Arena Racing Company’s refusal to sign the prize-money agreement with the newly-united Horsemen’s Group should not be allowed to take away from the extraordinary achievement in getting most racecourses to sign, including Jockey Club Racecourses and the major independents.
Persuading the majority of racecourses to commit to spending an agreed percentage of their betting related media rights income on prize-money represents a major industry feat. Not only will it lead to increased prize-money for 2014 and beyond but it creates a template for the future where racecourses and horsemen are committed to working together for their mutual benefit.
Racecourses which have signed the agreement have acknowledged that horsemen are a fundamental part of their business
In the wake of their rejection, ARC has made a great play on the fact that their contributions to prize-money next year will be the same as if they had signed the agreement but that is conveniently missing the point. Leaving aside that ARC has given no long-term commitment to their prize-money beyond 2014, there is an important philosophical issue to consider.
Racecourses which have signed the agreement have acknowledged that horsemen are a fundamental part of their business; that a racecourse’s ability to receive media rights income is as much due to the horses and the people involved with them as it is to their own efforts.
In rejecting the agreement, however, ARC has merely confirmed what many racing people have thought of Arena since they first became involved in racing. Their business is about running sports stadia; they are putting profit before all other considerations and will pay as little as they can get away with for what they perceive to be their raw material – the runners and riders. No thought is given to how their decisions will impact on the livelihoods of 10,000 horsemen and women employed within the sport – the majority of them lowly paid stable staff – nor the fact that the sport has lost 16% of its owners since 2008.
To combat this market forces mentality, the Horsemen’s Group had expected support from the governing authority when, in the end, that support was not forthcoming. The BHA had made it conditional that a racecourse must sign up to the prize-money agreement in order for that racecourse to be granted leasehold fixtures – in much the same way that racecourses in America are required to do a deal with their respective Horsemen Groups in order to have a licence to simulcast. However, when ARC put the extra money on the table but still refused to sign, the BHA had little choice but to play ball. With half an eye on the current levy discussions, the BHA knew the betting industry would be up in arms at the thought of losing fixtures.
Contrast the attitude of ARC with that of Jockey Club Racecourses and the major independents. Although nobody could accuse them of failing to become commercial organisations during the past two decades, the wellbeing of racing generally – and the protection of quality racing – remains deep-seated within their doctrine.
In truth, nobody expects the supply of runners to ARC racecourses to dry up because they have refused to embrace the performers of the racing industry.
With 40% of the fixture list under ARC’s control, most owners and trainers have little choice but to race their horses on an ARC track at one time or another. But horsemen will remember that Arena’s own contributions to prize-money have been abysmal over the years, that their latest £2m injection for 2014 is long overdue and the improvements it will make to their prize-money are from a very low base.
It is not, in any event, for us at the ROA to say where and under what conditions our members should run their horses. But it is our place to deliver facts and figures to help owners and trainers to make informed decisions and to help and support those racecourses who have committed to working in partnership with us by signing the prize-money agreement.