Prize money issue back on agenda

British horse racing resumed on the first day of June. It came as no surprise when a row broke out on prize money levels within two weeks of the restart. On 11 June the Horsemen’s Group revealed they had sought legal advice over racecourses’ “unlawful” decision to cease executive contributions to prize money. Then the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) complained that racecourses’ decision not to contribute to the prize money pot was “a clear unfairness”.

It’s a vexed issue that’s being rumbling on for years. Last year the ROA boycotted races and meetings when Arena Racing Company said it would cut prize money in anticipation of reduced income caused by betting shop closures due to the change in maximum FOBT stakes from £100 to £2.

The Horsemen’s Group cite a lack of transparency over how much income racecourses make from bookmakers’ media rights payments and where that money goes. They say they’re not getting their fair share. The bookmakers are also wondering when the money they are paying will filter its way through into prize money.

PRIZE MONEY ROW SET TO RUMBLE ON

Since racing returned, the Levy Board has funded prize money rather than it coming from racecourses’ coffers. However, that is just a temporary arrangement for the first 10 weeks and is due to end in August.

Britain’s racecourses have, as with almost all industries, been hit hard by the financial impact of loss of fixtures. Now they are having to stage meetings behind closed doors. No crowd means no income. That is bound to affect prize money levels. Ascot reckons 70 per cent of its income comes from racegoers’ attendance and spend. Meanwhile, Pontefract estimates its annual income will be down by £1.3m.

It was good news that betting shops opened earlier than expected. However, the money racecourses receive from media rights at the moment is going towards the cost of staging the meetings.

Stand by for the war of words over prize money to escalate in the coming weeks. Expect the crunch to come in August when the BHA tries to agree a fixture list with racecourses once the 10-week Levy Board funding ends.   

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