You have recently been appointed President of the ROA. What are the organisation’s immediate priorities and long-term objectives?
We need to arrest the decline of British racing by putting in place a proper funding mechanism that is underpinned by new legislation, either to replace or modernise the current levy system. The last time racing endeavoured to put its house in order, the bookmakers went to the European court and helped to destroy what we were trying to do for the benefit of the racing industry. This I find bizarre, because a healthy racing industry will benefit the bookmakers as well.
There are 16 Gold Standard Award holders. What does this say about how owners are looked after by racecourses in Britain generally?
In a climate of declining foal crops and with less and less prize-money, any owner who is prepared to pay to have horses in training and thus help to finance racing becomes an increasingly important and valued commodity in the sport.
In the past, owners have been taken for granted, but, now, thanks largely to the Gold Standard Award, there is a better dialogue between the racecourses and the Racehorse Owners Association. It is a hugely important exercise that will become even more relevant if the Horsemen’s Tariff becomes part of the qualifying criteria.
The debate over prize-money has dominated racing in recent times – what is the way forward in your opinion?
I think new legislation is fundamental and it is encouraging that the government has just begun a pre-consultation exercise as a forerunner for this to go through the usual parliamentary process.
Anybody who looks at our racing compared to racing in other countries knows that British racing has been massively underfunded for years. We need to get our finances in order and the only way we can do it is through new legislation.
So we are hoping the government is going to live up to its promise. Racing employs, directly and indirectly, around 100,000 people and its importance needs no emphasising here. Also, the fact that the enormous foreign investment in British racing and breeding is of great benefit to the economy, coupled with the export of British bloodstock.
In my view racing also has a very important part to play socially. With the ever-expanding urbanisation of the country, there is an increasing need for people to experience rural life and a unique spectator sport. The horse and racing are an uplifting and integral part of that.
If we’re not careful we will follow the example of what is happening in America, where racing is in terminal decline. The way to arrest such an alarming prospect is to have a properly funded industry, with legislation on the statute book that will stop money disappearing offshore and out of racing altogether.
There are a number of extremely bright young MPs in the Houses of Parliament who understand the impact of racing and that a healthy racing industry provides employment, as well as a fascinating activity for the public, and, not least, revenue for the Exchequer.
We are not going to the government asking for a subsidy. We are telling them that we have tried, but failed, because the betting industry has continually blocked our efforts. We are saying that, if they fulfil the promises on which they were elected, there will be financial benefits for them as well as for racing.
We must also remember that, without the extraordinary long-term support from the Maktoum family and Prince Khalid Abdullah, British Flat racing would now be bankrupt.
Your husband, John Gosden, is a noted supporter of the Horsemen’s Tariff. Has it been as successful as you would have hoped?
It has been very successful on the Flat where 85% of all races since the beginning of April have met or exceeded tariff. There is still some work left to do on the jumps side. As the levy contributions to prize-money continue to decline, the tariff will become even more crucial.
The racecourses’ claim that the tariff has caused the downgrading of the race programme has been exaggerated, but the Horsemen’s Group is alive to this concern and is closely monitoring the situation. We, of all people, want to see a programme that properly caters for the horse population, especially higher quality horses just below Group class.
It would appear that Arena Leisure, with its seven racecourses, is more interested in its bank debt than prize-money. The other day we sent a horse I half-own to Lingfield but withdrew it because the race, which was originally at tariff level, had been divided and fell below tariff. Arena refused to put in the extra £500 to bring it back to tariff level. I’m pleased to say we then ran the horse in a tariff-compliant race at Newbury the next week, which he won.
Is the horseracing industry too betting-orientated in your view?
Yes. You have only to go to the Derby to see that racing is much more than just betting; it is theatre, a fabulous day out, there is a whole dimension to it without the betting. The whole scene can be aesthetically beautiful and full of excitement.
Without the owner and the racegoer there is no racing, and I regret deeply that we do not have a Tote monopoly in this country, which powers the successful racing models of the Far East and France.
Do you have any reservations about Betfred’s recent purchase of the Tote?
I have enormous concerns. If I had been told 18 months ago that the Tote would be sold to a bookmaker, I wouldn’t have believed it. I have always been of the view that the last government should not have passed legislation which enabled them to sell the Tote. It should have been kept within racing.
I think the government could have created a climate to have allowed racing to strengthen and embolden the Tote business and develop an international pool. Instead, they have hidden behind state aid legislation which I believe could have been circumvented. Leaving the Tote in limbo for so long undermined the business and staff confidence.
What is the current situation with your campaign to defeat the Hatchfield Farm development?
It is not my campaign; it’s a campaign that has been supported by every single organisation in racing, the BHA, owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys and stable staff. They have all signed up to stop the Hatchfield Farm development.
But I’m afraid the situation is very grave, even though Lord Derby’s application was unanimously turned down by the District Council and we were successful in the Judicial Review at the High Court.
Lord Derby has now initiated a four-week appeal at the expense of racing, breeding and the people of Newmarket, starting on July 12. It is expected to cost the various people and organisations opposing his scheme something in the region of £1 million. It is part of his appeal against the unanimous decision to turn down his plans.
How much does your experience as a successful attorney in America help you in your role as Chair of the Save Historic Newmarket Action Group?
It is always helpful to have had the experience and benefit of legal training. After practising as a barrister in England we went to America and that’s where I became an American lawyer. In total I have been a lawyer for over 25 years. Even so, I have to say we all sincerely wish we weren’t being forced to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds and countless hours of time on all this.
Why should Newmarket be exempt from its responsibilities to the provision of more affordable housing, which is so lacking in Britain?
It is not about affordable housing; that is just an excuse. It’s about greed and somebody wanting to make money out of a green field site he inherited from his uncle, while, platitudinously, saying he wouldn’t do anything to harm Newmarket.
You have to remember that Newmarket is fundamentally about horses and the people who work with them. Road traffic is already at unacceptable levels. To create an industrial development and further housing will inevitably add to the problems of an already over-congested town, leading to more accidents, further restricting mobility and urbanising Newmarket when it should be a rural market town environment.
You were recently voted on to the Forest Heath District Council as well as the Newmarket Town Council. It is the first time for 30 years that racing has been represented on either group. What has driven you to become a councillor?
It all started with Forest Heath District Council allowing blocks of ultra-modern flats – oddly called Meridian ‘Gardens’ – to be built in the Bury Road Conversation Area, having turned down an application to build stables on the same site. We all suddenly realised that nobody was minding the shop.
We found the District Council completely unresponsive and we were all heartbroken to see our Conservation Area being vandalised right under our noses. It became apparent that the racing and breeding industries were not represented on either council and it seemed that the only way forward was for some of us to be involved.
John Berry and Jacko Fanshawe are on the Town Council, and I’ve been elected to Chair the Development and Planning Committee of the Town Council, and am in several roles on the District Council. Quite simply, I did not want Newmarket to be ruined on my watch.
Do you have ambitions to run for Parliament?
I never had ambitions to be an MP, but when Newmarket suddenly found itself without an MP, we felt we couldn’t stand idly by and that we had to be part of the process. We didn’t want an MP who knew nothing about Newmarket or racing and breeding.
We knew we had to stand up for a number of racing issues and people asked me to stand so my name was put forward. Actually, I was recently re-selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate.
However, I must stress that we have ended up with a first class MP in Matthew Hancock, who is standing up for racing and breeding and is against the development at Hatchfield Farm. He is firmly behind the racing industry and we are firmly behind him in Newmarket.
How much do you think Racing For Change is benefiting the sport? How do you view Champions’ Day?
I think Racing For Change has had some good ideas. I am a supporter of the new Champions’ Day, though I am the first to accept that it is not in a perfect form just yet. We need to focus on the better horses throughout the season and to promote British racing all the year round; we do need a narrative that builds through to a powerful finale.
Jumping has that with Cheltenham and the Grand National. Flat racing needs the same focus. We needed to do something and I am delighted that British Champions’ Day has taken this on, and I have no doubt it will be improved as it progresses.
Tradition is absolutely fine but we also need to appeal to a young audience. We need people to understand why we are fixated on this wonderful sport and we want to welcome people in.
The QIPCO sponsorship of the British Champions’ Series is a very positive move and it is important we go out of our way to make the Qatar royal family feel appreciated for what they are doing.
As a mother of four, how do you juggle your life with so many responsibilities?
Our youngest is 16, so I think life’s moved on.
How involved do you get in your husband’s training operation?
I don’t believe people send horses to John to train in order to have me interfering with them. We own the business together but my role is the paperwork side. John does absolutely everything to do with the horses and training, and I enjoy being one of his owners.
Describe the thrill of owning the winner of Britain’s oldest Classic, the St Leger with Arctic Cosmos, trained by your husband…
It’s been indescribable from all perspectives. I know of only one other English trainer who has produced a Classic winner for his wife – Sir Noel Murless in 1968 saddled Caergwrle to win the 1,000 Guineas for his wife, Gwen.
John and Tom Goff, of Blandford Bloodstock, bought Arctic Cosmos together at Tattersalls for 47,000 guineas. I now have a most delightful partner in Robin Geffen. It has been the most fabulous family experience; John is very popular indeed with his wife!
You are also involved on the breeding side, winning two Listed races with Gertrude Bell. How did you start and how many broodmares do you have?
Gertrude Bell is our first homebred and we have three broodmares. We’ve been very lucky with Gertrude Bell, who has given me enormous fulfilment as an owner. Of course, the breeding side provides an added dimension that is very different and completely absorbing. You have to be disciplined, though, because breeding is expensive.
Are there any other horses we should be looking out for this year?
Carry on looking out for Gertrude Bell. We do have some promising two-year-olds and Arctic Cosmos, who was injured at the end of last year, is very well. We’re hoping to race him later this summer.
Did you have an interest in racing before you met John, when you were students at Cambridge University?
Although I had a pony and rode as a child and I briefly played some very low goal polo, courtesy of Madeleine Lloyd-Webber and Lucinda Freedman, I actually grew up in a household where the television was turned off the moment racing came on!
Has the sport changed for the better since your first involvement?
In some ways it has changed for the better, but there’s still a long way to go. I think it is pertinent to recall the article John did for this magazine in October 2009 when he warned that racing’s finances were about to go into freefall. It gives me no pleasure to say this but his warnings were apparently ignored by the BHA, which failed to see the problem coming.
And now we are faced with the horrific scenario of the levy’s contributions to prize-money in 2012 actually being smaller than the cost of running racing. That is the downside.
But the Horsemen’s Group, which represents owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and stable staff, is a very important organisation that provides a much brighter outlook. If racing’s plans come to fruition, the Horsemen’s Group will deal directly with racecourses on a commercial basis. This system would be to the advantage of those courses and groups which are prepared to put appropriate amounts of money into prize-money.
Did your time in America, when John was training in California, influence your views on British racing?
Yes it did, because it enabled me to see their equivalent of the Horsemen’s Group in operation. No racecourse could race until it had signed a satisfactory prize-money agreement.
The Horsemen’s Group was borne out of what John and I experienced in America, together with some very good ideas put together largely by ROA Chief Executive Michael Harris and Rupert Arnold of the National Trainers’ Federation.
Is British racing still the best in the world?
Our jump racing is definitely the best in the world. As far as Flat racing is concerned, I think the festival meetings are amongst the best in the world but, when you go lower down, you find an awful lot of very moderate racing, with horses that would be ineligible to run in many other major racing countries.
I appreciate that we need to provide opportunities for all owners but we do need to create a much more aspirational system. I am not sure who benefits from such a glut of bad racing. We are continually being told it is for the benefit of the bookmakers and therefore the levy. But, sadly, with our current experience of the levy dropping catastrophically, I find it impossible to see where these benefits are for racing.