Brexit came as a shock to many of us and the fall-out from the majority decision to leave the European Union will have profound effects on racing as well as the wider world.
Negotiations will inevitably be lengthy and wide-ranging, but it is vital that the TBA works closely along with BHA and others to ensure that the freedom with which thoroughbreds move around Europe and the rest of the world is maintained, and that disease controls, restrictions and notifications are strictly maintained across borders without any increase in red tape.
The relatively easy ability to transport thoroughbreds throughout Europe is a vital part of our breeding and racing industries, and it will require a fully-focused task force to make sure our particular requirements are understood in Defra and other governmental ministries.
Defra has a new minister in Andrea Leadsom, one of Theresa May’s first appointments on becoming prime minister. While Mrs May and her husband were once involved in racehorse ownership, Mrs Leadsom is a less familiar name in this area. However, George Eustice continues in his junior role, which includes responsibility for animal health and welfare. We will be in touch with both ministers and their officials as events move forward.
It is important to ensure that medicines and vaccines to support the breeding and racing of thoroughbreds remain freely available, and the TBA’s veterinary committee will be fully engaged on any changes to the current status.
Brexit has caused political turmoil in every direction, and while racing’s senior administrators are led to believe that levy replacement legislation will not be affected by changes at Westminster, the timetable for implementation in April 2017 was already tight.
The DCMS, which looks after the levy, is also much changed. Like Defra, it has a new minister of state, in Karen Bradley, and like Mrs Leadsom, hers is not a name that racing would immediately recognise. However, the sports minister Tracey Crouch, who has demonstrated her interest, remains in place, and although having no direct ministerial involvement in the issue, Newmarket’s Matthew Hancock has joined the department.
Everyone involved must press hard for the levy deadline to be maintained, so that the sport’s finances are secured. Failure to achieve this timetable will result in the industry having to accept the sharp fall in levy income predicted for 2016 and 2017, and some serious belt-tightening will need to take place.
This is racing’s one chance for a generation to put its finances on a better footing – a long-term model is required
Prize-money is the largest item of Levy Board expenditure, amounting to some 40% of the total earned in 2015. Yet the contribution from the levy has fallen from £54.4m in 2015 to £49.8m this year, which affects everyone but particularly those at the lower end, and it is to be hoped that a sense of urgency over the replacement timetable can be conveyed to politicians and civil servants.
As yet there has been no discussion with government over the quantum or the funding model that would deliver a fair sum to racing from the betting industry. This needs to happen quickly for the deadline to be met.
This is racing’s one chance for a generation to put its finances on a better footing, and, however tempting it may be, the sport must not be rushed or bounced into a model that fails to deliver in the long term – even if it means delay and some short-term pain.
Remember also that self-help schemes such as MOPS and Plus 10 rely on levy funding and breeders should support them in numbers. The 2016 Plus 10 foal registration deadline is August 31.
With cross-party support and many political friends in Westminster, let’s hope that a speedy and satisfactory way forward can be found. Uncertainty is the last thing that breeding and racing need as another sales season, offering more horses than ever before, fast approaches.