Progress stifled by structural flaws

12 November 2021

The prize-money agreements that once underpinned racecourses’ executive contributions expired many years ago. Since then, we have been looking to replace them as we try to improve total prize-money available to owners and other participants. Initial discussions ran aground when Covid hit, but newer solutions were being sought.

Discussions were had with racecourses based on a more collaborative approach that focussed on revenue sharing. However, against the backdrop of behind-closed-doors racing,
limited crowds and the sport’s longer-term recovery, progress has been slow.

A new, innovative proposal was put forward, looking at a short term experiment that would hopefully result in increased prizemoney, more racing and additional revenues. This proposal also
set out to prove that innovation and change could be delivered in racing whilst taking care to examine the impact and outputs for the future.

Arena Racing Company came to the table offering to guarantee its 2019 executive contribution and, in addition, add an extra £9 million. This money would be targeted at different areas:
National Hunt, all-weather, a revamped Racing League, changes to the All-Weather Championships, and some new ideas around a festival for jump racing.

In return for this significant uplift, ARC requested changes to the Rules of Racing that would allow its all-weather courses to stage nine-race cards during the winter months (field sizes at those fixtures would be capped at 12 runners). The races in question, Classes 4, 5 and 6, would also receive an increase in the winner’s purse. Finally, there was to be a new weekly guaranteed
£30,000 Class 3 race run within the nine-race cards. 

Originally, there were other conditions that were less attractive and needed to be ironed out. The new fixtures could impact the very end and beginning of the turf Flat season, while a proposed later final race time could have meant additional work for stable staff. Working together with other participants, though, I am pleased to say we were able to make changes to the proposal that eliminated these ‘red line’ issues. These compromises impacted  the money available, but it was a better-balanced offer for racing and still a very exciting opportunity.

The proposal appeared to be a ‘no-brainer’ and the ROA supported the new agreement, alongside the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (TBA), National Association of Racing Staff (NARS) and Racecourse Association (RCA). The RCA had its own issues to overcome. The proposed increase in races on the all-weather through the winter only impacts six courses, and
therefore any benefits that may accrue are also limited. However, the RCA managed to get majority approval, required for the BHA to change the Rules of Racing.

The National Trainers Federation (NTF) and Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) have not yet been able to support the proposal, with objections over too much racing and the impact on
field sizes, and while these should be considerations, we must look at how we innovate, progress and improve prize-money and the sport. Let’s hope that continuing discussions resolve the impasse.

But, here we are – the majority support the deal. At the Horsemen’s Group a majority verdict is not enough as it must be unanimous. We have had robust discussions and compromises
have been made to see a deal done. Yet still we cannot progress. 

The fact that the proposed deal has been derailed by these two organisations highlights why the structure of British racing needs to be overhauled to allow change, progress and innovation.
Racing must engage with racecourses – and bookmakers – to help them make their product more appealing to their customers. We need to work together as an industry to persuade
Westminster to support levy development and aid the Levy Board in maximising the full impact of its funding into the sport. 

We also need to work with industry stakeholders to find pragmatic solutions to decisions that are in the best interests of British racing – solutions that will see prosperity for all. We can do
this, but we need a structure that lets it happen and not one that stifles progress.

This must now be top of the sport’s agenda. Fix that and maybe we can really start to grow again. 

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