As followers of racing politics will know, the Horsemen’s Group has been through some difficult financial times recently but I now hope it will emerge a stronger organisation with the ability to achieve more specific objectives.
Allowing the Horsemen’s Group to fail because of internal complications would have been a sad testament to racing’s inability to work together. The importance of owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and stable staff having an umbrella organisation cannot be overstated. Indeed, it was the ROA, along with the trainers, who originally set in place the process by which the Horsemen’s Group was formed.
While each of the associations carries out important work for their own constituents, we must recognise the commonality of interest that is imbued in the Horsemen’s Group. This interest is primarily about prize-money, but also the fixture list and race programme. There is nobody within these five organisations that is untouched by prize-money levels and, on the wider scale, prize-money is the oxygen of racing, dictating, as it does, the extent to which owners re-invest in the industry.
Two years ago there was much discussion about the Horsemen’s Group sharing the mantle with racecourses as the only two key commercial forces in racing outside of the betting industry. Under this scenario, the BHA would have divested much of its commercial activity into the hands of the Horsemen’s Group and become little more than racing’s regulator. The seeds of this initiative, originally sown by the Office of Fair Trading enquiry, had remained dormant until that time.
While it was always appropriate for the Horsemen’s Group to pursue this opportunity, the extent of the structural difficulties of implementing such a move were never fully appreciated. Moreover, the position of the BHA as racing’s governing body – an impartial adjudicator who would act as an honest broker when it came to disputes between horsemen and racecourses – was not given the significance it deserved. Neither was the very important fact that the BHA set and oversaw the rules of racing.
More recently, the arrival of Paul Bittar as the BHA Chief Executive has clarified the organisation’s position in racing. The BHA would preside over the whole industry including regulation, governance and a broad commercial remit.
Did this, then, mean a back seat for the Horsemen’s Group? Not at all. It means tri-partite discussions, with the BHA facilitating negotiations between horsemen and racecourses. And, judging from the many public utterances of Paul Bittar during the past year, the BHA intends to adopt a policy that reflects the position of the ROA – that a fair share of all of racing’s income, including the increasing pot of media rights payments, is allocated to prize-money. Although something of a cliché these days, we must constantly remind racecourses that their ownership of media rights is only as good as the runners and riders they can attract.
It is too early to say whether the Horsemen’s tariffs will continue to be central to negotiations with racecourses. Paul Bittar has indicated that he would prefer some form of minimum value structure that may be underpinned by the rules of racing and at this stage it would be premature for the Horsemen’s Group to either embrace or reject any such proposal.
There has never been any question that British racing would be in a better place if contractual prize-money agreements between horsemen and racecourses could form the basis of a united front. And with the Sword of Damocles continuing to hang over the Levy Board, this will be just as important in our dealings with the government as it is with the betting industry.
It is for these reasons that the ROA has acted in the best interests, and for the collective good, of the Horsemen’s Group members to overcome the funding difficulties that posed a very real threat to the future of the organisation.