Bill Bridge: Hunt would do well to heed opinions from such racing notables as Bethell

YOU can be sure Jeremy Hunt did not enjoy the chauffeur-driven journey to his office at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport this morning.

When he took the job in the coalition Government he was probably thinking of all the fun – and reflected glory – he would enjoy at the 2012 London Olympics; having to sort out the mess that is British racing was not what he wanted.

But today, sitting starkly in his 'In' tray, will be the sorry stories of the failure of racing and bookmakers to agree on the next Levy funding and the continuing uncertainty over the future of the Tote. Both issues – vital though they are to the future of the industry in this country – have reached stalemate and the moment has arrived for the Minister to muck out the stable.

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He will doubtless be besieged by representatives of the various bodies involved, the BHA, RCA, RUC, ROA and the rest of racing's alphabet soup – not to mention the bookmakers, exchanges and internet sites – but, if, as seems likely, he is in need of a little common sense he ought to heed the words of James Bethell, a man widely-respected within the game and a former chairman of the Middleham Trainers' Association.

Bethell regrets the lack of leadership on racing's side of the argument over the Tote and the Levy issues and plaintively accepts that yet another group – Racing for Change – may have a point. "Maybe we do need to change, but it would be nice to know who is in charge before we do," he says.

Bethell is well versed in the problems facing racing and recognises good ideas when he sees them. For example: "Lord Howard, a former Home Secretary, has suggested that bookmakers who have based their businesses offshore should have to pay a licence to take bets on British racing; good for him," he said.

"Alastair Stewart, the former senior judge at the Jockey Club, has proposed that there should be a small charge, payable by both gambler and bookmaker, on all internet transactions which could help offset the Levy shortfall" he adds.

"Fellow-trainer John Gosden recommends that the Levy should be used to maintain the traditional racing calendar; if bookmakers want extra racing – like the evening dross at Wolverhampton – they should put up the prize-money."

There are three good ideas, well worthy of the attention of an interested, responsible Minister.

An area in which Bethell himself insists improvements in racing's finances would be crucial lies in deeper involvement from stable staff, who share just four per cent of dwindling prize-money.

"If we could increase that percentage it would make a massive difference to a group of people who work tremendously hard," he says.

Bethell also suggests that a key factor in today's depression within the industry is lack of confidence. "It affects almost everyone," he says, "owners, trainers, administrators, stable staff, even some jockeys.

"Yet crowds are up, especially at York, and I would love to see the Ebor Handicap, now it has moved to a Saturday, built up into something resembling the Melbourne Cup, attracting serious prize-money, huge public interest and drawing a massive crowd to Knavesmire.

"A race like that would be much better for racing among the smaller operations than the Derby, which these days is dominated by Coolmore and the Arabs.

"The Grand National is more of a race for everyman than the Derby; it draws a bigger TV audience, is a better spectacle and you can own a share in the winner without spending millions. Similarly a handicap like the Ebor is open to anyone who wants to be involved in racing."

Are you listening at the DfCMS? No chance; you can hear the fudge being mixed from here as a working party is cobbled together, followed inevitably by an arbitration panel. In his beetle-browed days as perhaps the best lock forward England have ever had, Martin Johnson never shirked a challenge but he – despite what he would say to the contrary if he ever strayed "off-message" in these days of leaden soundbites and answers veiled in fog – is now on the brink of an examination even he must appreciate is the biggest of his rugby life.

Saturday's match against New Zealand is the first of four Tests this autumn which will show us whether or not a second Rugby World Cup triumph for England is a possibility next year. Time has run out for Johnson, and his coaches; now they must show us that they have had a game plan all along, that their mish-mash selection policy has been a mere sifting of options.

The portents are not good. Can you imagine winning a World Cup with Mike Tindall and Shontayne Hape in the centre, with doubts still surrounding the back three, the back row and fly-half? Where is the destructive force to match the likes of Richie McCaw and Rocky Elsom?

Maybe Johnson really has been fooling us – and the rest of the rugby world; maybe he does have a shedfull of young, powerful, talented individuals who have been maturing in the dark, like mushrooms, as England have crawled from one disappointment to the next with only victory in Australia last summer to ignite any hope. We'll soon see.

and another thing...

NO doubt there will be some who pick holes in Lee Westwood's ascendancy to the the No 1 position in golf's world rankings but their quibbles should not be allowed to stop the rest of us celebrating a stellar moment in the English game.

Of course it was a pity that Westwood could not claim the mantle held for so long by Tiger Woods where it really mattered – on the course at Valderrama – and the golfer himself would rather have climbed the mountain that way.

But there is no getting away from the fact that over the past 12 months and more Westwood has been the No 1, as his record in major tournaments – and his superb performance in the Ryder Cup – proves.

The best way for Westwood to silence the carpers is to stay at No 1 as long as the only other Englishman to stand astride world golf – Nick Faldo, who was there for 98 weeks.

Given the return of Woods next season and the threat from Martin Kaymer it would take an amazing run from Westwood to stay top half as long.

So let us enjoy it while it lasts.