Racecourses urged to increase prize cash in Gimcrack speech

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THE equine brilliance of iconic horses such as Frankel, Camelot, Kauto Star and Big Buck’s – and their phenomenal public following – must not detract from racecourses offering enhanced levels of prize money that will enable horse racing to prosper in the future.

This was the blunt and uncompromising message delivered last night by Rachel Hood, the president of the Racehorse Owners’ Association, as part of the 242nd Gimcrack dinner which celebrates the champion racehorse of the 18th century.

His prodigious feats prompted the formation at York of the Gimcrack Club which was addressed last night by Hood – wife of the newly-crowned champion trainer John Gosden – and Lauren Morgan whose horse, Blaine, won this year’s Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes and is a potential Classic contender for 2013.

Praising the work of Racing for Change and the wider media for promoting wonderhorses like Frankel, who attracted a record 30,000-plus crowd to York’s Juddmonte International in high summer, Hood said the feelgood factor had been generated in spite of continuing concerns over funding.

“Despite all its financial challenges, the quality of British racing remains second to none. When you also take into account the expertise of our horsemen, the standard of our racecourses and the emphasis placed on equine welfare, it is absolutely right that the rest of the racing world continues to cast an envious eye in our direction,” said Hood, co-owner of 2010 St Leger winner Arctic Cosmos.

“But, of course, all of this has been achieved in spite of the wholly inadequate funding of the sport and the associated derisory prize money levels that remain a persistent threat to its future.

“That prize-money returns as a percentage of keep and training expenses is only 21 per cent in Britain compared with 54 per cent in France, speaks volumes. As does the fact that in 2011 prize-money levels returned to where they had been eight years earlier. That’s 2003.

“We must also recognise that these figures do not include the actual investment continuously made in stud farms, mares, stallions, staff, nominations, land and buildings by the British owners/breeders who supply such a substantial part of our equine population.”

Though Hood acknowledged the efforts of those venues which have increased the value of their races, she said more can be done now that income from media rights has risen by £30m to £84m.

The courses say this finance is needed to help pay for improved facilities; Hood’s argument is that prize money must be boosted so owners do not send their horses to compete in the likes of Ireland and France with even greater frequency.

“Based on around 1,450 fixtures, this means that racecourses will receive something close to £60,000 per fixture. The fact there are still a number of courses out there that don’t even contribute £10,000 to prize-money at their fixtures, illustrates why many owners are disillusioned. Other owners, myself included, are pretty cross,” said Hood.

“However, I am optimistic that there are enough visionaries within racecourses to appreciate that contractual prize-money agreements would transform British racing from its traditional state of acrimony and dispute to one of partnership and joined-up thinking.”

Ten years after Sheikh Mohammed used his Gimcrack Speech to call for owners to be placed at the heart of the sport’s finances, Hood wants reform allied to a reinvigorated fixture list that rewards those go-ahead tracks which show innovation.

“We need to see competition within the fixture list so that aspiring and progressive racecourses have the opportunity to grow their business,” she added. “We all want to see the delivery of a co-ordinated race programme that meets the requirements of an ever-changing horse population; we must deliver further savings in industry costs as well as simplifying the copious levels of administration and acronyms that face every new owner.

“We need to ensure that, through the Racing Foundation, the unpardonable sale of the Tote leaves a lasting effective legacy for the sport; and we also need to find ways to support racing’s exclusive broadcaster to take our fabulous sport to a new and younger audience.

“British racing is now facing a new dawn. Now is the time for a new approach, not just a four-legged one, and I am optimistic enough to believe that there are enough of us here to make it happen. It’s not rocket science. Let’s get on with making it a reality.”

Hood’s speech was preceded by uplifting introductory remarks made by the aforementioned Morgan, who admitted to finding the honour a “surreal” one.

The first female speaker at the prestigious Gimcrack dinner for 40 years, beating Hood by a short-head, Morgan paid tribute to the staff at Ryan’s Hambleton stable and big race jockey Phil Makin, who was riding at the peak of his powers at the Ebor festival when Blaine prevailed.

She was also keen to accentuate the profits and reveal how she, and her husband Matt, now own 12 racehorses – and that the sport’s internal politics over funding should not detract from the enjoyment that so many people derive from horse racing and which contributes £230m to the Yorkshire economy each year.

“One of the reasons I am so positive about racing is because of the people that work within it – the trainers, the jockeys, the stable staff and the media. Because of this, we have gone from the purchase of one horse to now owning 12,” said Morgan.

“At a time when many would wish to address what is wrong within racing, I feel it is important to highlight exactly what is right, the hard work that many are putting in to change the face of racing, and to make it appealing to all, is definitely working.

“We have the best racing in the world within the British Isles. By encouraging people into horse racing, keeping the passion for what we all do and making the vision for the future clear, the sport we all love will continue to go from strength to strength.”