As this magazine went to press, two pieces of significant news for the racing industry came through, one good, one bad. We’ll cover the good news first.
The Levy Board’s annual report for 2013/14 confirmed racing remains firmly on an upward curve as the levy yield – the amount of money collected from bookmakers – broke the £70 million barrier for the first time since 2009/10.
With Betfair’s voluntary contribution of £7.8m helping to take total revenue to £78.5m, the Levy Board expects to allocate £56.4m to prize-money in 2014, representing a 12.8% increase year-on-year. As recently as 2011, the Levy Board contribution to prize-money was a dismal-looking £34.5m.
Despite plans to replace the levy with a more up-to-date funding mechanism, various attempts at change have all fallen flat
As the BHA seeks to finalise the 2015 fixture list and with competition for meetings hotter than ever, an injection of extra cash into the prize fund was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Despite plans to replace the levy with a more up-to-date funding mechanism, various attempts at change have all fallen flat. It’s a subject Sir Eric Parker knows better than most.
Sir Eric, who is stepping down as an ROA Council member after two decades, was part of the BHA Board that thought it had found an answer to British racing’s funding woes with an idea to replace the levy with a database rights system.
It all looked to be going well – the Levy Board, created in 1961 after off-course betting was legalised, would be dismantled and consigned to history – but it came unstuck thanks to the intervention of our friends in Europe.
“We lost in the European Court even though our lawyers were very confident we would win,” Sir Eric tells Julian Muscat in this month’s Big Interview.
“They were almost blasé about it, but I’d made a bet with a certain person that we wouldn’t get the money everyone thought we would. We never got there.”
Sir Eric may not have received the result he wanted on that occasion but it’s been a different matter on the track and in the sale ring in recent seasons. He bred Havana Gold, winner of last year’s Group 1 Prix Jean Prat and now a stallion for Qatar Bloodstock, while this month’s cover star, a filly by Dubawi out of his mare Coyote, will be offered at the upcoming Arqana Yearling Sale.
The second late news item concerns the BHA revelation that the post-race samples of five horses have tested positive for morphine, a prohibited substance in racing, with speculation that contaminated feed is to blame. Further testing is currently being carried out and by the time you read this, that number may well have gone up considerably.
The discovery of Mahmood Al Zarooni’s anabolic steroids abuse and subsequent eight-year disqualification sent shockwaves through the British racing industry, causing the BHA to embark on a crusade to clamp down hard on the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Its latest move is to implement a ban on prohibited substances for the entirety of a thoroughbred’s life, which means from a foal through to retirement, in a zero-tolerance approach.
Good idea, you think – yet the practicalities of such a blanket ban working are not so straightforward, with a grey area surrounding racehorses imported into the UK from countries where the attitude to medication is very different.
Even some leading figures in this country are not convinced a complete ban on anabolic steroids is the right way to go.
Professor Sidney Ricketts, a much-respected authority on veterinary matters and recipient of the prestigious Dominion Bronze at this year’s TBA Awards, called the plan “incomprehensible” at the association’s AGM the following day.
The new policy will come into force on January 1, 2015. Expect more discussion before then.