Monday, 1 January 2018

A Turning of the Tide on Prize-Money in 2018 – New Year’s Resolutions Being Put Into Practice

Firstly, Happy New Year, and may it be a truly successful one with lots of winners for all our owners. May the horses all be happy, healthy and improvers. One of the horses we are closely involved in running – Buckle Street, with Martin Keighley and the Condicote Clan – definitely fits into that category, putting in a really game performance to win at Catterick over 3m 2f. That was a super Christmas present for all. While up there, a number of us had an excellent discussion over a beer with the BHA’s Chief Executive, Nick Rust, whose horse Paddling was also running. This horse won at Catterick the following week, so well done to Nick and his co-owners. Indeed, he was the first person to come up to me in the winner’s enclosure to congratulate the Clan.

During the discussion with him, he flagged up the imminent announcement that prize-money in Britain is likely to reach a record £160 million in 2018, an increase of £17 million from 2017. This is a really welcome development, particularly as it follows on from an autumn announcement that £8 million of central levy funding is being channelled into grass-roots racing. Readers of the blog will know that I believe raising prize-money is the number one issue in British racing, because without it the risk is that the sport is in a downward spiral, with owners not being attracted or retained, the number of horses in training declining, and through that a lack of competitiveness in the sport that is the lifeblood of gambling.

Although the discussion with Nick over a pint and a very unusual-coloured and flavoured Catterick lamb curry was anything but formal, his statement to the press on this announcement was rather more measured. He said: “It is very important for all those involved in our sport that we are due to see such significant prize-money increases in 2018. Although there has been a gradual recovery in total prize-money in recent years, driven by increased investment from racecourses, the returns to our sport’s owners and participants have not been sufficient, in particular to those who are not competing at the top echelons. The support we received from the government and, indeed, all political parties in establishing the new levy has been crucial and means that we can target support towards those operating at the racing’s grass roots. The increased prize-money on offer in 2018 does not resolve the sport’s prize-money situation outright, but it is a step in the right direction. We hope that this good news will serve as an incentive to racehorse owners who are thinking of putting horses in training, and provide a timely boost to jockeys, trainers and stable staff, who rely in part on prize-money for their livelihoods.”

I can only raise a glass to Nick and the BHA for both the extra money and the sentiments expressed. Having said that, there will probably be a wry smile on his face when he sees the prize-money summary after deductions on the next BHA or Weatherbys statement relating to Paddling’s win at Catterick, which as an independent is definitely not the most generous of courses with its prize-money.

At the same time as this announcement, a couple of racecourses also confirmed the way the tide is now flowing. A few years ago I took issue with Newbury on a number of fronts, and like to think that I was one of the pressure points for change that led to the previous CEO being dismissed. I have a lot more time for the latest CEO, Julian Thick, so was pleased to read that prize-money is set to exceed £5 million in 2018 following an injection of £250,000 by the racecourse. As a result, total prize-money at all the track’s 29 fixtures will amount to at least £50,000, with the feature race at three-quarters of all meetings offering £20,000. Thick commented to the press that: “As an independent racecourse, Newbury is committed to ensuring prize-money levels increase as and when we can afford to make additional investment, and 2018 will see a continuation of that policy with our own direct prize-money spend increasing …. Since 2013 we have increased our executive contribution by over £1 million and 2018 will see us break the £5 million mark for the first time …. This is a reminder of our commitment to reinvest in the sport, and complements well the substantial capital investment we’ve made on fabulous new facilities for horsemen in the past three years.”

Time therefore to raise the glass again to Julian and his team at Newbury. A couple of years ago we ran our horse Shantou Magic in the Challow Hurdle, and I complained strongly to Newbury that the prize-money was less than it had been ten years previously, so it is great to see a reversal in that trend. Also for those who haven’t been there recently, the new Owners’ Club is superb. Great to see this track being improved so radically, and it is now a course that owners really like to go to, even if the preponderance of “luxury executive apartments” is not to everyone’s taste.

Finally another glass to be raised to the very progressive Chief Executive of Perth, Hazel Peplinski, who is increasing their prize-money by 35% this year to nearly £1.25 million. That also includes a new appearance money scheme across their 15 fixtures with average prize-money per race increasing to £11,500 from £8,500, with the hope that it will stimulate a rise in field sizes. Personally I am going to do everything I can to support Perth this year and will be suggesting to our trainers that if we have suitable horses, we take them there.

I’m definitely a believer in credit where credit’s due, so it’s most encouraging to be able to start the year on a positive note on the prize-money front. Don’t worry, I’ll still be applying pressure on those tracks that don’t yet seem to have picked up the message that prize-money really matters.

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