Text of Sheikh Mohammed's Gimcrack Speech (Delivered by Michael Osborne)

Gimcrack Dinner, York, England, December 10, 2002. Delivered on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed by Michael Osborne, member of the Dubai World Cup Committee, formerly chief executive of the Emirates Racing Association.

It is both a privilege and a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you on the occasion of the Gimcrack Dinner. I speak not only for myself but also on behalf of Sheikh Maktoum who generously sent Country Reel to be trained under the Godolphin banner.

When I last had the honor of making the Gimcrack speech, I set out my concerns about the state of British racing and highlighted the serious problems facing the sport. I suggested that unless progress was made in tackling the historic underfunding of racing, then my family's continued participation in the sport in Britain could no longer be taken for granted.

That was 1997 and, five years on, we were lucky enough to win the Gimcrack again. There is no doubt that, in the meantime, some progress has been made in tackling racing's problems. But not enough.

Tonight I want to speak up for other owners and for the many thousands of people who work in racing as well as those who have jobs that depend on a healthy racing industry. I wish to highlight a number of key areas where I believe action is urgently required.

My family is fortunate in being able to afford to be involved in racing on a sizeable scale. Equally, we can race outside Britain as and when we choose. Others do not enjoy those choices and it is on their behalf that I make my observations.

What I said last time was that unless we saw "positive signs of progress and the possibility of change", we would massively reduce our racing and breeding presence in Britain. We haven't reduced our presence because we have seen signs of progress - although perhaps not at the pace that we, and, I am sure others, would wish to see.

The fact that we are still here does not mean we are happy with the state of British racing. We applaud the efforts of chairman Peter Savill and the British Horseracing Board in attempting to put the sport on a sounder financial footing. But there is still much work to be done if racing is to have a healthy and sustainable future.

Five years ago, I highlighted the unacceptably high level of the Government's take from racing through General Betting Duty compared with racing's more modest income from betting via the levy deduction. Happily, just over a year ago the Government replaced General Betting Duty with a Gross Profits Tax on bookmakers.

Inevitably, most of the benefits of the change in taxation have accrued to the betting industry. However, in line with the Government's wishes, racing has benefited too, thanks to the agreements reached with the betting industry on the sale of data and picture rights.

A significant amount of that extra income is being paid direct to the racetracks. It is to be hoped that owners, and all of the other people who depend so heavily on prize-money, will quickly see a corresponding benefit. I say Œit is to be hoped' because at present it seems by no means certain that all racecourses will pass on a fair share of the extra income to owners, trainers, jockeys, stable staff, and the many others whose jobs are linked to racing.

It has always seemed to me that historically the Government and the bookmakers have taken too much out of racing. The Government has addressed that problem. At the same time, the bookmakers have increased their payments to the sport from which they make so much money in profit, though there continues to be scope for them to pay a better price for our product.


However, I very much hope that we are not about to move to a situation where racecourses are going to start taking a disproportionate amount out of racing. Like many other people, I have been concerned to see the extent to which racecourses appear to have found themselves at odds with the rest of the BHB ˆ and therefore the rest of the industry - in recent months.

Racecourses are entitled, like everyone else, to a fair return on their investment. Britain's 59 courses contribute much to the continuing appeal of the sport. However, they cannot operate in isolation and nor can they be allowed to appropriate to themselves the income from the new funding arrangements that was intended to benefit all of those involved in the sport.

The posturing of some racecourses leads me to think that they feel they run the sport and can operate in isolation from owners and others. Take it from me, that is not the case. It would be a mistake for racecourses to attempt to put that to the test by going it alone. I sincerely hope they don't end up finding this out the hard way, having done untold damage to themselves and to racing.

Racecourses must work with the rest of the industry for the betterment of the sport as a whole. I was dismayed to see the Racecourse Association make a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading about the BHB's decision on minimum prize-money levels. If this is the way racecourses are going to conduct their business in future, then there truly is little hope for any of us.

The sooner racecourses can work in harmony with the rest of the industry the better. There needs to be goodwill by people of intelligence on all sides. Past and present differences need to be put to one side, personality clashes resolved and a concerted effort must be made to allow racing in Britain to fulfil the ambitions that we all hold for it.

If some racecourses choose confrontation rather than co-operation, or if some fail to take reasonable steps to increase prize-money in line with their increased incomes, then the Maktoum family stands willing to join with other owners in taking action. But I hope it will not come to that.

It is imperative that racecourses and others throughout the industry should do everything they can to increase the level of return to the owner through prize-money. The incomes of trainers, jockeys, stable staff, and so many other people depend on it.

It is easy to dismiss calls for extra prize-money as representing nothing more than the demands of wealthy owners. It is also wrong. The point is that trainers, jockeys, and stable staff currently earn money directly from prize-money. And prize-money goes indirectly to countless other people who make a living from the sport.

It saddens and frustrates me that when I make a statement on behalf of owners it is presented in some quarters as being about wealthy owners seeking to line their pockets. That is a total distortion of the truth. The fact is that those who campaign for more prize-money are doing so for the benefit of the people who are the backbone of the industry - they are the people who matter.

Let nobody doubt it: prize-money is the lifeblood of the industry. The more prize-money increases, the better for everyone ˆ not just the owner. The livelihoods of tens of thousands of people depend on it.

To be blunt about it, the return to owners in Britain continues to languish on the pathetic side of poor. When you combine the costs of breeding or buying horses with the costs of putting those animals into training and set it against the amount returned in prize-money, the bottom line is that owners are losing hundreds of millions of pounds every year. It has been well documented that the percentage return on money invested by owners is so low that Britain must be in danger of being relegated from the international league table.

Continued...

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