Sheikh Mohammed's Gimcrack Speech Draws Support

Sheikh Mohammed's hard-hitting speech at the Gimcrack dinner at York Racecourse, England, on Dec. 10 was broadly welcomed by those in British racing.

The Godolphin founder highlighted the need for increased prize-money to benefit all those who work in racing in Britain. In particular, he called for action to secure improved pay and conditions for stable staff.

In the speech, delivered on his behalf by Michael Osborne, Sheikh Mohammed outlined the need for urgent progress on a number of fronts to put British racing on a sounder footing.

He urged Britain's 59 racecourses to work with the rest of the industry for the betterment of the sport as a whole.

Sheikh Mohammed said some progress had been made since he raised concerns about the level of funding five years ago, threatening to withdraw from the country, but there was still much work to be done.

He warned racecourses that if a confrontational approach is taken or reasonable prize money increases are not provided via the extra funding received by the tracks, then the Maktoum family "stands willing to join with other owners in taking action". But he hoped this would not be necessary.

The British Horseracing Board's Chief Executive Greg Nichols reacted: "British Racing has a responsibility to pay close attention to the thought-provoking address of Sheikh Mohammed, who is such an innovator and who has given so much to our sport. He articulates a number of the challenges we face which can only be resolved by co-operation and goodwill among all sectors of our highly interdependent industry."

The co-\operation called for is from Britain's racecourses who have been pursuing a power struggle with the BHB.

Jim Furlong, president of the Racehorse Owners' Association, praised the Sheikh's "wise words"and, commenting on the racecourses, declared: "They have behaved appallingly. Implicit in Sheikh Mohammed's speech was a warning to racecourses that they must not use the Office of Fair Trading findings (due in February or March) as a means of beating the BHB into submission."

Discussing the progress made in improving British racing's finances in the past year, Sheikh Mohammed said: "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 it 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."

Sheikh Mohammed highlighted concerns that racecourses could act selfishly and about their attitude to the sport's ruling body.

"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 British Horseracing Board - and therefore the rest of the industry - in recent months."

He added: "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. 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," Sheikh Mohammed continued. "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."