News of a £160 million prize-money total in 2018 is a pretty good way for racehorse owners to start the new year. Add to that the introduction of a new appearance money scheme aimed at benefiting the lower tiers of racing, and the fact that almost all races are to be run for minimum total prize-money of £6,000, gives everyone in the racing industry something to celebrate.

Nobody pretends this prize-money increase will put the economics of ownership in this country on an acceptable level, but it is most definitely a step in the right direction

This forecast prize-money/appearance money figure is an all-time high and represents an increase over last year of nearly 11%. It comes on the back of increased prize-money contributions from both the Levy Board and racecourses, both of which are now benefiting from higher bookmaker contributions.

The levy (whose expenditure function is due to be taken over next year by the new Racing Authority) is now doing much better as a result of being able to capture a gross profits percentage on those online bets being processed offshore. At the same time, racecourse media rights money, already exceeding levy yield, is predicted to rise still higher later on in the year when their new SIS contract comes on stream.

Not a time, then, to raise concerns about betting shop closures being brought about by new FOBT legislation or by those diminishing horseracing online betting margins, to which racing’s levy income is linked.

Better that we now concentrate on racing’s good news story and better that we extol the virtues of the new appearance money scheme that ensures benefits go to the grassroots of racing.

The scheme means that every horse that finishes in the first eight for qualifying races will collect, either through prize-money for finishing in the first four or through appearance money for finishing between fifth and eighth. With the exception of maiden and novice races, on the Flat and over hurdles, appearance money will be paid in virtually all Class 4, 5 and 6 Flat races and Class 3, 4 and 5 jump events.

The real trick underlying the new scheme is that racecourses have been given the ability to ‘unlock’ extra Levy Board funding by investing their own money and substantially increasing overall race values. As a result, a large proportion of races run in 2018 will have an advertised total race value of at least £6,000.

Looking at the list of racecourses that are eligible for extra prize-money funding, it is very gratifying to see that almost every course has responded positively, most having ‘unlocked’ well over 90% of races that qualify in the first quarter of the year.

It is also reassuring that the old practice of racecourses ‘dumbing down’ their race programme to lessen their minimum prize-money liability can no longer be pursued. Now, the average level of a racecourse’s race programme within a three-month period must compare favourably with that of their previous year’s race programme.

The appearance money initiatives are, of course, designed to create a virtuous circle, with benefits trickling down to trainers, jockeys and stable staff. Improving the economics of owning horses should translate both into an increase in the number of horses in training and an incentive for owners to stay in the sport longer. It also means the creation of a better racing and betting product, where fields of eight runners or more increase each-way betting and more competitive racing encourages greater engagement with the sport.

Nobody pretends this substantial and very welcome prize-money increase in 2018 will put the economics of ownership in this country on an acceptable level, but it is most definitely a step in the right direction and one that would not have been possible had not horsemen, racecourses and the governing authority worked together with a common aim.

It certainly creates the right climate for when the new and vitally important Racing Authority, under the Chairmanship of Sir Hugh Robertson, comes to fruition next year.