Whichever of the major parties prevail in this month’s general election, our industry can take some satisfaction that racing’s long-term future funding plan should remain intact.
George Osbourne left us in no doubt in his Budget statement that the establishment of a racing right to replace the levy was the way his party saw racing’s future, while Labour have also embraced the racing right concept.
It is, however, rather worrying that Labour recently added another dimension to their policy on betting when the shadow culture secretary, Harriet Harman, proposed that a similar racing levy be applied to all sports betting.
It seems hardly credible that Labour is supporting a policy to close down the levy system for horseracing, only to want to reconstruct a similar mechanism to fund community and grass roots sport by applying a levy to betting on other sports.
It is not lost on the betting industry that, however much political clout they used to have, racing can more than match it now
Raising money for grass roots sport is an admirable objective, but the implementation of this proposal would be unhelpful to racing. We never doubted bookmakers would put up all sorts of barriers to the introduction of a racing right, but you can’t help agree that if Labour were to simultaneously impose a levy on sports betting it would be a step too far.
The danger is that such an imposition really would be enough to put many bookmakers out of business, with consequential damage to racing.
Whatever Labour’s intentions here, it is unlikely to happen. It is better that we focus our concerns on how racing overcomes the obstacles of competition law and European state aid that the bookmakers will exploit to the full in their attempt to prevent the racing right becoming law.
It is not lost on the betting industry that, however much political clout they used to have, racing can more than match it now. Not only do we have those highly encouraging words from the chancellor; we also have huge support and wise counsel from Newmarket MP and Energy Minister, Matthew Hancock, while David Cameron’s recent appearance in Newmarket sent a very reassuring message that he recognises the importance of horseracing to both employment and the economy.
By common consent, this will be one of the most open elections in years and the fact that it is long odds-on for a coalition government tells its own story. And although Paddy Power is offering 25-1 against the Green Party being part of any coalition, it is bizarre and disturbing to find this anti-racing party achieving a significant profile in the run-up to the election.
It is clear that Natalie Bennett and her cohorts do not have any idea of what they’re talking about when it comes to horseracing in this country. To talk about horses being “raced to death” is as barmy as it inaccurate.
Before sounding off with such ill-informed rhetoric, the Green Party should have at least discovered that just 0.2% of individual runners meet with fatal injury.
They should also heed the wise words of former Senior Jockey Club Vet, Peter Webbon, when he said: “Racehorses in Britain are amongst the healthiest and best looked-after 2% of horses in the country. The sport employs 6,000 people to provide first-class care and attention for the 14,000 horses in training, providing them with a level of care and quality of life that is virtually unsurpassed by any other domesticated animal. In exchange for these exceptional levels of care, racing asks thoroughbred racehorses to do what they are bred to do, which is to race.”
Unlike the Greens, the principal political parties increasingly recognise racing’s contribution to the country, both in terms of employment and economic impact. British racing has done well to get its key messages across to this government and, whatever the complexion of the next one, we must ensure support for our industry continues.