of HK and newer Sha Tin track on the outskirts of Kowloon.
    I just picked an old programme up for a standard handicap evening meeting at Happy Valley where there were 8 No ordinary races and the and the prize money ranged from 500,000 hk$ for class 5 races to 1,150,000 hk$ for class 2 races

    The prize money was shared 57 % for winner 22% for 2nd and 11% for 3rd

    At approx 12 hk$ to the £ that is still very respectable even allowing for the high living costs in HK. Betting is controlled by the HK Jockey Club based on the Pari Mutual system and the still make enough money to build hospitals and schools etc.
    I have stood in the betting halls watching the Chinese gambling large sums of money making my £5 ew or £10 win bets look feeble.
    Incidentally I am a regular visitor to the Cathay Pacific International races held in December
    and one programme I could find was the 2010 staging when Snow Fairy was given a brilliant ride by Ryan Moore to win the Hong Kong Cup with a total prize money of 20,000,000 hk$.

    All this is achieved by keeping the betting in house (HKJC) and donating a certain amount of profits to good causes.
    A bit like doing the lottery and the betting tickets you use is much the same .Race No, w or ew etc. the horse No and ammount to bet


  12. Kevin says:

    I avoid all the low class racing because I assume alot of it is corrupt. Trainers and owners would be stupid to compete fairly for a £1600 prize. They have to make up their costs by striking winning bets and that means lining one up for a punt.

    I wonder how much additional racing there is now compared to 1992. Surely that has watered down the amount of prize money available for each race? I was never convinced that more racing meant more betting turnover because I knew I wasn’t betting on the rubbish they added and the additional form was putting me off betting in many races. I’d prefer less racing so I have a better chance of keeping up with the form and as a consequence can make informed bets.

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