If plans currently being discussed by the principal organisations within the industry come to fruition, British racing will undergo its most radical structural change since the creation of the BHB in 1993.
The most significant changes relate to the strengthening of the Horsemen’s Group, of which the ROA is a founder member, and the creation of a new body flowing from the RCA which has the working title of the Racecourse Group.
Under the proposals, a condition would be added to the Rules of Racing whereby registered owners, licensed trainers and licensed jockeys will be required to be members of the Horsemen’s Group in order to continue their involvement in British horseracing.
This ‘compulsory affiliation’ of owners, trainers and jockeys to the Horsemen’s Group is a central plank within the new structure. This would give the horsemen greater power and authority in a similar way to that held by the Professional Golfers’ Association or Formula One.
It would also provide the Horsemen’s Group with an income stream as the organisation would take responsibility from the BHA for the income and expenditure relating to owners’ registration fees and jockeys’ and trainers’ licence fees.
The other fundamental part of the new structure is that the Racecourse Group takes control of the sport’s income. The proposal is that the industry’s income streams – principally media rights and the levy, which currently amount to an annual figure of around £120 million – will flow into and then out of the Racecourse Group.
In this way the commercial powerbase of the new-look administration will be horsemen on one side and racecourses on the other. The much-strengthened Horsemen’s Group will become responsible for negotiating prize-money agreements with the Racecourse Group. Crucially, it would also have greater influence over the fixture list and race programme, all of which will be wrapped into a negotiating process.
In this process both sides – horsemen and racecourses – would be well balanced in the power they can wield, though, at the same time, each would have too much to lose not to find a negotiated settlement.
The BHA would continue to administer the Rules of Racing, thereby maintaining the critical role of protecting the integrity of the sport. However, under the proposals, the BHA would have no involvement in commercial matters. The body would effectively become a service provider for the horsemen and racecourses.
Part of the funding of integrity costs would come from the Horsemen’s Group and Racecourse Group, using their respective income from licensing and registration, although the Levy Board would still cover most of this expenditure.
Such is the momentum behind the desire for change that the horsemen and racecourses have already accepted the headline principles of the re-structure, although there is still much detail to be considered and, almost inevitably, legal hurdles to jump.
While the current statutory levy would add a necessary layer of administration to what is being proposed, there is, however, growing government enthusiasm for a replacement levy scheme, with bookmakers and betting operators having to pay for the right to bet on UK racing.
This serves as a reminder to us all that the real goal of finding a way of substantially increasing British’s racing’s income remains frustratingly elusive and, even with the support of government, some way off.
But you only have to look at Betfair’s recent move to Gibraltar to recognise the urgent need to find a way of closing the offshore loophole and ensuring that all betting operators who take bets on British horseracing, wherever they might be, must pay for the privilege of doing so.
Right now, we may be accused of merely re-arranging the deckchairs while our industry’s finances continue to sink but the radical changes now being agreed should at least result in British racing acting as a united force. Nobody should doubt that aligning the wider aims of the horsemen and racecourses provides a very potent message.