Arena Racing Company’s recent decision to sign a prize-money agreement with the Horsemen’s Group represents a positive step forward for the industry. This reversal of ARC’s earlier decision illustrates how common sense and good judgement can eventually prevail when you have the right people around the negotiating table.

The professionalism of the Horsemen’s Group Chairman Philip Freedman and the ROA Chief Executive Richard Wayman, combined with the business acumen of ARC’s Tony Kelly, produced an excellent result for racing, proving that leaving the door open for further discussion is often a sound policy.

With ARC’s 14 racecourses now on board, 53 of the UK’s 58 racecourses have signed up to a three-year agreement

With ARC’s 14 racecourses now on board, 53 of the UK’s 58 racecourses have signed up to a three-year agreement that gives mutual benefits to both horsemen and racecourses.

A reminder of why these agreements are now so important would not come amiss. In essence there has been a major change in the sources of funding British racing in recent years. A decade or so ago racecourse media rights were significant but nowhere on a par with the £100 million-plus they are expected to be in 2014. Against this, the Levy Board has become secondary to media rights in terms of how much money it puts into racing.

In the past, the relationship between the ROA and ARC’s predecessor companies, Arena Leisure and Northern Racing, was not exactly happy, with our association rightly outraged at how little the racecourses themselves put into prize-money outside of the Levy Board’s contributions.

The problem with media rights income, as we have frequently identified, is that it was an entirely discretionary spend so that racecourses could use it just as they please. It therefore became increasingly important to owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff – all of whom are recipients of prize-money – for a mechanism to be put into place that insisted that a set proportion of this money was, as a minimum, spent on prize-money. Enter the Horsemen’s Group and their prize-money agreements.

The agreements mean that from a position in 2013 when total prize money was £114.2m, of which £48.6m came from racecourses, we are now looking at a prize-money pot of approaching £125m in the current year, of which around £53m will come from racecourses.

ARC’s total contribution to prize-money will be increasing by over £2m in 2014. In truth, this will not reflect much, if at all, on the value of the numerous grade 5 and 6 races that are ARC’s stock in trade on their three all-weather courses. It does, however, represent a minimum guarantee and means that prize-money can no longer be regarded as an afterthought by racecourses when all other expenditure heads have been satisfied.

So while the new agreement between ARC and the Horsemen’s Group certainly does not justify an outpouring of adulation from our side of the industry, it does allow us to react positively to ARC’s all-weather championship with its Good Friday finale. We can also now look upon their Newcastle all-weather track aspirations with an objectivity that was missing before the signing of this agreement.

Let us hope that the signing of this agreement will also prove to be a watershed, with ARC moving on from their problems relating to the closing of rural racecourses, outdated facilities and track surfaces that need replacing.

Horsemen’s Group members have never been able to act with the muscle of a trade union but then most racecourses now acknowledge it is in their best interests to work with the people who provide their raw material. And such sentiments accord with a new spirit of co-operation, thanks in no small part to the positive role played by the RCA’s Chairman, Ian Barlow, and the support given by the BHA.
No horses, no racing. It is a truism that is worth repeating at a time when the once disparate racing industry is now working together for the greater good.