As the slow, painful process relating to the 50th levy scheme took its anticipated course, so a more accurate picture of what lies in wait for British racing in 2011 is gradually emerging.
Certainly, we must hope that Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State, is sympathetic to horseracing’s arguments about being fleeced by the betting industry but, at least in the short term, we can play only with the cards that we are now holding.
Without a favourable government intervention, the total prize-money pot for 2011 will fall by over £20 million on a fixture list that is only marginally down on the current year. And, since prize-money at virtually every level is already deemed to be unacceptably low, the Horsemen’s Group has no alternative but to take matters into its own hands.
Racing’s ‘elephant in the room’ is racecourse media rights. While other income has been diminishing, money from media rights has been growing, but to make a song and dance over this source of funding places the horsemen in a dilemma.
Payments for media rights are paid by bookmakers to have television pictures in their shops and it was inevitable bookmakers would use these payments as a justification for diminishing their levy payments.
It is a convenient ploy for the bookmakers but one that does not stand close examination. Nobody can deny that racecourses receive this money but, when the levy budget and media rights are added for the fiscal year of 2010-2011, the total is £36m below that of 2007-2008.
While it is true the real pain in this whole scenario is being felt by owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys and stable staff – much less so the racecourses – we can’t let the bookmakers parade this half truth as if they have suddenly discovered philanthropy.
Equally, we cannot allow the horsemen – the people who actually put on the racing show – to be exploited in this manner.
As is now well publicised, I have called for action and believe this should be conducted through the setting up of a Horsemen’s Group Tariff. Principally, the tariff will set recommended minimum levels of prize-money for each class of race, but it will also contain other refinements to discourage racecourses from dumbing down their race programmes.
The Horsemen’s Group Tariff needs to strike the right balance between what are acceptable levels of prize-money for the quality of race and what is affordable for racecourses, taking all of racing’s income sources into account.
To be clear on this issue, the horsemen have no problem with racecourses generating income from the sale of media rights, but it does have concerns about the way in which the BHA has traditionally calculated minimum prize-money levels, these being based only on levy contributions and owners’ entry fees.
With media rights now such a substantial source of income for the racecourses, we must also take this into account.
Once the Horsemen’s Group Tariff is published we will urge all our members to adhere to it – that is, not run their horses in races that have a prize fund lower than the tariff indicates. Clearly, not everyone will adhere to the tariff, but we are confident that a sufficient number of owners and trainers will see this as the means – maybe the only immediate means – to ensure prize-money at some racecourses does not drop through the floor next year.
Once this is understood, it will be up to owners and trainers to exercise a sense of the greater good by supporting the concept.
At the same time, it is important for the horsemen to acknowledge those racecourses which are prepared to pump a reasonable proportion of their new income into prize-money and to vote with their feet. Looking after those who look after us must be a key part of our strategy for the future.