Edited release from the British Thoroughbred Breeders' Association
Julian Richmond-Watson, the Jockey Club's Senior Steward, used his position as Guest of Honor at the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association's Annual Awards Dinner at London's Churchill Hotel Tuesday to outline his worries over the future administration of racing in Britain. He says: "The balance of power in British Racing is shifting, As a consequence of moving away from the shelter of the Levy Board and the Office of Fair Trading investigations, our sport will never be the same again. "It is easy to blame the OFT for our problem, but the moves started before the OFT was properly on the scene when the Racecourse Association broke away from the British Horseracing Board negotiations over data rights and betting shop picture rights." Richmond-Watson goes on to express his unease at the racecourses‚ role in deciding the 2004 fixture list before suggesting that the BHB has passed over its commercial rights to the racecourses and owners. "Even more importantly the BHB is looking to hand over all of its commercial rights to a new body, British Horseracing Enterprises, a body almost exclusively owned and run by the main rights holders, the RCA and ROA (Racehorse Owners' Association). "They will then take over all commercial negotiations with the betting industry, and receive all the income from the post levy gross profit agreement. After a top slice for integrity costs and some payment to what's left of the BHB, the two main shareholders will agree on how the bulk of the money is split between prize money and the racecourses. "The current thinking is the distribution will be made to racecourses on the basis of the betting turnover they generate, this will mean that Ascot get less and Arena get more." He adds that the owners, as well as the racecourses, could be keen to increase betting turnover to the detriment of higher-class racing. "Remember the ROA is made up mostly of small owners and it has quite understandably campaigned consistently for a maximum prize money pool and higher minimum values at the bottom, not differentials or the Pattern system, and so the two major shareholders in BHE will be inevitably willing participants along with the betting industry in increasing gross profits at the expense of quality racing. "So what will be left of BHB, the governing authority of racing? The idea was that the BHB would take over from the Levy Board but it seems that BHE will now take over these functions and that BHB may have to rely on a hand out from BHE to cover what has now become an expensive overhead, to do what; to pay out breeders prizes, owners premiums, to pay for central marketing, veterinary research, recruitment and training all competing for the same handout. "Hopefully, BHB will be more than just a post box and after the OFT rules it will continue to have influence over race planning and fixture policy but without much money it's powers will be extremely limited." Richmond-Watson says that this is "not an acceptable scenario" and continues: "Yes we can separate the commercial side of BHB from its governance role, but if we believe in our arguments to the OFT then a central non-commercial governing body like BHB must be able to plan the fixtures, the race programs and the structure of meritocracy we have argued for so strongly. But this is the scenario we face at the moment and I believe that any arrangement, which allows BHE, dominated by the racecourses and owners, to dictate fixture or prize money policy, will be a disaster for the sport." Richard-Watson said the Jockey Club can play a pivotal role in racing'sfuture. "At the end of 2004, the Jockey Club plans to delegate the regulation to a more independent authority and the intention is to ensure that this authority is properly funded and to keep it well clear of the politics of BHB and BHE," adds the senior steward. "A Jockey Club freed from the day-to-day burden of regulation can and will become much more involved in other aspects of racing and of course The Jockey Club stands for those very principles that are being threatened. The breeding industry, the Pattern system, which we invented, National Hunt racing in which we have invested so heavily and the quality and diversity of racing. "We, through Racecourse Holdings' Trust, have used quality to make Cheltenham, Aintree and Epsom successful again, we care about the quality and variety of British racing, and RHT will fight to keep that quality alive, but don't underestimate how difficult it is going to be for others under much more financial pressure to hold the line. "As the Jockey Club, we have no sectional interest and will always work for the good of the sport as a whole .... It will be left to us the Jockey Club with the TBA, the National Trainers‚ Federation and others to become more involved and to fight for the structure and pattern whether with a big or little P which we believe is so important to our racing." Also at the awards dinner, Thoroughbred Breeders' Association president David Oldrey said the Office of Fair Trading must recognize that racing is a sport, not an industry. "If what eventually comes out of the full OFT process effectively handed the fixture list or, worse still, the programming of the races at each fixture, to the betting industry, you could forget racing as a sport - it really would have become just another industry producing widgets, which the OFT has thoughtfully classified already as 'British Racing Opportunities'," says Oldrey. "Perhaps I am an optimist but I do get the impression that the OFT is beginning to come to terms with the fact that its knowledge of racing, not surprisingly, lacks depth. Hopefully, the final upshot of the process will not see racing turned into a widget factory, producing British Racing Opportunities for the betting industry, but a sport, conducted in such a way that folk wish to bet on it," added Oldrey, who with Julian Richmond-Watson is to visit the OFT later this week.